Twelve years ago, Gray Malin stood in a hotel room towering twenty stories above a pool. As he looked at the scene below – swimmers, sunbathers, and, of course, umbrellas – an idea sparked.
From above, the act of something so universally human as going to the beach morphs into a pattern that juxtaposes just how small we are with how connected the world is. Malin traveled around the world, shooting coastal scenes from a helicopter. In his body of work, the beaches change, but the people and the feeling of summer – of salt-frosted skin and the freedom of a day lazed away – remains the same.
Malin’s latest series explores the longstanding history of the Hotel del Coronado, featuring the Aqualillies, a professional synchronized swimming company. It debuted April 18 and is featured in a pop-up suite in the hotel’s The Views neighborhood, which was designed and curated by Malin and is available for guest rental through the end of the year.
Malin previewed his collection and suite at a resort member party last week, and signed prints of his new Coronado pieces sold faster than staff could bring them out. The launch party concluded with a performance by the Aqualillies.
“The hotel has so much history, so we really leaned into the idea of turning back time,” Malin said. “We started with the colors of the red turret and roof to evolve a color palette of beiges and creams and pinks. We wanted to embody the timelessness of the hotel with the work.”
First, Malin said, they began working with surfboards. Then, they brought in vintage cars. They spent countless hours pouring over photographs from the 1960s, identifying nuances in women’s wardrobe so they could recreate retro style for the Aqualillies dancers to wear.
He gestures to a pair of sunglasses in one print. “Those took a long time to find,” he said.
That level of detail is perhaps why Malin’s work is so difficult to replicate (and people have tried). At his launch party, he pointed out specific details about the hotel that he fixated on as he photographed his series. As he introduced his prints, he highlighted specific shadows that created the depth he wanted in his shots.
And, indeed, in Malin’s work, patterns of umbrellas and shadow come together to create a beautiful symmetry in the midst of the chaos of a crowded beach.
During the pandemic, Malin focused his work on inanimate objects, and his work at the Del was his first foray into photographing living subjects again.
“It was so fun to work with the Aqualillies,” Malin said. “They were fantastic – you tell them, ‘Ladies, get your legs out,’ and they all do it perfectly. It made my job easy.”
The Gray Malin Oceanfront Suite also boasts his new book, Coastal, a self-described love letter to America that embodies seven years of helicopter shots across the country. The book releases May 9. Prints of Malin’s Coronado collection are available at the hotel’s retail shop and on the artist’s website. The Gray Malin pop-up suite can be reserved through this year at the Hotel del Coronado.