He’s been involved in surfing for the past 20 years and in that time has travelled the world countless times, edited magazines, made films, written books and gained a reputation as one of surfing’s pioneering cold water surf photographers.
Although we’ve followed Tim’s work for years, it was the release of his book Numb, created with frequent collaborator Ian Batrick, that really made us sit up and take notice. Put together over six years, the project saw Tim and Ian travel to countless countries in pursuit of empty waves and the resulting book is a beautiful, inspiring account of a life spent chasing waves in some of the world’s more gloriously remote corners.
With a second edition of Numb due out later in the year, Tim is also getting ready to embark upon another innovative photographic mission called The Plastic Project. It also involves the now classic Nunn themes – travel, surfing, the environment and an unusual, often unique angle on adventure.
We decided is was about time we caught up with Tim to find out more about this and his other artistic preoccupations.
So tell me about the latest project. What’s the idea?
It’s called The Plastic Project. It’s about marine litter. When I was doing Numb, I was going to all these crazy wilderness places, and no matter how remote we got, there would still be plastic on the beaches.
I’ve got one picture of a wave in Iceland, on the Greenland Sea, the middle of nowhere. You’ve got Greenland 300 miles across the sea, it’s so remote. Brilliant snowy mountains in the background, and there’s just plastic on the beach. At another beach further south we found a McDonalds wrapper and a Coke carton. It was a bit mental really.
So that planted the seed. Later, when my book Numb was out, I did a lot of talks to audiences and showed these images and people really responded to it. I always think with environmental issues, we get bombarded with statistics and information, so much so that it can almost lose meaning. Yet show people a picture of a McDonalds wrapper on an empty beach and they really respond to it. So I decided after Numb that this would be the next project.
The idea is not to aim for an end product like Numb. It’s a rolling project. Part of it is the adventure, and part of it is to talk about this environmental issue. I hope it’ll help to build that awareness.
I started it as a personal project but it has begun to snowball. I’m off to Russia, Norway, Greenland and Iceland again. People are really responding to it. I’ve had a Norwegian fisherman I know call me up to get me to Lofoten, where he says beaches are chest deep in plastic. There’s no one up there. It’s just coming over from Europe and the States or whatever.
What are you hoping to communicate with this?
I want to bring these problems to normal people and present it to them in a way that’s understandable. The adventure side of things is almost like a way of making it palatable. I mean, I could sit here and say that there are apparently 56,000 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean, but what does that actually mean to somebody?
It can be quite preachy eco stuff can’t it? Quite sermonising.
Exactly. The reason I do this stuff, like Numb, is to inspire people and say, this is all out here. All these empty spaces, but on the flip side, we’d like our sons and daughters to enjoy them as well, but they’re already knee deep in plastic. And we’re the people that can do something about it. It isn’t going to be Greenpeace or somebody that’s going to sort this. It’s going to be people like us thinking about it and changing the way we use plastic. Either not using it or recycling it properly. So I guess that’s the message, without being too preachy.
Where have you been so far?
I went up to Norway a few weeks back, a recce along the central coast. I’ve been to Scotland. And I’ve just got some sponsorship in place to get everything ready. I’m going to Greenland in August, then after that it’ll be pretty rapid fire: Scotland, Iceland, Russia, the Faroe Islands. Pretty much the whole of the North Atlantic.
Do you fund these projects through sponsorship then?
Not really. I usually fund things myself. But some companie have jumped on board with this. Indosole, the recycled footwear brand, just got in touch as it’s a similar ethos. My good friend Ian Batrick, who runs Luna wetsuits, has got involved. Finisterre too; they always back me. And another little clothing company called Sundried have helped as well. It helps when you have to go an buy a plane ticket to Greenland which costs more than I earn in a month.
So you’re a one man band?
Yeah I do absolutely everything – from the fundraising at the start to the production at the end.
How do you fit work in around that?
It’s not too bad, as I can fit some of the trips in as Wavelength trips as well, so Iceland and Norway I’ll do as a surf trip for the mag as well.
How did you get into all this? What came first, surfing or photography?
I grew up on the Broads in Norfolk, so from year zero I was on the water. We were about two miles from the beach, and there was a bit of a surfing scene, so when I found out about that I started surfing. When I was a teen I used to get lifts up to Yorkshire when it was good, and then I went to university in Aberystwyth because of the surf basically.
I was there with Sharpy, who’s the editor of Carve, and when that finished we went off travelling together. He was really, really into photography. At the time I kind of was but not massively. We did some work together, but I was really into filming a lot back then. I did that for about six or seven years. This would have been around the mid-90s to the turn of the millennium.
So when did you make the switch to photography?
I was about to give everything up actually. Sharpy had become editor of Surf Europe, and I was going to become a teacher of all things. Then I got a call from Low Pressure, and they asked if I wanted to go down and edit a film they’d shot in Pakistan. They shared an office with the Surfer’s Path, and I moved in with Alex (Dick-Read), Editor of the Surfer’s Path. Being in that office and seeing all those slides – this was pre digital – was really inspiring. Alex and Sharpy both said to me ‘You need to get a camera and start shooting for us’. And that was it really.
Did you miss filming?
Well the problem with filming was how long it took. To make a film would take maybe eight months, whereas you could shoot a surf trip in a week, have it in the magazine in the month and then move on. Business-wise that helped the cash-flow as well, ha ha. I also just found it more creative. I still think there’s more creativity in photography to be honest.