colin tunstall: Where are you right now?
mike townsend: I’m in Joshua tree.
mt: Lara and I rented a space out here. I’m literally in demo-mode. I’m trying to rip out the floor to get to the concrete.
ct: Are you splitting your time there or is that a full time residence?
mt: Oh no, splitting our time. We’re going to stick with the van still.
ct: Wow, so how long have you been living out of the van for? This is your first permanent residence in how long?
mt: (Laughs) A year and seven months.
ct: Oh my god. How does it feel now?
mt: We have it down now. At the beginning it was tough. The first four months we were questioning what we were doing. But now we have it down—visiting friends in San Francisco, visiting friends in Baja.
ct: Is it going to be weird having a permanent home?
mt: I’ve taken a shower in my own shower two days in a row now (laughs).
ct: I’ve been looking through the photos you sent over, and they’re all water-related. Does that mean you’re taking a whole new set of photos?
mt: Yeah, absolutely. The lighting is incredible out here, I’m already inspired. I shot some weird shit last night.
ct: When did your obsession with photography start?
mt: I think I was always somewhat obsessed with photography, I just thought I’d never do it myself. But I always loved photography, and I’d say it kind of sparked my interest—being in New York and being around talented photographers. And then getting to California, by then I couldn’t stop. My friend Brian and I started taking pictures—he a lot more than me. And then from there I just kind of jumped in the water more, purchased some cameras that were my own. I wasn’t sharing, I wasn’t renting anymore. Kind of jumped in from there.
ct: How would you say where you are now in how you perceive the craft of taking pictures to before you got started. How do you look at it in a different way? Or is it any different?
mt: I think the back-end process is a little different. More editing and looking at the photos. We’ve been letting some of these photos sit for a couple years now. Just working with a printer, someone that’s talented on the print end of it.
ct: Is that something you’re focusing on now? Selling prints?
mt: I wouldn’t say it’s focusing. It’s something that popped up. My friend introduced me to a printer and was like “You should print some of this stuff.” Then Lara, my wife, put some of it on the web and strangers started buying it. So it was nice to put a couple prints up and have people respond to it.
ct: That’s awesome.
mt: A lot of the time it’s just the content of it. People like this Justin Adams we picture we took in Mexico a few years back. I didn’t even actually like the photo. There’s a little bit of wind hitting the lens. I sat on that photo for a while and then finally showed it to a few people and they loved it.
And California’s full of people like Justin, from Baja to Northern California. Pockets full of great surfers that no one evens knows about.
ct: You’ve done a good job of going up and down the California coast documenting all those different groups of surfers.
mt: We actually wanted to do this in Europe. After looking into it, it ended up being a California thing. I think I said something to Lara once a long time ago and she remembered. I wanted to back out of it. I told her, “Look we have this apartment, we can get into it next week.” She called me a pussy and pushed me on. We ended up getting the van.
ct: So a year and seven months later you guys will finally have a spot. Is Puerto Rico completely off the table at this point?
mt: (Laughs) No not necessarily. We just have to wait probably another year. We backed off a little bit. Things popped up.
ct: Was it because of the hurricane?
mt: Yeah that definitely changed our outlook. We still want to be there one day. I’d say within the next five years, we have that. That’s one of our goals.
ct: It’s been pretty cool to see people like Adrian come out there and spend time with you and Devon from New York. You’ve been getting a lot of people from New York joining you on your trips.
mt: Yeah, Adrian has been a big influence on me too. I’ve always loved his photography and him pushing me in the right direction with gear, I’ve always appreciated that. He definitely inspired me to shoot. And with Devon, he actually stopped us from getting something vintage. We were going to put a bunch of adventurous stuff on the van and he was like, “Don’t do that!” (laughs). It was great and sound advice.
ct: Those are some really extremely talented and wonderful people, and I can tell how excited they are to be with you because you’re very knowledgeable and passionate about what you’re doing. People are excited to participate and come along for the journey. I know I would be.
mt: (Laughs) We look forward to you coming out here to the West Coast. I hope you come out soon!
ct: We just might.■