Tim Nunn/Profile

Arctic self portrait

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.

One of the images from Tim’s trips to Iceland that inspired The Plastic Project

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?

Another haunting image from the Plastic Project

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.

More remote beach plastic

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.

Extreme litter

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.

Ian Batrick in Iceland

You can still find beauty and purity in a single image.

Exactly. I mean I love films, and I still sit down and watch them. But I like the fact that you can see a photograph and it can hit you instantly.

Waiting

If you were faced with the choice between shooting a perfect day, or surfing a perfect day, which would you choose?

(Instantly) Always photography. I find swimming and shooting as good as surfing to be honest. When you’re swimming in big waves, it can be quite sketchy and scary, and the feeling is as good as surfing I find. People find it pretty hard to understand, but it’s as exciting. You spend the whole session in the impact zone basically.

“Making trips to these different places was a way of trying to find the spirit of adventure again, and getting away from it all as well. I find it more exciting to land in a country with a sleeping bag, enough money for a rental car and to figure it out from there really.”

Does that help when you do surf? Because you’re used to being in those areas as a photographer?

Yeah it doesn’t bother me as much. I have a lot more disregard for my own safety in the surf when I’m surfing as I’ve had such beatings while shooting. I regularly go out and surf waves that my surf level isn’t really capable of.

So those years on the road were where your book Numb came from?

Yeah. I did the book with my good friend Ian. We went to Indonesia a lot at the time, but we decided we wanted to go to places without many people. So at first we went to Ireland before Ireland was really in the public eye. We used to see Fergal (Smith) as a real tiny grom in Bundoran actually.

Then it got crowded, so we went to Iceland, Norway; anywhere off the beaten track we could travel and kip rough. Take a tent, or sleep in the car. Then we were introduced to Timmy Turner, who’d made a film called Second Thought, real ground-breaking in the barrel footage before GoPros or whatever. He said to us ‘right you’ve got to come to Canada and meet the Bruweiler brothers’. That trip was really were it stepped up. We flew in, didn’t know anybody, and met these two Canadian guys who were absolute legends. It’s wild out there. You load up a boat, drive for two hours up the coast and then get dropped off in the middle of nowhere. It’s a proper wilderness adventure with great waves. Bears everywhere, that kind of thing. Those trips brought Numb together really. We never really started off wanting to do a book, but it all came together, so we decided to do it.

How long did the whole thing take?

From first trip to last about six years. It was out last year, and since then we’ve done three more trips and are releasing a second version of it at the end of 2014, for Christmas. We went back to Iceland and Norway.

Did you self publish?

Yeah we did it all ourselves. Obviously with my background working in magazines I knew about printing, and I knew a good designer. But I just saved up for about three years to be honest, until I could afford the print bill.

What’s your favourite memory of that time?

Canada was next level really. We were literally whipping salmon out with our bare hands, cooking them over a fire and then watching the sun come down. Then a brown bear the size of a Mini would come walking down the beach. We’d be running for guns, ha ha. It was such an intense experience. It was in this incredibly beautiful place but there’s all this wildlife around you. You don’t see anybody. There’s no way of contacting anybody.  You find out what it’s like to be completely isolated and live a really simple life. Get up, start a fire, catch fish, go surfing. That’s it.

So is the spirit of adventure what drives you?

The first five or six years of my career I’d basically just end up going to the same places. My year would be Australia, Indo, Hawaii, France, maybe a trip to the Canaries or the Maldives each year – the classic swarm places surfer tend to go to. Some of those were an adventure at the time, but as surf travel boomed it became less fun. So making trips to these different places was a way of trying to find the spirit of adventure again, and getting away from it all as well. I just find it more exciting to land in a country with a sleeping bag, enough money for a rental car and to figure it out from there really.

Iceland is really like that. On all the surf trips we’ve done there, we’ve always managed to avoid sleeping in buildings anywhere. I think the only time we did was when we slept in a toilet one night. We never had enough money to do the trips, but you can do them by being ridiculously frugal. Well, apart from the last night, when we’d have one night out in Reykjavik or something.

Arctic Point

Where else is there to visit?

I often sit at home thinking about that. Is there anywhere left? But yeah there are plenty of places. The Norwegian coast is ridiculous, so many places left to go. Even around the British Isles there are plenty of places left to explore.

So you’re back at Wavelength magazine. How has that come about?

Yeah, I was there for six years originally. Then I left to do some other stuff, and now I’m back, yeah. The old owners Wild Bunch Media have done a lot of good for Wavelength but it needed some fresh blood behind it at an ownership/editorial level. I was actually working for Factory Media earlier this year, and Will from Ticket To Ride Group approached me about buying it. We had some meetings and I put forward my ideas about how it could succeed moving forward. They negotiated to buy it as long as I came back on board as editor, and decided to crowd fund it. I was actually pretty sceptical about it to be honest. I thought it was going to be a bit like ‘Everyone come and save Wavelength!’ and that people would assume we were just scraping the barrel. But I was shocked by how great it was for the magazine. People came on board from the industry to help, and then the readership came in to help as well. Then we had people like Surfdome who came on board to help us.

It means we can take the mag forward. We’re trying to give the magazine it’s own strong identity. We’ve brought on Alex from Surfer’s Path to write for us, and Tony Butt, the oceanographer, who used to write for them. That was the first thing I wanted to do. Surfer’s Path going has left a huge hole in the industry. I can imagine from an ad guy’s point of view it’s a nightmare magazine to sell an ad in. Because it’s not the average surf company’s market. But what they’re doing is awesome and people loved it. So we want to balance their input with the youth orientated element. You know, all action sports are ageing, so there’s definitely room to move into that more mature area. Longer form content too.

It’s quite old school taking a risk on a magazine in this day and age. Does it feel like it?

It is and it isn’t really. It is, but it needs to be looked at as more than a mag. We’re looking at the whole thing. Wavelength the magazine is part of this new company Wavelength Media which is going to have a new website, with some amazing content, and then we’re going to be working with brands as well through Wavelength Media. So it feels like the magazine is the foundation which we’re building everything else from. We need to do all this – just running a magazine was not really an option.

Wave in wilderness

As if you weren’t busy enough, you’re a Dad as well now right? How are finding the balance there?

I haven’t been away for more than a couple of days yet as he’s still so young. It’s quite good for work as he doesn’t sleep so I can sit up all night working. Same with the world tour events in Australia – we’ve been sitting up all night watching them.

But it makes you focus on things more. In the past, projects like Numb have been planned to a certain degree, but the Plastic Project I need to plan properly now. So it makes you think a bit more.

You seem like somebody who isn’t happy unless they’ve got a lot of projects on the go. How do you relax?

Shallow wave

Yeah I do like to have a lot of things on the go. But to relax, I do like to go and surf. If I’m going surfing, I won’t take a camera. If I’m shooting, I won’t take my surfboard. It’s actually really nice being based down in Suffolk these days, as I’m not surrounded by the surf industry as I was in Cornwall or when I lived in the South of France. That’s really nice. This is where I grew up, so I have friends here who know nothing about surfing. I watch a lot of football actually. I’m an Ipswich fan which sucks but it helps me relax.

That’s what I love to do; take these pictures and use them to inspire people to do something themselves.

What other creative ambitions have you got?

The environment excites me. I did a geography degree and I think that’s why I’m so interested in place like Iceland and Norway. It’s portraying that sort of place through photography honestly. I love bringing how incredible these places are to people who haven’t been. To try and inspire people. That’s a big thing for me, and that’s why I do so many talks as well. That’s what I love to do; take these pictures and use them to inspire people to do something themselves.

Under the Northern Lights in Iceland