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Explorer Tales: Exclusive Interview with Californian Photographer and Adventurer, Teagan Maddux

Explorer Tales: Exclusive Interview with Californian Photographer and Adventurer, Teagan Maddux

In our latest instalment of the Explorer Tales, we speak with Californian born photographer and explorer Teagan Maddux. With a pure passion for skating, surfing and skiing, Teagan spends her days balancing a love of outdoor exploration with a career in photography. 

So, without further ado, let's dive in. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re based and what do you do for a living?
My name is Teagan Maddux, and I am a San Diego based outdoor adventure photographer and content creator. When I’m not shooting for a project, you can usually find me on a road trip, at the yoga studio, or planning my next outdoor adventure. I’ve got a huge passion for all things outdoor related, so I try to keep the majority of my life revolved around being outside! Whether that’s skiing, hiking, surfing, skating, or simply just going for a bike ride, you’ll usually find me stoked and with my camera in hand.

You were born in Northern California and are now based in San Diego, what influenced you to make the move?
I grew up in Northern California, and then at the age of 14 moved to New York City with my family to pursue professional ballet with the American Ballet Theatre. I danced over there for about three and a half years, and throughout those years, went back and forth from coast to coast to visit family. Around age seventeen, I had surgery on my ankle which caused me to rethink my career path. I gave myself a year to sort things out, and after a year of contemplating whether to move forward in the ballet world, I decided to move onto other things. It was after this decision that my family made the move to San Diego. I moved here in 2019 and have been here ever since!

What was your experience of growing up in Northern California? Can you tell us a little bit about your best memories there and the ways in which this environment shaped your later life?
Growing up in the foothills of the Sierras was nothing but awesome. I seriously loved every second of it and am immensely thankful for the childhood I had. From the Summers spent in high alpine lakes, to the Winters spent skiing in the Sierras, and the Spring spent searching for the best Poppy and Lupine flower fields to frolic in. Growing up in such a beautiful place with a family who was always keen on camping trips and outdoor activities was monumental in shaping me into who I am today. It was in those early years where I grew a deep and fiery passion for new experiences and the environments we play in.

How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
Growing up, I spent quite a bit of time outside. But since I was also pursuing ballet, I spent even more time inside of a studio. Having spent so many hours inside a dance studio over the past 18 years, the outdoors sort of turned into a safe haven. A place where I could process things, have way too much fun, push past boundaries, and escape whatever was going on in my personal world. My relationship with the outdoors remains the same today; a place where I can connect with what’s real and get back to who I am on all levels. I always feel the most myself after loads of time spent under a big blue sky.

How did your childhood, training in ballet and other formative influences shape your career as a photographer? Was it an inevitable career path or more coincidental?
If you were to ask my 15 year old self what I’d be doing now, she wouldn’t have guessed this. My career path as a photographer and content creator was completely coincidental. I always had a love for capturing moments and shooting on my Mom’s old camera, but I didn’t ever think it would go somewhere. It wasn’t until I stopped dancing and really got into rock climbing that I realized this was all possible. I started going on lots of climbing trips and taking my camera with me; documenting everything for fun and shooting just for the joy of shooting.

I do believe that my training in ballet has influenced me in many ways, including the way I approach an image. My knowledge and experience with art, movement, and lines in the physical realm has translated into the way my brain works when setting up an image. I feel hyper aware of angles and visual aesthetics. I aim to convey a sort of dance contained within an image for the viewer to experience.  

In what ways does your role as a photographer change the way you interact with the natural world?
Moving through the natural world as a photographer has taught me loads of things. I’m always searching for deep shadows, sharp angles, or interesting lighting situations and as a result, I feel like photography has taught me to pay attention to the details; the small things that are a part of the bigger picture.

The way the light brushes up against the subject, or the way the crescent moon slips in and out of the pastel pink clouds at sunset, or maybe the way the sun shimmers on the Pacific midday. Over the years, I’ve found myself having a much greater appreciation for all these intimate, small, and yet very important details.

Your website explains, “Between her passion for storytelling and her love for the outdoors, Teagan loves creating imagery for companies and people that are focused on sustainability, the outdoors, and the never-ending fireside stories.” Tell us a little bit about your passion for sustainability and how you implement those values into your everyday and your outdoor explorations?
As a lover of the outdoors, it’s natural that the environment and sustainability are incredibly important to me. There are always ways we can do better, but I try my best to stand behind what I say; from working with brands who prioritize the environment and implement sustainable habits, to personally prioritizing sustainable actions into my own daily routines. I’m always looking to learn about ways in which we can leave the planet in a better condition than how we found it and to do our best to protect what we have.

Tell us about your relationship with surfing. What is it about surfing that draws you to the sport and how is it different from other activities?
I learned to surf once I moved to San Diego in 2019. And in the beginning, I was actually terrified. I was scared of stingrays, I hated being cold, and I was just all around completely thrown outside of my comfort zone. The ocean was completely unknown territory for me. It took me a quite a few sessions to get comfortable out there, but once I caught my first wave, I was hooked. My relationship with surfing wasn’t an immediate love at first sight but more of a slow burn. It’s been a gradual love that has grown stronger over the years.

