chris bickford – storm

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Chris Bickford

After The Storm

play this essay


…A life of Surf on the Outer Banks


The bad weather comes out of nowhere.   Within hours, sometimes minutes, a perfect day at the beach–kids playing in the surf, girls in bikinis parading up and down the shoreline, middle-aged men tending fishing rods, beer in hand–turns into a raging tempest.  The wind picks up, the temperature drops ten degrees in as many minutes, the barometric pressure plummets, and the sky takes on dark chiaroscuro tones, ominous against the traces of warm light disappearing on the horizon.  Beach lovers, rudely awakened from their seaside reveries, gather their things and scatter like crows.  In no time at all, the wind whips the ocean up into a froth of whitewater and salt spray.  The picture-postcard shoreline of North Carolina’s Outer Banks has  donned its alter ego: a raging, dark, but strangely beautiful land of cloud, wind,and blowing sand.

The storm will last a day, possibly three, maybe seven.  Black clouds will hover ominously, the brisk ocean wind out of the northeast will permeate everything with its damp chill.  Most folks will be driven indoors, to hibernate until the next patch of good weather.

But here and there, there are signs of life….

In front of Avalon pier, a rag-tag procession of pickup trucks, SUV’s, and beat-up sedans with racks on top rolls through the parking lot, each vehicle pulling up to a different spot along the bulkhead, and parking to face the sea.   They will stay a minute or two, maybe ten or twenty, maybe an hour—engines running, tailpipe smoke wisping in the damp wind—their drivers warm inside, watching, waiting.  A few intrepid fishermen brave it out on the pier,  the platform trembling with each wave crashing through the rickety pilings, the spray shooting up through the planks and drenching their trousers.   Clouds of seafoam roll down the beach, breakers lash against houses laid bare to the ocean’s fury from years of shoreline erosion.

Somewhere down the beach, a pack of young gremlins is out surfing the slop, bobbing up and down in the chunky soup, whooping and hollering as the sea tosses them around and whitewater sprays their faces.   There’s little hope of getting a decent ride in conditions like this, but the kids don’t care; it’s better than staying inside playing video games.   Red flags on the beach flutter furiously, reading “NO SWIMMING”…but no one said anything about surfing.

A woman in a raincoat walks past, her hand clasping tightly to the hood, body slanted sideways into the wind, a dog on a leash. A few gulls are swarming around something that has washed up in the storm.

Other than that, the beach is empty.

But inside houses all up and down the Outer Banks, surfers are listening to the mechanical voice coming from the NOAA weather radio, its uninflected drone creating a soundtrack for their anticipation:  “Waves. ten to fifteen feet.  Winds.  east-northeast. at. thirty-five to forty knots. becoming southwest. at.  five to ten. by. Sunday.”   Buoy reports, tide charts, surf forecast sites, the Weather Channel…the dedicated are poring over every last piece of information they can get, crossing their fingers that the swells will increase in size and duration and the wind will switch offshore, grooming the ocean’s surface into clean parallel lines.   They live for the morning they will wake to find that the storm has passed on, and the raging sea has begun to clean up into beautiful, rippable, shackable walls of pure energy.


Without storms, there would be no surf.   The winds generated by cyclones, hurricanes, and low pressure systems churn up the surface of the ocean; and the nastier the storm, the bigger the surf that is ultimately generated by it.  As the waves on the open ocean crash into each other, their energy focuses into swells, directional pulses of energy moving just under the ocean’s surface, which close ranks and fall in to a single-file march to some distant shore.    The further the shore, the more organized the swell becomes.   But the longer the swell  travels across the sea, the more it loses of the fierce energy that created it;  and if it travels too far, it will eventually fade back into the sea.   If, however, it finds itself confronted with a solid obstruction–a rocky point, a sandy beach, a barely submerged reef–it will crash and burn violently in an explosion of whitewater and curl, a never-ending expression of the life force that animates the universe.

It is this violent but beautiful death of the swell that makes possible the art of surf.   The shape of the ocean floor as it rises to meet the coast pushes and sculpts the breaking swell into an infinite variety of surf; from fat, hollow, beachbreak barrels to long, sloping pointbreaks.   As the wave breaks along the shore, it jacks up into a cylindrical wall before crashing over top of itself; along the fast-moving vertical edge of this wall, surfers explore a magical interplay of gravity and kinetic energy, fusing their movements with the changing shape and speed of the wave in a performance that is part dance, part communion, and part combat–with no small amount of showmanship and bluster from those who can do it well.


