Costa Rica Journal

Renaissance woman Cheryl Dunn is a photographer, filmmaker, documentarian and all around mentor to todays young pioneering artists. Watch Beautiful Losers to see for yourself the creative world she inhabits and nurtures. This particular project was conceived with a deep love for ocean culture by Cheryl and friend Claire Darrow.

Together the women packed their bags, consolidated their closest friends, and flew themselves to Costa Rica along with The Standard's new collection of swimwear by Quiksilver. The goal was to breathe life into this collaboration of clothes while savoring the sun and salt on a distant island. The result is an intimate surfing journey with friends and family entitled Privado (spanish for Private). We asked Cheryl a few questions on the project, her inspiration, and her views on DIY film culture. 

The Standard: Thank you for a beautiful portfolio with the new Quiksilver/Standard collaboration. Can you tell us the inspiration narrative for both the photos and video

Cheryl Dunn: Well, I had been to this beautiful spot for New Years and started to surf. Claire [staffer at André Balazs Properties] was contemplating another trip in March and invited me. Of course I wanted to go but was feeling guilty to take off the time. At the same time she had seen a picture I had taken that appeared in Journal magazine of a girl skipping in the sun in a bathing suit and liked the vibe. She asked me if I wanted to do another video and shoot for Quiksilver as I had done one last year. Since the trip was brewing already we thought it would be cool to just grab the [Quiksilver/Standard] suits and wing it in Costa Rica. Her husband Chris was already there surfing with some friends from Australia and New York. Luckily there was a beautiful Australian yoga teacher surfer chick with them so we just asked everyone to wear the suits during their daily routines — surf and hike and dance around. I like to let people just be themselves… doing what they would naturally do, in a great location with a loose narrative. The narrative naturally emerged out of Claire painting this awesome sign with a scary feeling font.. it was hung at the opening of the road leading into her property to deter trespassers. We thought “Privado” would be a good title and concept for the film… a mysterious beautiful secret spot where the jungle is all consuming and can overtake your being. Anything can happen, which is the beautiful mystery of nature.

Can you tell us who the characters in the story are and why you chose them?

The characters are a mysterious jungle girl who has all the men under her spell… like that of the jungle and the waves… an intoxication that is hard to control. We used all the friends that were there, so there was not much delineation between work and hanging out. I think this is when you get the purest imagery because what you are capturing is real.

You’ve been documenting for several years now and seen a lot of changes. How do you feel the new easier tools of technology have contributed to the landscape of DIY doc projects…. enslaved or liberated us? Also, how have the new cameras (film/photo), going digital, editing software, and internet affected your own personal work?

I have always been somewhat of a one-woman-show… and I still am in most cases. The new technology is definitely more cost effective. I don’t think new tools replace old tools for me. They are just something else… like a different kind of paint brush. I come from film. I have studied and used all aspects of it my whole career. I value that knowledge. Some of this knowledge lends itself to the digital technology but there is a whole new rule book with digital. Before the onset of digital, maybe you took polaroids to test your light and composition. You used your knowledge and experience to know what you were getting, and you were trusted with that responsibility. Now people don’t need that base, they fire then check the image. There is a whole new dance that I find so funny. Take a shot, look at the back of the camera, again and again. I have had the experience of shooting a snap shot, and then the subject getting really pissed because they couldn’t see themselves on the back of my camera immediately. I like the experience of getting film back from the lab and having this surprise gif

Digital still cameras and shoots are something in the middle between taking stills on film and shooting video. You shoot way more images. Each frame is way less precious, so there are many more in between shots that lead you to the perfect shot because they don’t cost you anything. I just think as time goes by we just keep coming up with more and more choices and they don’t replace, they fill in the gap

So to answer your question, I pretty much use both mediums always. I always have my Leica’s around my neck. These are generally my favorite images, this is the camera I use for all of my personal work. I use digital cameras to shoot video and do commercial shoots when time is of the essence and I have a specific assignment. There is definitely a liberation to presenting and disseminating work digitally, but the editing is harder. Too many choices.

What equipment did you use to shoot these gorgeous images?

I used Leica M6, Leica M7, Ricoh G21 (still cameras that all use film) and Canon 5D (digital video).

What is your real passion project at the moment right now?

I have been commissioned by the Maritime/Seaport Museum of NY to make a film in conjunction with an Alfred Steiglitz retrospective that they are mounting in Sept 2010. Using Steiglitz as a jumping off point, the film will be about Street Photographers that have used NYC as a major subject in their work. I am approaching all of my idols in photography to interview and film and will hang out on the streets as much as possible day and night shooting 16mm of the NYC summer of 2010. Basically, I couldn’t dream up a better project. So if anyone wants to e-mail me about some of their favorite NY street scenes, and why they love this town, please do.

Cheryl Dunn is a contributing blogger on The Standard network. Her personal work can be viewed at The limited edition swimwear collection is available at