Aside from the lovely community I’ve found through surfing, one of my personal favorite things about the sport is the mental clarity it brings me. I suppose this is with any outdoor activity, but I always feel so tapped into a state of flow and connected when surfing.

If I’m in a bad mood, or didn’t have a great day, simply paddling out can change things tenfold. The other important lesson surfing has taught me is to let go and surrender. There are times when I get spooked on bigger days, or when a massive sneaky set creeps up on me.

My initial reaction would be to panic. But being in the water has taught me to surrender to the moment and understand that whatever is happening right now is only temporary and will pass. This can be applied to many uncomfortable circumstances in life and it’s a lesson I refer to often.

How would you describe your photographic style and what influenced this style?
My photographic style has evolved over the years but the biggest thing that I always aim to keep in my work is a sense of nostalgia and timelessness. I believe this stems from my love for experiences and the way they impact you on the inside.

My goal is to capture the feeling at hand as best as possible and transport the viewer into that feeling. The majority of my work is influenced by the natural world. So, I love to shoot with colors, textures, and subjects which reflect that. I also find loads of inspiration from other photographers on social media. I’ll scroll for hours and save hundreds of images. I always find myself drawn to dreamy landscapes, funky shadows, and effortless looks.

What is it about the outdoors that you love and keeps you coming back for more?
There are lots of reasons but a few of the biggest things are the community, the experiences it holds, and the way it can move you.

My boyfriend and I won’t make any big decision unless we take a moment to think or talk about it outside, and that alone is a huge reason why I always find safety and clarity in nature. Aside from that, the experiences, and the community that the outdoors brings with it is unlike anything else. I truly believe there is no better way to get to know someone then to sit under thousands of stars around a campfire. It’s humbling, awe-inspiring, and human. It acts as a wakeup call to reality and a reminder that we are all living and breathing beings on this planet together. 

Can you walk us through an average day. Do you find most days are an equal balance between spending time outdoors and spending time indoors editing/working on your creative assets?
My average day tends to change every few weeks or so. I usually go through a few weeks of traveling, and a few weeks of staying home to grind out some computer work.

If I’m at home, I typically start my morning with either a surf, or a yoga flow. From there, I’ll head to a local coffee shop to get some computer work done. Afterwards, I’ll either have a shoot for the sunset, or will try to squeeze in some other type of outdoor activity like biking, hiking, or even a short walk. It’s crazy what a short amount of time spent outside can do for your mind.

I usually find a nice balance of computer work and time spent outside, but sometimes days can slip away, and I won’t get to spend as much time outdoors as I’d like. It’s a fine balance and seems to be something I will always be toying with. But for now, all I can do is try my best and listen to my body while still getting my work done.

How do you balance outdoor exploration with work and financial stability?This can prove to be a tough one for me. I’m always planning my next trip, scheming up my next adventure or getting ready to book that next flight. Over the past year, I’ve really grown to love going on local mini adventures in between my bigger trips. I feel like this helps break it up and keep things exciting while you’re at home.

There really is so much to explore in your backyard. Whether that’s surfing, finding a new hike, driving an hour out to a new campsite, or just switching up your morning run. Little things like this help ease that craving for a big adventure and you get to learn and explore more of your home. Weekend adventures are my favorite!

What does sustainability mean to you and how do you see photographers making a positive and real difference in this space?
I feel like photographers have the opportunity to create a huge difference in this space. By capturing the magic of the outdoors and sharing it with others, you can only hope people will feel the things you felt while standing on that cliff or watching that sunset. I hope it sparks a desire to protect our landscapes and preserve what we have. Through imagery, you can convey so much emotion, so much intensity, and I think that puts photographers in a powerful place when it comes to raising awareness around sustainability and conservation.

Many people need to see something to care about it. What better way to share the rugged, delicate beauty of our planet than to capture it in the hopes of inspiring someone else to find that feeling captured in an image? 

In what ways does the world of outdoor exploration provide an outlet for you to explore your creativity?
Exploring is creative and being outside in general is creative. The outdoor world provides a huge sense of clarity and wonder that can be conducive to creative thinking in so many ways. Problem solving, new experiences, and adapting to new situations challenges the mind and therefore brings forth new ideas and fresh perspectives.

And that’s why I love to travel and partake in these outdoor explorations so I can experience something unique and come back to my routine with a fresh set of eyes. There is so much to explore out there and there’s even more to learn from it.

What is your relationship to Sea to Summit? Are you a frequent user of our gear and if so, what is it about our brand that appeals to you?
I am decently familiar with Sea to Summit, and I am a huge fan; quality gear that you can count on and that propels you to get outside is huge. When you’re out on these crazy adventures, you need to have reliable gear that can keep up with you. That’s where Sea to Summit comes in. I also love how Sea to Summit demonstrates their love for the outdoors at the forefront of everything they do. It also propels your consumers to be conscious and aware of your environmental impact.

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