Southern California and beach culture are inseparable. Photographer Art Brewer has been documenting the relationship, particularly in his native Laguna Beach for over 35 years. Though this self-taught photographer blazed a path to becoming a true icon of surf photography, his body of work covers a large variety of subjects including skateboard photography.
Samy’s Camera Photo School has the honor of hosting ‘Action Photography with Art Brewer – Skateboarding‘ on February 27th. During the hands-on course, which includes entrance into Hurley’s Private Indoor Skate Park, Brewer will be teaching students the skills for photographing skateboarding and other action sports.
Prior to the skateboard photography course, Art Brewer was kind enough to join Samy’s Camera Photo Blog for an interview to discuss a variety of aspects of his career as a professional photographer from surf photography, skateboard photography and that time he lost $30k worth of gear to the waves.
Q: That Art Brewer is a self-taught photographer, is well documented. Do you think that being less ‘by the book’ and also so young helped you be able to get access to shots that older and more classically trained photographers might not have had the chance to get? Perhaps by standing out less as an outsider and more as a member of the community?
A: To me, there isn’t much of a difference. Although I never went to school for a photography degree, I did train under photographers like Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Jerry Uelsmann, Jack Welpott, and Judy Dater and they became my teachers. Real work experience is always preferred. “Those who can’t, teach”.
I started out shooting friends and most of my recognizable photos were point and shoots taken by me, for me, that people liked. A commercial photographer is usually on assignment shooting other peoples vision for a purpose so the approach is different.
Q: You are teaching a class for Samy’s Camera Photo School – Action Photography with Art Brewer – soon that focuses on Skateboard photography. What drew you to photographing skaters? Did it feel like an extension of covering the Southern California beach culture that surrounded surf photography or its own world?
A: Skateboarding was just as much apart of my life as surfing. A lot of the moves and lines are similar. When the surf is dead or blown out, surfers skate. It’s a great way to keep up your endurance and work on new tricks. Most of the surfing, I shot for myself because I was drawn to it. Most of the skateboarding I shoot is for friends and clients. It gives me a chance to set-up the shot and play around more. Surfing is more point and shoot so you can really only play with panning and slower shutter speeds. Skateboarding has endless possibilities.
Q: As Samy’s Camera, we have particular interest in a photographer’s camera and gear. Describe your camera set up when you go out to shoot skateboarding or surf photography? Do you have a favorite camera?
A: Main difference between shooting skateboarding vs. surfing is the water housings and the lens choices. If I have the option of using a housing and swimming out to the line-up, the equipment is similar to shooting skateboarding. You want a high speed camera with a wide-angle or middle zoom lens. You can also use a fisheye but that’s only if you are getting really close. Lighting can lend itself to both situations.
If you can’t swim out or you are shooting from the bleachers, a telephoto lens is preferred. My favorite camera for shooting skate / surf in the Canon 1Dx or the Canon 7DMII. Both are high res, high speed cameras. Close-up action uses fisheye, 16-35, 11-24, 24-70 and the 24mm and 35mm fixed lenses. Telephoto is usually the 70-200, 100-400, 300mm or 500mm and I have 1.4x and 2x extenders.
Most skate photographers use one shot cameras searching for the decisive moment. Back in the day, we would swim into the line-up with one roll of film so instead of sequences, the peak of action was all you tried to shoot.
Q: Have you fully made the transition to digital photography or are you still bringing film into your work?
A: I use film or Polaroids whenever I can. When shooting for myself, I use a combination of digital, 35mm and 120. I still own my Hasselblad 500 for older styled shoots. Most of the time, the client wants too much content for film and no one wants the added expense and turn around time. They are just fine using VSOC filters and plug-ins to make digital mimic film styles.
I shot Jamie Anderson for Foam Magazine and Alex Knost for the cover of Spray Magazine and I shot them both with a combination of film and Polaroids with a bit of digital for safety. The digital images have never seen the light of day. We scanned the Polaroids and film in high resolution and that is what was used for print.
Q: Everybody sees the world a bit differently. Color is a hallmark of Art Brewer photography. Are you representing how the world looks through your eyes or exaggerating them for artist purposes?
A: My goal when processing out any photo is to make it look the way I saw it when I shot it. Water in different parts of the world have different hues of blues and greens. Some even look muddy. If I enhanced each image to be the bluest of blues, it would take away from the location. All of the HDR photos being printed puts everything in such an extreme light that it causes a sub-reality.
Q: Counting the GoPros when walking through a skate park makes it pretty obvious that photography and video are an important part of modern skate culture. Is the intensive chronicling of skating – and surfing – from the POV (point of view) perspective that these cameras provide good or bad for the future of action sports photography?
A: GoPros and iPhones have made photography mundane. The market is so saturated that there is nothing you haven’t seen. Being able to mount cameras to any appendage has turned the Point of View perspective into the new norm. Anything that can be done, has been done. No orifices left unturned. Instead of carrying pounds of gear, you are carrying ounces. We have always had camera mounts, they were just harder to use and balance.
Q: As beautiful as they are, oceans and beaches can be highly dynamic and, at times, brutal environments. What is the biggest ‘beating’ one of your cameras has taken in the name of getting a shot?
A: Definitely the drowning of $20k to $30k worth of brand new gear and 20 rolls of exposed film. We were on a trip with 6-8 of the best surfers of that time and the conditions were the best we had seen all trip. 8-10 ft waves set after set. I had 2 – 300mm f2.8 auto-focus lenses with image stabilized cameras. One was on loan from Canon on it’s first field test.
At lunch, we asked the boat driver to change his spark plugs to ensure the engine would last the rest of the day. He refused and the engine cut out while we were motoring into position for one of the biggest sets of the day. It didn’t even leave me enough time to shut the two waterproof pelican cases at my feet.
Q: Over all the years you have spent photographing in and around Laguna Beach, there must be few photographers that know it as well as you do. Other than beaches, can you give us two ‘must-shoot’ locations that photographers should visit in the town?
A: That is tough. Most of Laguna revolves around the beach. If you want something different, try the trails on Laguna Canyon off the 133 and 73 freeways. They are all old Chumash Indian Caves and Artifacts. It is the largest piece of undeveloped land in Laguna.
Pacific Island Drive above South Laguna or El Morro Canyon are great for windy cliff driving and elevated views of the beach. There are a lot of houses and various developments that have taken up all of the real estate over the last 40 years but you can still steal a great sunset if you position yourself correctly.
Action Sports Photography with Art Brewer – Skateboarding
When: February 27, 2016; 9:00 am to 3:00 pm
Where: Samy’s Camera Santa Ana & Hurley’s Private Indoor Skate Park
Cost: $200 – includes entry to Hurley’s Private Indoor Skate Park & Lunch
Click here for more information & to buy tickets.