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An Interview With Photographer Gray Malin: Aspen Series

Photographer Gray Malin interview

How many times have you tried to capture a beautiful view only to say, "well, this doesn't quite capture it, but you get the idea?" Photographer Gray Malin captures that beauty in the beautiful; composes the magic we often feel, but can't always see. From remote locales such as Namibia, Bolivia and Antarctica to the shimmering snow and sand in the world's most famous resorts, he has managed to trademark a modern day fantasy. He is best known for his aerial shots, capturing the unique magic of place as seen only from on high.

For the 30th anniversary of The Little Nell, he turns his lens to Aspen in a special collaboration. We asked him about his process and his love of our special little valley.
David Meyer: What were some of your inspirations growing up?

Gray Malin: I grew up spending summers at our family home on Lake Michigan, which was full of old family photo albums. The bulk of the images in these albums were of my grandparents' travels around the world. Looking at these images of a past era, seeing how they lived in a time where travel was extremely glamorous, has influenced me throughout my career. I always try to evoke either a specific era or nostalgic feeling that I attribute a lot to looking through these photos throughout my childhood.

Gray Malin, Aspen Series

Gray Malin, Aspen Series

You seem to be drawn to these settings that are like super novas of beauty. Can you describe the feeling you get when you arrive at a place you want to shoot?

I find inspiration all over, but one thing that is consistent with my photography is a feeling of timelessness. Whenever I step into a property that has history and feels timeless, one that I can imagine what it must have been like 40+ years ago yet is still relevant, I know I must shoot there. This has been the case for all of the properties that I have partnered with for my shoots. Most of my resort shoots are years in the making, as I have had fascinations with each since my first experience there - but they are without a doubt glamorous, colorful and spectacular.

What is it about the world seen from above that appeals to you?

Viewing scenes from an aerial perspective is spectacular, and so much different from what you can see from the ground. From the first time I took photos from this vantage point, I was fascinated by how the objects below seemed to create patterns and geometric shapes that, in itself, became art. From the sky, the patterns are eye-catching - they are moments that cannot be captured exactly the same way again. The ground below becomes my universal canvas.

Photographer Gray Malin interview
Gray Malin, Little Nell Hotel
How much work do you do in post-production? There is a magical, heightened harmony that you find in the natural world and in a context of limitless digital manipulation, what is most important to you about the process of making photos?

The post-production process really varies from shoot to shoot - I'd say the most difficult part of the process is narrowing down the images as I shoot so many during each process. In terms of photoshopping, many people don't realize the lengths I go to to capture these images without manipulation. We live in a Photoshop world, and sometimes people aren't aware of what's real or not, so I'm personally proud to go the distance.

For this Aspen shoot, did you spend much time looking at historical images, like those of Ferenc Berko.

With all of my vintage shoots, I like to gather a lot of inspiration from historical images for wardrobe and set ideas, getting a general feeling of what it would be like during the era I am trying to portray. It was a starting point to look at historical images, for my Aspen series, I loved taking what I saw in those images and putting a contemporary spin on them — for example, imagining what the modern concept of après ski would look like in a vintage framework.

Gray Malin, Aspen Mountain

Gray Malin, Aspen Mountain

Is the timelessness of the mountains—and to a large degree, the timelessness of the Aspen life—what draws you here?

The natural beauty of Aspen, both in winter and summertime, is beyond compare. It's truly breathtaking and creates the perfect atmosphere for special energy, culture and experiences to flourish. While it is the perfect location for a winter getaway or summer vacation, Aspen is so much more than just a place on a map and I am grateful to have portrayed this in my new series.

When you cast models in your shoots, do you find it easier, harder, different from shooting landscapes?

From a production standpoint, casting and working with models requires a lot more time and energy than shooting landscapes. With my aerial shoots, I capture what is below me and what I see is what I get. For my vintage or conceptual shoots, which feature models, it takes much effort to plan the shots I'd like to accomplish, and it requires casting, costuming and working with the models, which are all additional factors during production. However, since I am in control of everything in the frame to complete my vision, it can sometimes be even more rewarding.

What's your perfect ski day? Who are you skiing with, could be anyone dead or alive?

My perfect ski day is with my kids as soon as they are old enough to ski!

Favorite thing or things you like to order from room service at the Nell?

The Club Sandwich.

About The Author

Author David Meyer


David Meyer is a journalist, novelist, editor and copy writer. A contributing writer to Architectural Digest, Aspen Peak Magazine, Du Jour and the Aspen Times, he specializes in art, entertainment, fashion, food and nightlife. David’s family has been in Aspen since the '40s. David moved here in 2017 from New York City and loves skiing, skinning, swimming and tennis.

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