Michael Prince travels the world taking photographs for big clients — Google, Bank of America, Verizon, and Pepsi among them, as well as a few magazines you may have heard of like Forbes and The New York Times Magazine — but his real photographic joy happens a few steps from his front door in Magnolia.
Born and raised in Miami, Prince took off shortly after graduating from the University of Florida, headed for Florence, Italy, to study photography. He returned to the U.S. to begin a career as a photojournalist, and later ventured into fine art photography. He has had solo exhibitions in New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles galleries.
Prince and his family — wife Kristin, son Noah, and daughter Nina — ultimately settled down on Cape Ann around 2005. It wasn’t long after that he started jumping off the pier and launching a craze.
It’s like Magnolia’s Got Talent and everybody’s talent is jumping off a pier.
When did this obsession start? Your portfolio of jumpers runs deep.
Probably around 10 years ago. As a photographer it was visually appealing, and as a guy that likes to do dumb stuff, it definitely piqued my interest.
Miami’s a long way from Magnolia — how did you wind up here?
After college I was working in Boston, and met my future wife at a bar there. She’s from Ipswich and after we got married, we moved in with her Mom. Soon after that we moved to NYC and got our careers started. We loved it there, but after 9/11 it was kind of sad for us so we moved back to the North Shore.
I’ve lived here for over 25 years and I still often feel like the new guy in town. Has that been your experience, too?
It’s funny, there are some places around here where everyone knows me (like the pier) and others where I am a tourist.
Ok, back to the pier. Your subjects seem stoked to ham it up for your camera. Was it always like that, or was there warm-up period?
I think the fact that I am a jumper helped me earn the kids trust. My terrible, terrible back flip is always a source of merriment. Plus, they love the pictures. We give each other ideas for new jumps. Everyone has different skill sets.
Ever seen anyone get hurt?
Well, everyone gets minor scratches and cuts sometimes, but fortunately I have never seen anything serious.
You seem to have a few regulars — anything you can tell us about them?
Oh yeah, there are definitely some kings of the pier. A couple of generations of them too. The top regular guys are probably Dylan Spellman and Jeremy Nestor. They also act as unofficial lifeguards and keep an eye on the younger kids. Dylan can do incredible flips and crush the landings. Jeremy is one of only a few guys who can do the Boardwalk, which is a dive from the back rail, over the front rail into the water. It’s terrifying and something I stay well away from.
There are a couple of little kids that you can tell are going to be great, they are already doing cool stuff. Sammy Parisi comes to mind, he is a future pier king for sure.
There are so many things I love about pier jumping. First-timers conquering their fear and leaping into the air, the joy on their faces when they emerge from the water — alive! — and usually right back up to do it again.
I see it as a right of passage too: conquering that fear is part of growing up and it is really hard for some kids.
One of my other favorite things about the pier is how encouraging everyone is to the jumpers (adults as well as kids) who are afraid. The regulars talk them through it, and let them know they will survive.
Michael Prince is a Magnolia-based commercial photographer.