Gray Malin made a career out of flying across the globe to capture aerial images of famous destinations. But what happens when travel is no longer an option? That was the exact scenario the photographer faced when the COVID pandemic hit. Incredibly, he figured out how to pivot by turning to his backyard, and Malin’s business grew in the past year even though setting foot on a plane wasn’t possible.
“It was very challenging at first,” Malin told me. “I am used to constantly traveling for work and doing so to continue to produce work to sustain my business. It was not only the frustration of not being able to travel as a passion of mine but also that I didn’t know what I was going to do in terms of creating new artwork.”
The hardest part for him was being unsure about what would happen to the home decor industry.
“I didn’t know if people would be spending money on artwork, how working from home would pan out in all of our lives, or when I would be able to shoot again or travel,” said Malin. “I was fortunate enough to have built a brand with a motto of “Make Every Day a Getaway,” which resonated with that yearning that everyone was feeling during this time. I realized I was able to give people a glimmer of hope and a moment of joy through my artwork.”
With this in mind, during quarantine, Malin spent a lot of time working on the business and marketing side of his brand and dive into the archive of his artwork to release never-before-seen imagery. As you can imagine, he’s shot many more images than what was released publicly, and it was a great experience for him to revisit work from the past 10 years. Taking what he learned about his consumers in the last decade, he released some newly found favorites.
This past year Malin saw 62% revenue growth, although the travel industry is getting racked by the pandemic. Plus, the brand’s DTC product sales in 2020 totaled 16,200, up 124% in one year as the consumer appetite for escapism grew tremendously. While that was undoubtedly good for business, it still didn’t appease the craving for travel.
With this being the first time in his career where he couldn’t travel, Malin sought inspiration in his own backyard and fulfilled a career-long aspiration: to photograph the Hollywood Sign up close officially and personal.
“While I wasn’t able to travel, I found inspiration in my own backyard,” he said. “I photographed the Hollywood sign nearly 10 years ago at the beginning of my career – the image showed an aspiring model looking up at the iconic sign, symbolic of her looking toward her dreams of stardom, much like how I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my own dreams Since then, I’ve always wanted to go back and photograph the Hollywood sign properly, gaining access to it for a closer upshot, however, since I am normally traveling the timing just never seemed to work out.”
And even though it was in his backyard, the process was still an adventure. The day he went to shoot it, he hiked up, beginning at four in the morning, with a ten-foot ladder, and to his surprise, it was extremely foggy.
“I was unsure if I was even going to be able to get the shot because I couldn’t see the Sign,” said Malin. “However, as the sun rose, the fog finally cleared, and the Los Angeles skyline peaked through the clouds, I captured a dreamier image than I ever could have imagined. The fog became the most important element of the photograph, and it truly is what makes the image unique.”
He added, “This shoot was very special to me personally because it represented a full-circle moment in the journey of my career. My first shot of the Hollywood sign showed a creative dreaming of glamour and stardom. This shot showed the view from the top, symbolizing that I was able to fulfill my dreams of pursuing my passion—even with my head quite literally in the clouds.”
The new limited-edition Hollywood Sign photography series launched March 9 in celebration of his 10th anniversary.