Bureau of Arts and Culture Presents Jack English The Surf Photographer Interview
“I look at guy’s like Jeff Hornbaker who use to make a living from photography (before digital) and he was the master photographer. I am far from a Jeff Hornbaker.” – Jack English
Jared Mell – Huntington Beach, California
Liam McNamara – Pipeline, Hawaii
Makua Rothman – The Box, Australia
Mark Healy – Pipe
Joshua TRILIEGI: Your catalogue is beautiful, diverse and modern and yet, at the same time, your images have an original and purist aesthetic that harkens back to the 1970’s. Discuss style in surf photography and explain how you go about ‘picturing ‘ images.
Jack ENGLISH: I love being different and getting a different shot from the next photographer which in the surfing world is so very challenging. If your on the North Shore of Oahu and their are 20 pros out well you’re going to have at least 20 photographers on the beach and 20 in the water shooting the same shot and for the most part shooting the same angle. When I do my shoots here in California I always make sure I am the only photographer or if I show up to a place like Malibu on a big swell and their might be 3 other photographers there I will try to sneak down the beach and get an angle in which they aren’t getting in hopes that I picked the best location in or out of the water. Every photographer has their own style, but I always try to imagine the shot I am going for months in advance for a specific surfer or location. I rarely show up to a spot and just start shooting. I put everything together with the surfer before he goes out in the water. It’s like he is my model and I communicate to him or her what type of shot or move I would like them to do. I like to be involved on what their wearing or what board their riding. I like to direct my shoots and be just as much involved if not more then the surfer. I am not like go out and surf and I will take your picture – it’s not like that for me. I am a director of my own shoots.
Donavon Frankenreiter – The Galapagos Islands
Joshua TRILIEGI: Surf culture is now a worldwide thing, for those of us on the West Coast, who grew up with it, it was and is a way of life. For the audience, its exotic and a commodity of sorts. Explain how you view the trajectory of Surf culture in the recent decades.
Jack ENGLISH: Maybe it’s not safe for me to say this based on [ the fact that] I eat, breathe and sleep surfing and surf photography, but it’s kind of boring now to an extreme. Kind of like everything has been done. To me, the late 80’s into the early 90’s was the best. The 80’s had the bright fluorescent wetsuits and the early 90’s had the momentum generation: Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, Rob Machado, etc… They took surfing to it’s highest level. These guy’s weren’t trying to dress all groovy, they just ripped at surfing. They we’re untouchable. You have guy’s now that pretty much suck at surfing, but they try to dress the part kind of like, hey I am not that good at surfing, but I will try to be the hipster or groovy guy that way I can still get paid to surf. Companies fall for it for whatever reasons based on their are so many dam brands nowadays and all of them want or think they need to sponsor someone.
Maz Quin – Off The Wall, Oahu
Joshua TRILIEGI: Share your views regarding Digital versus Film and the future of photography.
Jack ENGLISH: Digital is such a fucking copout. It’s like a musician who needs all these machines to make their music for them. Take someone like an Elton John who just needs a piano and he will kill it. All these digital photographers became photographers because it was easy, cheap and mostly no cost for film and processing. I have one friend who told me he would never had shot photos if it we’rent for digital. I think in the past before digital you had the true photographers who really loved photography. The photographers that loved going to the photo lab dropping off their film and then hours later racing back to the photo lab praying they nailed the shot. The photographers that loved the smell of the photo labs or the smell of film. On the flip side I can’t speak for the digi guy’s and say they don’t really love photographer or their not really photographers, that’s not it. I mean if I was brought up after the film era I to would most likely just be shooting digital and always question what is film. But I was brought up int he film era and my heart is for film. I have passed a point where I hate digital. I hate hard drives, cords, cards, all that shit just bugs me and then have to worry if my hard drive crashes I loose everything. I can’t handle that. How am I suppose to shoot so many wonderful images and then I am to rely on some hard drive not to crash, fuck that. I much rather have a folder full of tangible slides or negatives on my shelves and be done with it.
Geoff Brack – Brazil
Joshua TRILIEGI: Traveling to surf spots around the world is a big part of your work, how do you set up photography shoots when you are on surf excursions?
