In this edition of Lovesourced, Alex Boniface looks at Tomas Hein’s ‘White Waters’ project, which aims to “explore and document an ever growing peripheral sub-culture and its protagonists as never before”
From John Van Hamersveld’s Endless Summer poster which mythologized West Coast surf culture in simple graphics, to artist Raymond Pettibon’s surf drawings and paintings, to Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break as the mystic-surfing-outsiders in search of the perfect wave, imagery has been as central to surf culture as the breaks. Photographer Tomas Hein both belongs to that tradition and breaks with it, locking into the dreamy, wistful outsider spirit of Endless Summer, but repositioning it in a very different environment to create images that brings a fresh eye to the visual culture of surfing.
1. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your background as an image maker
Image making has always been a big part of my life. My mother is a painter, and ever since I can remember cameras were there to record family life. I wish I could say that when I was a kid I had a polaroid camera, but in Argentina that was a rare thing. Instead, my parents gave me a Kodak Star 110 camera, which I used to take silly pictures of my friends and myself.
Later in life I managed to borrow my father’s camera and lenses to use when I went surfing on weekends, this is when I started thinking of photography as a way of life, combining my passion of surfing and my urge to make sense of the world around me through the lens. But then I moved to Europe and left surfing behind. And long story short, after living two years in Copenhagen, I moved to London and studied photographic arts and the University of Westminster in London.
2. Who are your photography heroes and how would you describe your own style?
It’s hard to narrow it down to a few practitioners as I admire so many different disciplines in photography, but for the sake of this interview I have to say William Eggleston, Alec Soth and Seba Kurtis. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet the three of them personally and this had a huge impact on me. The three of them have the ability to turn banal objects and subjects of everyday life into a magical and fascinating world.
My own style is hard to describe as each project I do takes a different form. With White Water, I chose a contemporary documentary approach, using a medium format camera and large format 5”x4” camera to achieve a formal image structure and work with the subjects in depth, rather than just snap slices of their life. A binary opposite to the commodified depiction of surfing, which is what we are used to see.
3. What was your motivation behind White Waters, and what excited you most about it?
My initial motivation was to get back to my roots in surfing and do a project about something I’m genuinely interested in. It was also a way of finding myself outside of the concrete bubble of stress that London can generate from time to time.
As I started shooting in Scotland for the first part of the project, the excitement was overwhelming. It fascinated me to see how British surfers took the sport to its limits, fighting against absurdly poor conditions, suffering from frost bite, howling winds and hail storms, and still managed to keep the spirit of the sport alive. Nothing could stop them from surfing.
4. Three photos from White Waters that immediately come to mind?
5. What determined your choice?
To me, these three images best represent the project so far. The photograph of a young boy almost completely covered by his wetsuit, invites us to examine his feelings before going into the water. The full body portrait of Micah Lester in the farm after surfing, with the tires and farm objects around, places the subject in an uncommon setting, challenging the status quo of surf culture as depicted in magazines, but also invites us to experience his feelings after a good surf session in Scotland. Last but not least, the landscape where Jack Hughes stands contemplating nature as he prepares to challenge it, seemingly engulfed by the curl of a wave created by the hills own shadow, evokes the work of 19th Century romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich.
6. You describe surfing in Britain as a ‘peripheral sub-culture’. How have you tried to visualise this in your imagery?
I think that it is inherently manifested through the settings that I choose to photograph my subjects in: farms, villages, cars and the beach as well. These settings allude to a larger cultural group and are also in binary opposition to the settings in which we are used to seeing surfers. Be it in magazines or commercials.
7. How did you find the crowd-funding process? And what drove you to Kickstarter in the first place? What is your next step for the project?
I’ve been aware of crowd funding for a number of years and Kickstarter seemed like the right platform. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet my goal, so the next step in the project is to secure funds to continue the project elsewhere. I’m putting together a proposal for private funding and grants, and will also be self-publishing a newspaper zine including the first photographs I shot in Scotland. This will probably be out in the summer. Eventually I aim to publish a book of the project.
To view more of Tomas’ work, view his website.