By Niall Roeder.
You might not have heard the name Dallas Kilponen before, but you might have seen his work. He’s an ocean-obsessed waterman, a Sydney local and a photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald. I caught up with him to find out his view on the deep blue and capturing life through a lens.
We know you take mad snaps for SMH and you like to surf… what don’t we know about Dallas Kilponen?
I’m a proud father to two amazing girls who are both studying at uni and husband to an amazing wife who has supported me and my work for over 25 years. I will find any way everyday to get in the ocean. If the surf is no good I’m usually at Wylie’s Baths doing my daily laps which I really enjoy not only for fitness but as my relaxation and a great way to switch off from the world. I’m also keen on sailing and in particular ocean racing. I’ve been fortunate to compete in 7 Sydney Hobarts on super maxi’s. I have also done a lot of racing in the US and enjoyed great success with some of the best yachtsman in the world with the highlight of winning the US IRC National Championships in San Francisco in 2009.
How’d you get into photography? Must’ve been a glorious day when you realised you could turn it into your career?
I grew up in Manly and started out shooting surfing, mainly the local crew at Freshwater Beach then of course I would cover the pro surfing contests when they came to Sydney like the Coke Classic, Pro Junior and JJJ Junior. My first photo published was in Tracks magazine of Tom Carroll at Dee Why point back in 1987. At the same time I was working as an assistant for 3 commercial photographers in a studio in Surry Hills then from there landed my first real job shooting the Rugby League (Winfield Cup, now NRL) for Rugby League Week (ACP). From there it was a list of many jobs. Freelance assistant photographer for international fashion photographers working in Australia, Assistant Grip and stills photography on feature films, Location Co-Ordinator, Mountain photographer Thredbo Village, then in 1993 landed my job at The Sydney Morning Herald. During my 9 years freelance I would always be looking at the Herald and just loved the work of the photographers on staff there. I was always drawn to photojournalism and the Herald was my dream job.
A lot of your work seems to be ocean-oriented. Can you tell us about your relationship with the beach?
I grew up around Manly and Freshwater and my whole life was surfing, bodysurfing, swimming and growing up around sailing so it was all about the water. My Dad was in Manly surf club, then later i joined Freshwater SLSC and competed in board display (surfing) and rowed surf boats for a bit of adventure. Then i started racing 16ft Skiffs out of Manly Skiff Club. First priority was always surfing but I would try and do as many sports in or around the water. I remember as a eight or nine year old kid sticking my big heavy single fin on my home made billy cart and wheeling my board the three or four km’s from Corella St Harbord to Kiddies Corner at Freshie to surf all day with my mates.
What are the pros and cons with marine photography?
Pros are easy. It’s such a great environment to capture all sorts of sports and activities especially in Australia where so much of our pastime and history is connected with the coast and it’s beautiful beaches. I used to pour over old surfing books (Pictorial History of Surfing) and just loved the old black and white photos depicting the history and our connection with the surf. The only negative I could think of would be saltwater isn’t kind to photographic equipment but I have no problem dealing with that when the end result is so worth it.
You must have favourite event you’ve worked on? Can you tell us about it?
Well the Sydney Olympics in 2000 covering swimming and Track and Field was a lifelong dream come true. I’ve always loved the Olympic Games. But competing in and photographing the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is probably the highlight of my 23 years at the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s just such a challenge to complete this race and to do this race as a full crew member combined with the job of covering the race for the Herald made it all the more challenging. It’s tough out there and in just seven races I saw all the highs and lows this particular race can offer. Hard running downwind doing 30+ knots of boat speed holding onto the pedestal underwater during big nosedives in 20ft swells through Bass Strait to sitting on the rail harnessed to the boat in 60+ knots on the nose with 40ft seas in Bass Strait, then onboard NZ super maxi Maximus when we dropped the rig 20nm off Ulladulla at 3am while leading the race. Serious injuries to 7 crew with paramedics winched onboard from the rescue helicopter. Proud to say that I finished on the podium 4 times for Line Honours and Overall but I’m most proud of the moments I’ve captured to bring the Herald readers onboard to really experience first hand what its like when your miles offshore racing hard to Hobart.
Which past and present artists/photographers inspire you and why?