Jack ENGLISH: If I am on a shoot with a group of guy’s it’s standard we are staying in the same house together. Wake up, load the car and go to the best spot and plans on shooting as long as the waves are good. If the waves suck that is when I like to go off the beaten path and shoot photos of the local people. When I am on location I get lost from the surfers. I get in the car and drive and drive. I go places where maybe I’m not suppose to be, but I try to find locations of the local people and start shooting. I always go down the beaten path.
Kalle Karanza – Buccaneers, San Diego
Joshua TRILIEGI: There are basically two types of surf photographers, those on the coast and those in the sea, explain the challenges of getting in the water and capturing the aquatic images.
Jack ENGLISH: The guy’s who shoot from the beach are called land lovers. I really don’t like shooting from the beach at all. To me shooting from the beach is so boring with zero challenge . I really only enjoy shooting from the water. I am not going to say shooting from the water is easy and sometimes it is, but I have also swam some spots where I could barley feel my legs as I was kicking so much. The challenge for water shots is being at the right spot and at the right second. It’s a timing issue between the surfer the wave and the photographer. The surfer drops in and he can only do so much what the wave provides him to do and I have to be ready knowing exactly where he is going to do his move on the wave which is usually after the first or second bottom turn. The waves in California aren’t the longest so more times then not right when the surfer drops in he is going to hit it right away or look for a ramp. My biggest challenge in the water is deep water waves that break further out int he ocean (Baja Malibu or Torey Pines), I’ve never enjoyed shooting in those type of conditions. The easiest ones that I enjoy are Off the Wall where you have a 6ft wave come in and just throw out. For the most part the wave breaks in the same spot every time. I love shooting Off the Wall with a fisheye.
Mark Healy – Mavericks, Halfmoon Bay
Joshua TRILIEGI: Can you remember the first time you fell in love with surfing?
Jack ENGLISH: The first time I fell in love with surfing was when I watched the surfing movie by Herbie Fletcher called Wave Warriors 3. The movie had this glamorized feel about surfing and surf photographers. There were scenes showing mass group of surf photographers standing on the shoreline with these huge lenses shooting the top surfers in the world. Herbie nailed it with the music in this movie and the surfers, from Matt Archbold, Martin Potter, Mike Stewart, Christian Fletcher and of course the music by Gadnium. On top of that they would show surfing on tv – the surf contest PSAA. It would show Shane Beschen, Chris Brown and all those guys. Surfing was so candy coated on this show – so pure and nice – like a goody goody type vibe. I loved to watch these contest as they were rarely on, but when I saw them I was hooked.
Laura Enever – US Open, Huntington Beach
Joshua TRILIEGI: You have a very vast and varied Lifestyle catalogue of images that are available in various formats. How important was it for you to create a full body of images and make a living doing so?
Jack ENGLISH: I never planned how I was going to shoot when I began. Looking back now I fucking blew so many great opportunities of shooting portraits or action photos. I mean my first year on the North Shore I was 18 and knew nobody. I knew nothing, I knew zero on what beaches to go to on the North Shore. I was like a kid in a candy store, but wearing blind folds. I always dreamed of making a full time living from photography, but looking back now I look at guy’s like Jeff Hornbaker who use to make a living from photography (before digital) and he was the master photographer. I am far from a Jeff Hornbaker so on one end I felt I never deserved to make a living from surf photography.
John John Florence – Backdoor, Hawaii
Joshua TRILIEGI: Give our readers your top surf spots around the world.
Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa: This wave is a long right hand point break and for the most part the lighting is really good all day. With a wave this long it gives the surfer plenty of time for the last bowl.
Teahpoo, Tahiti : Just a giant round wave. So beautiful with the color of the wave – it’s so innocent, but so dangerous at the same time.
Mavericks Half Moon Bay, California : The second biggest wave off of California with wave heights that reach up to 50ft plus. This wave is so big, mean and ugly at the same time. Mavericks is one of if not the proving ground for any big wave surfer.
Hossegor, France : Big beach break barrels.
Malibu, California : A long right that is so perfect for the long boarders.
Barra de la Cruz, Mexico : A long right that peals off the back of these rocks along a sandy shoreline.