The Showcase: Ed Freemanby: Zack Seckler
“The Showcase” is a weekly publication featuring a photographer that has caught our eye here at The F STOP. I’ve asked Ed Freeman to answer a few questions about his surf photography, some of which is featured in the new 2009 PDN Photo Annual.
These aren’t conventional surfing images, please explain what you’ve done to create these images.
They’re shot conventionally with the same equipment all surfing photographers use; a digital SLR and a lens as long as your arm - literally. But then I do a lot of Photoshop work on them - compositing, dodging and burning, retouching. I’ve taken out waves and added new ones, enlarged waves, changed skies, erased extraneous bodies, even combined pieces of two bodies into one - I do whatever is necessary to create images that say what I want them to say. They aren’t “true to life” any more than a Vermeer landscape is “true to life.” What’s true about them is that they FEEL the way surfing FEELS - at least to me they do.
I don’t think your technique has been replicated often in the surfing photography world. Where did you get the idea to break off from the reportage style and turn these images into more conceptual fine art?
I’m not a reporter and I never have been one. If photography is about conveying faithfully what was in front of the lens, then I’m not even a photographer; I’m more of an illustrator. I don’t know anything about surfing, and I can’t - and don’t - approach it from the point of view of somebody who does. Surfers and real surfing photographers can spend hours discussing the fine points of one surfer’s technique versus another’s, one wave versus another. I’m completely blind to those subtleties. Instead, I’m interested in composition, lighting, the texture of the spray - I’m looking at it from a purely visual perspective. That makes for a very different emphasis, a very different picture.
What was your inspiration in creating this body of work?
I was in Hawaii shooting stock - your basic “palm-trees-swaying-in-the-breeze-at-sunset” stuff, and I happened to drive by a surfing beach one day - the first time I ever saw serious surfers confronting serious waves. And I was blown away by the real life drama of it - men, women, even ten year old kids - who risk their lives to have what surely must be a transformational relationship with the ocean. I couldn’t participate in what were doing - I can’t even swim - but I thought I could convey some of their peak experience in pictures, the adrenaline rush they must have every time they catch a good wave.
How has the surfing community reacted to these images?
They’ve never been published, so I don’t really know. Many surfers are so caught up in the technical aspects of the sport that they look at all pictures analytically - how big is the wave, how good is this particular surfer’s form, what kind of board is he riding, and so on. But some have seen these pictures for what they’re intended to be - impressions, not recordings of specific events. The highest compliment I ever got from a surfer was, “yeah man, that’s what it’s like when I’m out there.”
These images were all done for a book project. What was the experience like of getting this book made?
This is still a book in progress - I don’t have a publisher yet, although I do have an book agent who’s waiting patiently for me to finish putting it together so she can go find one. I’ve published a couple of other books and I can say with some certainty that publishing is more work and less money than you ever thought possible. But it’s also immensely rewarding. There’s still something magical about the printed page - seeing your images on it, and knowing that people you will never meet will see and get value from what you’ve done.