The surf on the Outer Banks is of a variety generally termed “beach break” (as opposed to “reef break” or “point break”).  The shoreline is one long, straight stretch of sand, with no bays, promontories, or hard stone of any kind to buffer the wind, or to hold the sand in place.  What makes surfing possible here are small hill-sized bumps of submerged sand that collect around piers or form in random spots along the beach from the shifting ocean currents.  These underwater dunes, or sandbars, lie just offshore, and as the tide goes out they get nearer to the ocean’s surface, forcing the incoming swells to jack up and break over top of them.   After a particularly violent storm, the sandbars shift, requiring an exhaustive reconnaissance and re-mapping of the shoreline to find the spots where the wave is breaking the best.   Once the surf begins to clean up after a storm, an extensive cell-phone network fires into action, as friends fill each other in on where they’ve checked and how it looks.   On the morning of the clean-up, the hardcore may have driven as much as an hour or two on dawn patrol, anywhere from Corolla Light to Hatteras Light–and sometimes further south to Frisco if the conditions are favorable–trying to find the spot where the wave is breaking the best.

A good sandbar can last a year, sometimes longer; often a spot will die for a year or two and then re-emerge with a slightly different size and shape to it.  Some die slow deaths, some die quickly in big storms.   There are certain spots that consistently attract good sandbars, and other spots that just magically appear one summer or fall in unexpected places.

The window of opportunity for good surf on the Outer Banks is small.   The surf starts off sloppy and confused, too big, too much whitewater….and slowly it becomes cleaner and cleaner…for an hour or two, maybe three, it’s perfect.   Peaky A-frames coming in one after the other, enough for everybody, smooth as silk…Then, as soon as it comes together, it begins to die.   The tide comes in, the swells diminish in size and power, maybe the wind shifts once again and blows everything out.   “You missed it this morning” is a common gloat the hardcore like to throw out to their I-got-wasted-last-night-and-slept-til-noon brethren, who still manage to get out and have a good time surfing the tail end of it.   The next day, the ocean will be flat, or choppy, or just not quite good enough to bother; and the surfers will disappear until after the next storm.


The local crew on the Outer Banks is a diverse lot, from burnt-out punks to born-again Christians; from pre-teen gremlins to guys in their sixties and seventies.  A number of strong women surfers represent the fairer sex, but the crew is predominantly male.   There are summer surfers, Sunday surfers; guys who won’t surf if it’s too cold to trunk it; guys who will ALWAYS paddle out, even on the iciest days….there are brat packs and lone wolves, world-famous globetrotting professionals, and mellow stoners who just want to get wet and catch a ride.   In the summer, there are tourists–loads of them–trying to figure it out on rented styrofoam boards, or clogging some spot with a surf school…and whenever the surf is really good, the Va Beach crew rolls in like a band of Turks, charging it at the best spots, pulling crazy aerial maneuvers, and generally acting like they own the place.

The level of talent is high; and at certain spots, if a heavy crew is out, it can feel downright intimidating if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Generally, however, the vibe is friendly, or at the very least polite, and everybody is just stoked to be surfing.  Many of us who live here have our own little spots that we keep going back to, just to have a wave to ourselves.   They are not always the best spots, but they feel like home, and it saves time from running up and down the beach looking for a better wave.   And besides, that’s where our friends will be.   There are few more sublime moments to experience in life than that of sitting out in the lineup on a soft Outer Banks day with three or four friends, sometime around sunset, watching the world turn into a blazing canvas of reds, oranges, yellows, magentas, blues–sometimes even greens–and catching wave after wave as the day begins to fade.   On a glassy evening, with just a touch of humidity in the air to obscure the horizon, the ocean reflects the colors in the sky so perfectly it feels as if you are swimming in a sea of light.


It was over the course of many such evenings that the idea for this photo essay took shape; after one too many perfect sessions, sitting out in the water, saying out loud to my friends, “God, I wish I had a camera right now,”  I finally broke down and bought myself a waterproof housing.   Of course, the sad reality is that you can’t just bring along your camera while you’re out surfing;  it’s hard to paddle a surfboard when your hands are clutching a big heavy piece of glass, metal, and plastic. You have to make a decision: surf, or take pictures.    So I haven’t done much surfing since I started this project.  But I don’t mind really; truth be told I’m a much better photographer than I am a surfer, and for me the magic of surfing has always been about the feeling.  I get just as much satisfaction from knowing, when I swim back to shore clutching my camera and sputtering water,  that I’ve captured something special, some small shred of the essence of this waterlogged life out on the edge of the ocean.   Bit by bit, session by session, the picture is coming together.


A life of surf is not conducive to the rhythms of the workaday world.  Surf has no schedule.   It comes on a Monday morning as often as it comes on a Sunday afternoon–which is why very little ever gets done on time around here.  If the surf is up, or the fish are running, responsibilities will get put on hold.   Kids will play hookie, construction workers will walk off the job site, even realtors will sneak in a midday session.  The work will get done, eventually; but the swell won’t wait for quitting time.  You have to strike when it’s hot, even if it means pissing a few people off.  Surf-consciousness breeds a certain nonchalance about the rest of the world that can drive outsiders crazy.

