Of Real Life Unicorns: Austin Eckardt

We caught up with photographer, artist, and surfer Austin Eckardt before the opening reception of Of Real Life Unicorns, an exhibition devoted to horses featuring his work and the work of Claudia Tarlow and benefitting United Reins and Defensa Rincon respectively. Read on to discover how Austin came to form a special bond with these magical creatures and how it’s informed his work…

I was lucky enough to be welcomed into a program at the Dunes in East Hampton. They run all types of intensive therapies, Equine being one of them. The horses are the truest mirror of yourself, reflecting your energy. They only respond to vibes so it puts your feelings into perspective.

How did you discover United Reins and what inspired you to partner with them for this charity show?

A woman who worked at the Dunes became my closest confidant – I consider her my sobriety mentor. Equine was her program and she is the horse lover who introduced me to it all. She has just started United Reins, which is a non-profit that really needs support to get off the ground.

Tell us a bit about the pieces in this series and the process behind them…

“Getting sober” isn’t just about ridding your life of substances. It’s a deep, deep process where one has to face the real reasons for self medicating in the first place. I was terrified to go down that rabbit hole. By coincidence, I was terrified of horses also. As I opened up to the process, I opened to up to the horses too. Getting close to them became a reflection of my recovery. This body of work encapsulates all of this.

Looking further back, how/when did you first get into photography?

Growing up, I could never afford anything other than a hand me down wetsuit and surf board. When iPhones came out, I started using mine to take photos – a lot. Interestingly enough, years ago a sober friend of mine (I was not even close to sober at the time), saw my photos on social media and gifted me a super fancy camera. YouTube taught me how to use it. All this time later, I still have that camera and still credit Anna for lighting the fire of my passion for photography.

You recently posted on Instagram about celebrating 1 year of sobriety and wrote “Everything happens for a reason.” – First off, our warmest congrats! Secondly, could you please elaborate on this sentiment and what makes it ring truer for you today than ever before…

Faith in a higher power is what keeps me going. If you relish in the negative without seeing or believing in the positive, you can’t dig yourself out.

If you could travel in time and share one pearl of wisdom with your former self what would it be?

Haha, well – everything DOES happen for a reason.

If you could travel in time and share one pearl of wisdom with your future self what would it be?

Sobriety and living in love (not fear) is a daily reprieve. Sometimes, it’s hard to find time to meditate on that. When the walls feel like they’re closing in, the most important reminder is to stay where your feet are. If you can assess right

where you are (not you in the future or in the past), you will almost always find you are safe and sound right where you are standing and everything is ok.

Switching gears – we’re BIG fans of your surf camps! This seems like a huge undertaking – how did the project first come together and what is the most rewarding aspect of it for you?

Austin’s Surf Camp grew organically after I spent my entire youth hustling surf lessons in the summers. Ditch Plains/Montauk has developed into a hub for all level of surfers, but especially novice ones. With such high volumes of people in the water, most really want a surf coach/instructor with them. But, over time, I realized that I was having way more fun working with kids. We of course still run privates for grown ups, but the demand for getting kids in the water safely was nothing short of overwhelming. We also realized that kids have more fun around other kids. And, so do we for that matter.

Lastly, are there any upcoming projects/events you’d like to plug/promote?

A true East Ender is currently preparing for hibernation. Summer runs us all ragged, and now is the time to recoup and rest. With a second baby on the way, I’m planning to buckle down and get creative over the next few months. Ask me again in Spring what I’ve been working on!

Don’t miss the Opening Reception of ‘Of Real Life Unicorns’ featuring Austin Eckardt and Claudia Tarlow, benefitting United Reins and Defensa Rincon respectively, on Saturday, September 29th at 6:00 pm. As always, peep our calendar for event details and to RSVP.