It was a while ago now and Fran had cautiously whispered it, “I’ve been asked to solo exhibit at the New York Women’s Surf Film Festival.” She’s superstitious. She believes her photos aren’t covers until the magazines are in her hands. She told me not to tell anyone.
For Fran Miller, the ocean is everything. Her reputation in the surfing community is growing because of her dedication in the water. Without fail, she’ll be floating around Snapper Rocks with wet hair and a dry camera. Maybe you’ve seen her?
After being widely published across several of Australia’s premier surfing magazines including White Horses and Pacific Longboarder, Fran has garnered international attention and this August, she traded the Pacific for the Atlantic. She’s out on Long Island, New York, a place where surf culture is beginning to match its west coast counterpart.
The Fourth Annual New York Women’s Surf Film Festival (NYWSFF), held at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, took place on 12 and 13 August and as the name suggests, it celebrates the adventurous women filmmakers and wave riders from around the globe.
But before she got there, Fran spent some time in one of surfing’s cultural Meccas, southern California. Rainbow Bay here on the Coast is Fran’s home with the same faces, the same wave and generally not much fluctuation in water temperature. Shooting regulars like local Ivy Thomas allows a certain comfort and opportunity to experiment and hone her craft. So what’s it like now in a foreign setting, strange faces and cold water?
“I hate cold water. Why be cold when you can be warm!” Fran laughs. “The global surf community is quite small so all the crew congregate for the same events and swell seasons. So I did work with a lot of the same people as I do on the Coast as well as meeting a lot of fascinating people.”
California and Queensland share some obvious similarities but for Fran, an ambassador for the development of the Coast’s cultural scene, she was surprised by the humble pockets of art culture that thrived in places like Laguna Beach.
“Truthfully, my knowledge of the area came from TV but it’s been one of the highlights of my trip,” Fran says. “Laguna is an absolutely buzzing arts and cultural area. I’ve never seen so much arts appreciation in a coastal town. It made me think of the possibilities on the GC.”
Fran’s sitting in a café in Manhattan’s East Village responding to my emails and reflecting on her exhibition, one of the highest accolades of her career so far. Prima Donna, it’s a fitting title for her exhibition. And though her name was up in lights at the NYWSFF, Fran remains humble about how it came to be.
“Really, it was very unexpected,” Fran starts. “The Coast is one of the heartlands of surfing globally. So many of the world’s best surfers and the world’s biggest surf brands all call our little community home. On a regular day the greatest names in surfing from Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew to Stephanie Gilmore will be out in the Snapper line-up. There are maybe only a couple of other places like it in the world and there’s permanent global attention on the area because of the quality of surfers and waves. So in reality, doing well locally is the first step to being internationally recognised.”
Fran has amassed an international following and exhibiting at the NYWSFF is testament to her talent as well as her beliefs. The festival celebrates the adventurous women in surfing, a topic close to Fran’s heart as a strong advocate of equality across genders in the surfing world.
“It’s wonderful to be part of a successful event that exists solely to promote women in surfing, and to be recognised as a female surf photographer in that regard. There have been some shifts in surfing over the last couple of decades for female participation, but it’s far from being equal,” says Fran.
Looking ahead, Fran’s hoping to continue exhibiting with her eyes set on local events like Bleach Festival. “It would be amazing to share my experiences with the people at home who’ve always supported me!”