I got to thinking, isn’t it somewhat true that the surfing legends of the seventies wouldn’t be legends if we didn’t have proof? I mean tangible proof, the evidence. The photographs. The person behind the camera is equally as important as the one captured on film. Without the photographer, did that wave even really happen? It’s like, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it even really make a sound? These surfers would all be urban myths, characters of an obscure saga of memories and stories, if it weren’t for the dedicated photographers. And, luck has it that we’ve got 30,000 negatives to prove it.
Aaron Chang is irrefutably one of the most important names in surfing photography. He made it his objective in life to surf and chase the eternal happiness that surfing gave him. It wasn’t until Chang broke his ankle in high school that he discovered his true expertise in photography and his ability to translate his passion for surfing through a lens. In 1979, he took a job with Surfing, giving him the chance to pursue his wanderlust. At the end of the day, Chang simply wanted to surf, but the images he captured were pure magic; it takes a genuine appreciation for surfing to really encapsulate its beauty in a photo.
Bob Barbour is yet another notable name in surfing photography, a surfer-gone photographer whose talent has permeated for decades. Inspired by his photography teacher at San Diego State, Barbour submitted his first rolls of film from Hawaii to Surfing Magazine. His brilliance was swiftly recognized and Barbour landed a staff photographer position for twenty years, later turning to Surfer Magazine. He has taken countless iconic photographs, all of which have individually helped define the splendor of surfing.
Lance Trout, Florida born and raised, made his way to Hawaii in the seventies, which he knew would be a photography gold mine. Trout, too, worked for Surfing Magazine and his photos render the incommunicable precision of the ocean’s waves and the authentic artistry of surfing. Then, we have Dan Merkel, undoubtedly one of the most significant and influential photographers of his time. Everyone knew him as the most dedicated, hard working guy in and out of the water. He had the greatest and most ravenous appetite to capture some of surfing’s images. Merkel shot breathtaking sequences for the film Free Ride and also did much of the photography for Big Wednesday. No one got in Merkel’s way on the North Shore. He later reminisced, “You get in front of me in the water and I’d punch you.” Not only his work, but also his diligence, has set lofty standards in the world of surfing photography.
As I’ve said before, beautiful things don’t ask for attention. The same goes for people. Those who manifest unfeigned beauty do not flaunt or perhaps know of their own allure. Photographers may not be in their own photos, but their personality and strength of character are always present in the images they capture. Photos are simply a reflection of oneself, an expression of one’s own being. Only through photography someone unveil his or her own beauty without unveiling him or herself. Aaron Chang, Bob Barbour, Lance Trout, and Dan Merkel did not ask for attention, but there comes a time when these beautiful things, these beautiful people, deserve it.