The work diary of Gray Malin, locked-down 'getaway' photographer

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The work diary of Gray Malin, locked-down 'getaway' photographer
Photographer Gray Malin at his office in West Hollywood, Calif., on June 19, 2020. Instead of hovering in a doorless helicopter over a tropical locale, lining up the perfect aerial photograph, Malin, 34, has been at home for the past three months due to lockdowns in the wake of the coronavirus. Maggie Shannon/The New York Times.

by Katie Robertson

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The pristine aquamarine of a Hawaiian beach, shot from above to capture a smattering of bright umbrellas on the shore. Positano on a hazy summer’s day. Striped sun loungers in St. Tropez.

Travel photographer Gray Malin has made his name with images like these — colorful scenes that offer a quick dose of escapism. Now he, like everyone else, is grounded.

“I was so used to this life of one week at home, one week on the road, one week at home, one week on the road,” Malin said.

Instead of hovering in a doorless helicopter over a tropical locale, lining up the perfect aerial photograph, Malin, 34, has been at home in Los Angeles for the past three months with his husband, Jeff, and two children. That time has been filled with surprises for his business and lifestyle brand.

“What I didn’t see coming was that my work was going to actually become very popular during this time when no one can travel,” Malin said. “Our framing partner was able to stay open; they were deemed an essential business. We were able to continue printing and shipping.”

And with all that time indoors, a previously niche product he sold on his website became a runaway success: two-sided puzzles.

Before the lockdowns began, Malin had mostly given up on social media. But now he is connecting with his fans through Instagram, using video to give tours of his house, answer questions and show the behind-the-scenes of his photography.

A decade ago, Malin, who developed a passion for photography as a teenager, left his corporate job in the film industry to start selling his work at a flea market in West Hollywood. There, he discovered that people were looking for artwork that was “joyful and meaningful.”

“I started to make series that focused on work that would really look fabulous inside someone’s home,” Malin said. “Something that would bring someone’s spirits up.”

Today, his studio is just a couple of miles from that flea market. He has 14 full-time employees and was able to partially reopen his office at the end of May. As well as prints and coffee table books, his company (motto: “Make everyday a getaway”) sells picture frames, travel products, iPhone cases and home goods emblazoned with his cheerful images.

This week, Malin released a series of photographs from the last photo shoot he was able to conduct before the coronavirus outbreak: New Zealand.

— Monday

8:15 a.m. My husband and I make breakfast for our kids. We have 18-month-old boy/girl twins who are now eating oatmeal all by themselves. A month ago, they couldn’t even pick up a spoon.

10 a.m. I connect virtually with my team for our weekly marketing meeting. Tomorrow, we are releasing my New Zealand collection, which features nearly 50 images shot from doorless helicopters above three different regions. We watch behind-the-scenes video content and discuss email, paid advertising and social media strategy.

12 p.m. I eat a turkey wrap, probably the one easy and consistent thing I have made and eaten for lunch the last three months. I’m so relieved restaurants are reopening.

1 p.m. Weekly business development call. We’re working on partnerships, products and potential photo shoots around the world — it’s comforting to be thinking ahead, into the future. We are also finalizing the Aug. 1 release of a rosé through our partner, Nocking Point Wines. It’s called “Getaway Rosé” and features an aerial beach image of mine on the label.

3 p.m. We recently released a special image to raise money for Black Lives Matter, and several of my staff come to the office to help sleeve, label and ship hundreds of packages. I shot this image with a diverse group of people that came together around a peace sign made of flowers in 2016 for a social media campaign during another racially divisive time. I felt we had to do something as an organization. We did a first run, which sold out in three hours, with 100% of proceeds going to BLM. We plan to offer more.

3:45 p.m. Samples of our new puzzle designs arrive that we’ve been working on for the 2020 holiday season. The color needs some tweaking, so I send a few pictures with notes to my graphic designer. We can’t keep our puzzles in stock at the moment.

