By Alicia King
All images by Fran Miller. Fran Miller takes a brilliant photo, but her ability to garner information and form unique perceptions extends beyond the lens. The Sydney born surfer and photographer who calls the Gold Coast home and is currently based in Bali recently shared her experience and thoughts on surfing, photography and the coverage of women’s surfing with Sea Together Magazine.
You grew up in Sydney right? How did surfing take hold of you?
My family had a beach house south of Sydney so every holiday for as long as I can remember, I spent at the beach. My sister had somehow become a fanatical surfer and so I tried to copy her. Also our closest friends in the street did nippers at Narrabeen and on the weekends during school term their mum would drive us all up to the beach. We spent our whole time there, getting bronzed in the water. Surfing definitely took hold of me from day one. I can clearly remember how much joy it brought me from a young age.
Your avenue into photography was through your sister who was a keen photographer. Can you remember when the interest sparked in you? And how did that interested evolve into surf photography?
To be honest it’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment, but I remember always trying to recreate the photos I saw in surf magazines in what I was seeing at the beach when I was younger. None of those early photos were actually any good, but I was captivated by the shape and size of waves. That said, the shape and size of waves is typically what all surfers are looking for, so I may have simply been undertaking a lesson in conformity and regurgitation of what I had been reading in those magazines. The actual evolution to being a surf photographer was the simple act of doing it everyday, until one day you realise it’s what you do. There was no grand plan, but that doesn’t diminish how much work it took to get here.
You're passionate about showcasing women surfers. Can you speak about the inequity you see in coverage of women's surfing compared to men's?
I think it’s important to recognise both the positive and negatives in coverage of women surfers. Firstly, organisations like the WSL have done an incredibly positive job in promoting women in surfing. From barely having a few tour events to showcasing ten full events a year live across the world—it is a massive step for female surfers. Women like WSL Deputy Commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer have been fighting hard and long for that.
Where I see a major disparity arising is in the endorsement feedback loop. Male surfers all get paid significantly more than females of the same level and experience. When you assign greater ‘value’ to a certain surfer, then the brand inherently seeks to get more value from them. What does this mean? If you pay Mullet Michael a lot of endorsement money, you now also pay to ensure every moment of his life is documented by a full-time filmer, you put billboards up everywhere of said antics, you pay magazines (in print and online) advertising and this encourages those entities to keep featuring these antics, and eventually every person who pays attention to surf media is assigning value to the narrative of Mullet Michael. A brand is maximising it’s investment in what they paid for the surfer. When we are told surfer ‘x’ sells a lot of product, it’s not about denying the numbers because in fact they may actually do so. But proportionally to how much coverage they receive due to the endorsement loop, well-constructed brand narratives convince us of their value in surfing and it’s important to recognise this before dismissing women by saying they don’t justify earning more endorsement money or coverage due to the numbers. The numbers reflect entrenched sexism.
On that note, I sense there is improvement for women in surfing. It’s not a losing battle, but it is ongoing. You can be Tahlija Redgard* and go get the biggest left barrels at Nokanduis or Laura Enever at mutant Shippies, and if you are doing that, the world will pay attention because it’s impossible not to. No one is asking for a free ride.
*Sea Together Editor's note: See an amazing video of Tahilja surfing here!