Well there’s so many photographers that we all have great access to now through social media that I’m really inspired by all the work i see by so many photographers around the world. I guess growing up it was the photographs in Surfing World by Hugh McLeod and Bruce Channon that really inspired me. Then so many others, surf photographers Tony Nolan, Sean Davey, Paul Sergeant and Peter Crawford. Those guys were unreal surf photographers and when I got to meet some of them they were all so supportive and offered a lot of encouragement, especially Tony Nolan when he was at Tracks magazine. Today I love the work of all the surf photographers but I am a massive fan of Andrew Kidman and Jon Frank. They’re work capturing surfing and the lifestyle is outstanding. Outside of the surf world my biggest influence came through National Geographic magazine that was an annual subscription gift from my aunt. Just incredible to see the world through those photographers.
Tell us about your favourite beach to surf? And favourite beach to snap?
My spiritual home is Freshwater and I’ll always feel at home surfing there. I’ve lived in the Eastern Suburbs for the last 20 years and really love Maroubra. Great local surfers who absolutely charge and rip and are great blokes to chat with in the lineup. A real down to earth crew that are super friendly but deserve respect. I’ve also spent a lot of time surfing at Angourie and Byron with my wife and 2 girls and truly love the whole North Coast from Crescent to Byron. Also Ive spent a lot of time in Margaret River and love that whole south west coast of WA. Beautiful coastal landscape and raw powerful surf. All of those places would also be my favourite place to shoot just through my personal connection to them.
I was checking out that great shot of Kerry Packer sucking back on a dart, what was it like meeting the big man? And speaking of meets, who’s up there with the most interesting you met through photography?
Yeah that photo of Kerry was memorable. I only met him that one time and while it was intimidating I respected that he seemed a hard but fair bloke. It was at a wedding and his car had broken down and while the rest of the wedding party left he insisted to family and friends that he would wait for the NRMA. I think he just wanted some quiet time to enjoy a smoke. I did get just one photo of him, (literally it was one frame as it was on black and white film) with the cigarette (that he got from the Herald driver) then I just wanted to let him have his space and enjoy the smoke.
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Final photo 5/5 for the Black and White Challenge. Thanks again @chrishydefoto for putting me up. Good fun reliving old memories. Had to go out with the big fella KP back in 1995 enjoying a smoke after his beemer broke down at a wedding in Vaucluse. It was the Herald driver who gave him the smoke after he politely asked if either of us had one. After a brief chat with Kerry about Fairfax I sidled away to grab one shot of him James Bond style taking a drag of the B&H. Classic. #photooftheday #blackwhite #mono #sydney #history #australia @photossmh
Some of the more interesting people? Well honestly I find all people from all walks of life interesting but I guess it would be people who are at the top of their field or profession. People who dedicate their lives to improving the life of others or advancing how we live and share the planet through innovation. At this time I’m interested in people I meet that are involved in understanding and working to find ways to improve the environment through conservation and sustainability. I believe that’s probably the biggest issue facing out planet at this time. Ive had the pleasure of meeting a lot of legendary sports people and I’ve always admired their commitment to training to excel at their sport. Best examples would be Olympic athletes that aren’t the mainstream sports stars but more athletes that work hard away from fame and the limelight to achieve that personal goal. That level of dedication I find really inspiring. I recently had the pleasure to work with 6 X World Surfing Champion Stephanie Gilmore and she was super friendly, very humble and extremely generous. A great role model to kids and a great ambassador for surfing.
And your favourite person to shoot… with a camera?
Don’t really have one favourite person but really enjoy shooting sports people in action and also love shooting live performance whether its musicians/theatre or the arts.
Are you a leaf-in-the-breeze type of guy or a 5-year-plan man? Either way, what lies ahead for Dallas Kilponen?
Yeah probably more leaf-in-the-breeze type long term but I am very methodical and planned with my day to day work. 5 years from now I’m not sure what I will be doing for work but I will always be a photographer and I hope I’ll still be surfing or getting in the ocean everyday. That’s my lifeblood.
Being a master of the craft, have you got any tips for travellers looking to take their holiday snaps to the next level?
Best advice would be shoot a lot, always shoot manual mode so you can understand what your doing with the camera and to understand why you have achieved the photo you’ve taken. Also use different focal lengths and different shooting angles. Best advice I’ve received for travel photography is to get up and shoot early in the morning before and just after first light when its less crowded and the light is pure. Of course same applies to the afternoon and evening light.
Would you rather go for a beer with Terry Richardson or Kelly Slater?
Hahaha good question and as much as I’d really enjoy a beer with Terry it’d have to be Kelly. He is a pretty amazing human being. In my humble opinion the greatest athlete of all time. 11 World Titles over 20 years and still at the top of the sport at age 44! Also his dedication to diet and fitness is inspirational. A great ambassador for surfing and really good role model to all. Respect.
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