There’s something quite nice about New England. A lensman by the name of James McGraghan has known this for some time. After bowing out of college early to pursue a career in photography, New England—and the wealth of pointbreaks, beachbreaks, and slabs that quietly inhabit the region—have become both the backdrop to and foreground of his success.
We recently tracked down the talented eye for a photo feature + a little run-through on how he first got into the game, what he likes most (and least) about calling the rugged stretch of coastline home, and the dream team he’d assemble in chasing an all-time swell up from Rhode Island up to Maine.
Let’s start off nice and easy. How’d you first get into photography?
When I was a little grom I would always steal my dad’s camera and run around trying to take cool shots of anything and everything. Once I started surfing I began to shoot more photos of the ocean and everything surrounding it. I think my love for surfing was one of the biggest things that fueled my passion for photography because they kind of went hand-in-hand for me.
How old are you and where are you originally from?
I’m 24 years old, but act like a 15-year-old, and have the brittle body of a 60-year-old… so I think that averages out somewhere close to my actual age. I was born in Oxford, England and I lived there until was seven. My family and I then moved to the US and we spent seven years just outside of Chicago before moving to Massachusetts.
Favorite thing about shooting New England?
I think my favorite thing about shooting in New England is the diversity in the coastline and the weather. We have so many awesome setups all the way from Rhode Island to the northernmost tips of Maine. One day you could be shooting a pumping point-break from a car window, the next, swimming around the lineup of a barreling beach-break trying to nail the shot. Throw in four feet of snow in the winter, 90 degree summers, and dramatic skies almost any time of year…that’s what really keeps you on your toes around here.
What about least favorite?
Inconsistency. Flat spells in New England can be long… grueling… and soul-crushing. It’s easy to get disenchanted sometimes when the surf goes flat for two weeks. It takes some serious dedication to be a surfer in New England, and you’ve got to be willing to leave your state if you want to surf consistently. But when we get a day of overhead, crisp, offshore surf, it’s a solid reminder of why I first fell in love with New England!
Best piece of photo-related advice you’ve ever received?
“You don’t need a piece of paper to define who you are, or to say you’re a photographer.” It’s easy to get caught up in the social pressures to go to a good college and get a four-year degree, but I knew that wasn’t for me. I spent a year in school out in California studying filmmaking and production and it was sucking the passion out of me.
I found that getting out in the world and taking as many photos/video as I can and learning with hands-on experience was what I needed. Not being stuck in a classroom every day. Granted I wouldn’t recommend this route for everyone, and it’s a big leap of faith, but if you’re hardworking and dedicated, it can pay off.
Let’s make things a bit interesting. You can choose three surfers—any, dead or alive—to chase a swell up New England with and photograph the entire way, in and out of the water. Who’s coming along with you and why?
Chris Orlando, Tom Hay and Mason Ho.
- Chris Orlando is probably the reason I’m the surfer and photographer I am today. He was one of my closest friends from the day we met when I moved to MA. We surfed together almost every swell up until he enlisted in the Marines. Sadly Chris passed away in a tragic helicopter training exercise over the North Shore of Oahu.
- Tom Hay and I have been chasing almost every swell together for the last three years. We used to compete against each other in ESAs 10 years ago, but it wasn’t until the last few years that we became close friends. We bonded instantly over our strange humor, obscure music, but more importantly our love for surfing and exploring.
- Mason Ho is definitely one of the most exciting and fun surfers to watch right now, and having him tag along to explore our coast would be awesome. Not to mention his out-there personality mixed with Chris and Tom’s would make for one hell of a road trip!
Appreciate you making the time to answer these. Any big plans or travels set up for 2017?
Thanks so much! As of right now, nothing set in stone for travel plans, but my friends and I have been doing some research on new places and there’s a lot of countries that have caught my eye. It’s definitely easy looking at places like California, Hawaii, etc., but we want to find somewhere new and wild.