Last Friday, July 22nd, Canon showed some love to the hard workers on the other side of the lens. The world renowned camera company invited Art Brewer, Zak Noyle and JP Van Swae down to the new Canon Experience Center in Costa Mesa, CA to host “The Evolution of Surf Photography.”
The event highlighted the determination, training and hard work that is necessary to become one of the surf industry’s top photographers. And while surfers receive the majority of the glory when they get a cover shot or new movie part, after the event it was clear that the photographers are the real work horses of the operation. The photographers labor over equipment, conditions, lighting and day-long swim sessions to capture moments and share them with the rest of the world.
Each photographer curated a slideshow of their photos wherein they offered photographic advice and also addressed certain technicalities and nuances within their work.
The stand out speaker for me was Art Brewer. Mr. Brewer has taken photos for surf magazines for 35 years, in fact, he was signed as a staff photographer for SURFER Magazine at the ripe age of 18. His slideshow had photos of Gerry Lopez, Donavon Frankenreiter, Dave Rastovich, Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton, Shane Dorian and more when all their careers had only just begun. Brewer had no problem recalling the exact date, location and surfers in every photo beginning chronologically with his oldest and finishing with his most current work. It was a lifetime’s worth of pristine beaches, tiny board shorts, pin-tail guns, empty waves and all of it combined to create some serious surf nostalgia.
Both Zack Noyle and JP Van Swae also presented at the event and shed some light on the more contemporary issues of surf photography like lens sizes, correct lighting, travel tips and advancements in camera technology. As opposed to Brewer, who shared many photos that were taken with an “old-fashioned” film camera, Noyle and Van Swae shoot on digital and are up to date on all the recent gear.
Noyle shared an amazing story in which he was shooting the 2016 Eddie contest with his camera in one hand to take photos and his phone in the other to link those same photos to social media so spectators could see what was happening in quasi-real time. This was accomplished through the wifi share capability of his Canon camera and proved how useful the new camera technology is to photographers and their audience. What is often forgotten by the audience who saw Noyle’s photos from this past Eddie is that he decided not to use a ski and instead elected to swim and tread water for eight hours, taking no breaks.
The night ended with a panel discussion between the three photographers and again, the audience was presented with a bounty of advice and insights.
It was clear by the end of the discussions that Art Brewer’s photos and warm presence have set a precedent for the mindfulness and dedication necessary to make a life out of chasing and photographing waves.
The precedent he has set has been taken up by the next generation like Van Swae and Noyle. The work they have created thus far with today’s advanced camera equipment promises that the future of surf photography is a bright one. And hopefully one where photographers are valued just as much as the surfers they photograph.