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Ocean beat: Chris Sisarich

10 February 2014

Celebrated commercial photographer Chris Sisarich talks to D-Photo’s Point-Shot blog about his latest project paying tribute to the 10-year partnership between logistics company DHL and Surf Life Saving New Zealand. The resultant exhibition is on display at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter this coming weekend.

Bethells Beach_Auckland # 1

D-Photo: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Chris Sisarich: I’m married with two girls and live in Auckland. I’ve been photographing now for 18 years!

My days are taken up hanging with my family, photographing, playing in the sea, or thinking about some of life’s issues.

To make a living, I shoot commercial work for advertising agencies here and in Australia, and when I’m lucky I get to shoot for agencies in the United Kingdom, Asia, or the United States. I specialize in shooting cars, landscapes, and lifestyle images. Clients can range from a brand like Lexus, to a wine brand, to a pharmaceutical brand.

I also do some directing of TV commercials. This is new for me really. It’s something I love being involved in and would love to keep developing. It’s a lot of hard work, but also really fun.

I’m a massive fan of doing personal projects and always have a few on the go all the time. I try to exhibit work once a year if I can. The work is mostly landscape-based and generally I’m commenting on a social issue, or an environmental issue, or just something I’m interested in. I’ve exhibited work in New York, San Diego, and Auckland. Personal work is extremely important as a photographer as it keeps you looking, working, and moving forward; developing your eye, your mind, and your voice. We are so lucky to be able to share with the world how we see … it’s a gift.

I’ve done a couple of trips with World Vision to capture and comment on situations. One trip was to Mali to capture images of famine there. This work was exhibited in Auckland … and was titled Face of the Land. The other was to Lebanon and Jordan to get images of the Syrian Refugee situation in those countries.

Bethells Beach_Auckland # 2

Can you give us a quick outline of the Surf Life Saving exhibition?

The images are portraits of surf lifesavers and the beaches they patrol.

How did the project come about?

The work is really a collaboration between Surf Life Saving NZ and DHL, and myself, celebrating their 10-year partnership. When DHL came to me about shooting this project, I was really excited. I’m a huge fan of what the surf lifesavers do for us. They are mostly made up of volunteers giving up their time to keep the beaches safe. Making the beach and the sea a safe playground for us and our children. It’s fantastic. I also love the ocean. So this really was a dream assignment.

Fitzroy & Back Beaches_Taranaki

How widely did you travel to shoot the volunteers?

We had quite the road trip really. We shot in Gisborne, Taranaki, Coromandel, Dunedin, Waikato, and Auckland.

How were the volunteer subjects chosen?

We wanted to try and capture, and represent, as much of New Zealand as we could in the limited time we had. And we also wanted to capture personalities that were both grass roots and champions of their sport. There is a lot of very talented and successful lifesavers from New Zealand on the world stage.

Orewa Beach_Auckland

Did you spend much time with the Surf Life Saving volunteers before the shoot?

We didn’t really get to spend a huge amount of time with each of the volunteers, but generally we’d spend half a day in each town and I’d suss out where I’d want to photograph them, and then what landscape I wanted to shoot to represent the beach. I was working around shooting at specific times of the day to get the look I wanted too.

What sort of things were you looking for in choosing your coastline backdrops?

I wanted to capture the mood of the beach on the day. I’m drawn to simplicity. So I was trying to frame and compose a simple but graphically strong image that spoke what that beach was about. The amazing thing about the New Zealand coastline is that it’s so diverse.

Pauanui Beach_Coromandel

What gear did you use on the project?

I’ve been shooting on the Nikon D800E. Great full-frame, high-resolution sensor. A 50mm lens and a tripod. I love the 50mm lens.

What was the most challenging aspect of putting the series together?

Editing was the hardest part to be honest. I was able to capture so many images that I was really happy with. Culling that down to just eight landscapes was tough. The portraits were easier to edit, as generally the best images stand out.

St Clair & St Kilda Beaches Dunedin

What are you hoping viewers will take away from the exhibition?

My idea always was that the landscapes of the beaches which sit with the portraits would be a bit of a representation of the person. I think we can all relate to enjoying a West Coast beach or East Coast beach … and generally people have preferences. They prefer the raw and wild of the West Coast, or the prettiness of the East Coast.

I want them to see just a few of the people from around the country who give up their time to keep our beaches safe. And hopefully get a sense of their personality and the beaches personality from the landscapes.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently in the middle of production for a TV commercial that I’m directing, which is shooting the same week as the exhibition.

I have a project bubbling away slowly, which is based in Auckland.

I’m planning an exhibition in Sydney in October, which will hopefully coincide with the launch of a book.

Sunset Beach_Port Waikato

Have you ever had a near-drowning experience?

Not really. When I was really little I fell into a pool and sank to the bottom … I would have been about three I think and have quite a vivid memory of the view from the bottom of the pool.

I’ve had a few hairy moments in the surf, but nothing where I’ve really felt in danger.

Wainui Beach_Gisborne

You can check out the DHL – 10 Years of Delivering Safer Beaches exhibition at Te Wero Island in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter from Friday, February 14-16. Or you can see more of Chris’s work at his official website.