4:30 p.m. Every week I review all orders placed on our website to understand what is selling. We started offering gift notes in March. I glance over one order of a print from St. Barths with a gift note that says “until we can travel here again.” I’ve noticed during this time that a lot of customers have been honoring a trip they weren’t able to take with a photograph of mine.

7:15 p.m. After the kids go down, I give myself a haircut.

— Tuesday

4 a.m. I wake up to my mind racing about the state of our country. I read a few articles and don’t fall back asleep.

6 a.m. Live Peloton spin class.

9:30 a.m. An email goes out to our subscribers announcing the New Zealand collection, and I check Google analytics — hundreds of people are viewing the new series. The Milford Sound pictures seem to be getting a lot of attention. I always have butterflies on launch days, thinking about how my work is perceived.

12 p.m. The second pass of my next coffee table book is due to my publisher, so I meet with my book designer to review all 352 pages. It’s titled “Gray Malin: The Essential Collection” and is a monograph covering work shot during the first decade of my career. It was supposed to come out this fall, to coincide with the official 10-year anniversary of my brand, but we reluctantly decided to push it back to May 2021.

2 p.m. We begin shooting eight new episodes of my Instagram TV series, “How I Got the Shot.” Since I haven’t been able to travel and shoot, I’ve turned my creative energy into documentary videos that tell the stories behind my images. It’s always interesting how many people think I use a drone — I’ve never touched one — versus shooting aerial images from helicopters. The next episode is about horses I photographed wearing wigs in Iceland.

6:45 p.m. I read my new children’s book, “A World of Opposites,” to my kids before bed. They don’t understand the words as much as they love seeing the pictures — especially the one of the black and white llamas with balloons that adorns the cover. I shot that in Bolivia in the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. My favorite part comes at the end of the book when they see the author’s picture and say “Dada.”

9:30 p.m. I attempt jumping jacks to try to close my last ring on my Apple watch.

— Wednesday

7 a.m. I arrive with a giant iced coffee at The Beverly Hills Hotel, where we’re installing a new “Gray Malin Cabana.” It’s the first experiential pop-up for my brand. I partnered with Serena and Lily for the furnishings. I want this cabana to transport you to an Instagrammable fantasy world of retro poolside glamour.

9:30 a.m. A bucket truck lifts the new pink-and-white-striped awning on top of the cabana as the banana-leaf wallpaper dries and an electrician connects the light fixtures. When the artwork goes up, from a series I shot at the hotel, it looks just like the design board I mocked up several months ago.

11 a.m. The furniture arrives and a console is missing. I drive to my house and load a dresser from my bedroom to temporarily replace it for the shoot. I’ve learned you always have to find a way to make it work.

3 p.m. Furniture is in place and we finally begin shooting picture-perfect moments that took over a year of planning. Even though I’m a fine art photographer, I have a love affair with interior design and this cabana is the perfect marriage of these two worlds.

6:30 p.m. I get home in time for the kids’ bath and put them to sleep.

— Thursday

8 a.m. I receive an email response from a company I met with about a potential partnership. They “need to pass at this time.” My heart sinks, but I understand — right now, things are unpredictable.

11 a.m. Check Instagram as a distraction. I don’t know if people realize that I actually see everything with the hashtag #graymalin. Today I spot a mom in Korea with a Gray Malin x Bugaboo canopy on her stroller. I learn so much from social media.

3 p.m. I meet with my team to create the assets for a shoppable “Summer Home Renovation” landing page on our website. Last year my husband and I renovated a 100-year-old cottage on the shores of Lake Michigan.

4:30 p.m. Since I haven’t been able to shoot, my photo assistant and I are starting to look into my archive. I shoot thousands of frames but only release a few dozen from each location. We look at images taken over the beaches of Chicago from a very hot July day in 2013 and discover many hidden gems. I email my creative and marketing team a Google Doc suggesting we release some of these images before our July 4 aerial beach sale.

7:30 p.m. It’s our neighbor’s birthday so we host her and her husband for socially distanced cocktails after the kids go to bed. We’ve gotten to know them well these past few months, and it’s nice to have a few laughs on our roof deck as the sun sets.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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