Stab Magazine | Morgan Maassen talks shooting Coco Ho nude for ESPN
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Morgan Maassen talks shooting Coco Ho nude for ESPN

By now you’ve already set Coco Ho’s ESPN Body Issue photos as your desktop background. The latest in a short list of surfers to de-robe for the famous Body Issue, Coco looked absolutely magnifique. It was a celebration of a cared-for physique, something Miss Ho has every right to be proud of. And the man […]

style // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

By now you’ve already set Coco Ho’s ESPN Body Issue photos as your desktop background. The latest in a short list of surfers to de-robe for the famous Body Issue, Coco looked absolutely magnifique. It was a celebration of a cared-for physique, something Miss Ho has every right to be proud of. And the man who captured the images? Morgan Maassen. You know Morgs from his work with gents like Dane Reynolds, Kelly Slater and other amazing but slightly less famous surfers. But you may also know him as unofficial photographer for the creme of womens surfing, a title which the recent ESPN shoot sprinkles a little extra gold on. We wanted to know all about the dynamic on set, being a huge yacht moored off an outer reef in Honolulu, and how Coco handled the whole thing…

Stab: So, uh, did Coco suggest you to ESPN or did you hustle it?
Morgan: The backstory is in two parts. Firstly, earlier in April a ESPN producer called me randomly and asked me to sign an NDA to shoot video in Hawaii for a mysterious photoshoot. He spoke of a past shoot with Maya Gabeira, so I immediately knew what it was. I transferred him to my agent, and about a week later it was decided I was up for consideration to now shoot photos (a much bigger deal too, I might add). As this happened, Coco texted me that we would potentially be working together on this, so we were both elated.

Shooting nudes, is it all biz or a little bit weird to begin with? I’ve always kind of steered clear of shooting blatant nudes. “Tasteful nudes” is a huge tundra of crap in the photography world – there is so much bad stuff out their, basically just existing to show naked women. I don’t fly the feminist flag, but photographing women (and third world children, and street beggars, etc…) has really opened my eyes to what is and isn’t exploitive. I feel like there are only a few photos that exist that really capture the female body in an appreciatory way, marvelling at its shape and design. So I had a momentary hesitation for the shoot, mainly out of nervousness, but several days later I took it, because I felt this fell more in the moral high-ground and would be both an exciting, challenging, and positive way to document a female athlete.
I’ve known Coco for more than two years now, and I can’t speak highly enough of her. She’s a top athlete, has a killer personality, and actually laughs at my sadistic jokes and fluent sarcasm. I’d consider her a good friend and someone who’s working relationship and friendship will be one to last for a long time, so that was a very scary thing to think about in agreeing to this shoot. What if my shots did her no justice? What if I offended her? What if she couldn’t handle me seeing her in the nude? etc, etc… But Coco and I talked constantly during and after my agreement to do the shoot, and it felt right. She also gave me a lot of reassurance that I would make her most comfortable, which circled back to our strong relationship and inspired me to keep the set upbeat and goofy.

Photo: ESPN / Morgan Maassen

Photo: ESPN / Morgan Maassen

Was Coco shy or just all, ‘let’s do this’? Coco grabbed this shoot by the horns. She was a badass, and handled it like a champ. She wore her bathrobe around the set, which was a massive yacht and jet skis at an outer reef off of Honolulu, but when a ski would take us to the reef where she surfed, she would slide in naked, and just do her thing. Sometimes I’d swim up to her to give her direction, sometimes she would paddle past me after catching a wave. Mind you, she was bare naked, with no body tape/make up. She was totally comfortable, and aside from getting a bit cold when the wind came up, acted as if it was just another normal surf session.

You’re the new go-to for women’s surf photography. Discuss. When I first started dabbling in photography, I found myself shooting the three things I loved: surfing, lifestyle/travel, and my (now ex) girlfriend. I spent a year exploring the medium. Towards the end of 2010, when things took off fast, my body of personal work suddenly gave me a strong foothold in shooting the lifestyle side of surfing. Megan Villa at Billabong Womens sent me to Tahiti to shoot her girls, and that’s when it clicked for me: women, surfing, and the ocean are a very powerful combination, and an aspect of beauty I really enjoyed documenting. Continuing on, I found myself building solid relationships with women’s brands and their athletes. Stephanie Gilmore is bar-none my favorite person to shoot, and that relationship has been a pillar of my career, both for the photos it’s allowed me to take and the places it’s taken me.
It also helps that I’m extremely handsome, charming, and brutally honest 😉

Anything else we should know about shooting Coco Ho nude for the ESPN Body Issue? The comments and stigmas being attached to the photos has been really exciting and somewhat alarming to watch unfold. I feel like someone might interpret my prior answer about documenting women tastefully as hypocritical considering I basically shot Coco nude for the sake of being nude, but let me explain: the ESPN Body Issue exists to both celebrate top athlete’s bodies as well as show that they can be sexy too. Juggling that combination, we took to the water to shoot Coco doing what she does best. While I’m no Richard Avedon or Bruce Weber and did not take fine-art photos worth hanging in your house, the photos you see of Coco are to show her bending and contorting at surfing’s behest, while unencumbered by wetsuits and bikinis. It’s as simple as that, and was a blast to shoot. So please enjoy!

Photo: ESPN / Morgan Maassen

Photo: ESPN / Morgan Maassen

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