Sometimes it tests families and relationships, the surf life; but more often than not it builds them and solidifies them.  Grandfathers go surfing with their grandkids, husbands and wives paddle out together, church groups and restaurants represent out in the water.    It is a language that ties people together– talking about the last swell, the next swell, what the wind is doing, where you last had it good, where you’re thinking of going for your winter surf trip…

We are blessed to live here on the Outer Banks, we all know it.  But like the surf itself, the very ground on which we live and build our homes is fickle.  Every big storm takes a house or two with it.  Up near the border with Virginia, an entire town called Seagull was overtaken by a moving dune almost a hundred years ago.   We have blatantly ignored the warnings about houses built on sand, and some of us have paid dearly for it.

Life here is precarious; and temporary, we all know: one of these days, one of these storms will sweep through and blow this little strip of sand to smithereens.  We all know it is coming.  We joke about it, resign ourselves to it, construct possible scenarios for other lives in other places, should we ever lose our home here.   Given sufficient warning, many of us will pack whatever we can into our trucks and head for the mainland;  some of us, like the old sea-captains of yore, will just let the storm wash over us and take us out to sea; for all it has given to us, it seems only fitting that it would one day take our lives in return.   Until that day, however, there are fish to catch, waves to ride, and many perfect days left to sit on the beach and stare off into the horizon, watching the weather change.


A note on the music:  The song “Don’t Change” was written and performed by Justin Rudolph, a senior at First Flight High School.   Justin will be touring Australia after graduation, so you Aussies be on the lookout, make him feel at home…


Related links

Chris Bickford

Music: Justin Rudolph


272 Responses to “chris bickford – storm”

  • gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous..
    i recently showed the students in collage this work on your site chris.. seeing it here is a real pleasure and every bit as fresh as the first viewing..
    will it result in a book?
    more photos would have been superb.. can´t get enough of his goodness.


  • THIS goodness, i mean..
    his goodness is probably fine as well..

  • Hey Chris,

    Really nice piece.
    Like the heavy,dark tones and crunchy graininess you’ve gone with.
    #15 is an unbelievable frame with #19 and #25 being close seconds on the
    impact scale for me.


  • Really nice work. Beautiful B+W. Looks like it was alot of fun to do. Will have another look later with the sound up when the rest of the house is awake.

  • impressed with the music by Justin Rudolph as well.. superb little piece.

  • Beautiful, beautiful work. Wistful, nostalgic, hopeful all at once. The music is perfect for it, too, and I’m the sort that usually mutes every slideshow online. 12, 15, and 25 all strike me as standouts. Surfing pictures that rise above…great to see. 5 seems a little out of place, though, especially because of the toning.

  • Really nice, Chris! and I mean REALLY nice! Got totally caught up in your presentation, it really pulled me in. Wonderful light and contrast throughout. Beautiful feeling, mood. All round great stuff! I have seen a few of your singles before (great), but really enjoyed the full show, it flowed beautifully! I know nothing about surfing and haven’t seen another project like this. You manage to portray what I imagine the lifestyle to be like, in such a loose… kind of casual manner, which essentially is the lifestyle itself! Perfect. Hey, If you ever want to do a print exchange please let me know, there are a couple I love in there!


  • Stunning work. Congratulations. Makes you want to hit the beach.
    (Very nice music too).


  • call me idgit coz i am. why is this so grainy? post processing? film? digital settings? i dont even know how to take a peek.

    i love the mood. this is so relaxing. hmm after the storm… but so relaxing.

  • oh maybe chris? email me offsite so others wont have to be bothered.

  • Hey Chris,

    Striking contrast. Breathtaking. I can absolutely lose myself in the blackness of the silhouettes and the movement of the water.

    And to Justin, what a beautiful, meditative voice and it works swimmingly with this series.

  • Chris,
    this work cries for a book! Awesome images! Best I have seen of surfing so far!
    However the music was too slow for my taste because to me catching a surf is action, wild, natural, unbridled, raw power.
    To everyone who wants to get the ultimate kick in life: surfing is it! Unfortunately there are no waves near where I live, so I have to put up with water skiing ;-) Oh, this should be a future photo project to me. Just got an idea. Chris, again, thanks so much. No time to read the text. I have to hit the road!

  • I don’t understand the appeal of grainy, printed down, vignetted B&W. It’s like photographers don’t want to waste any of the silver in the paper. It’s terrible B&W. The whole world is not dark and grainy. This has become “arty” I guess, but has become cliche it is so common.

  • Simply sublime. Like the best dark chocolate.

  • Bravo Chris. ignore jim, nothing is good enough for the great sage.

    a quick few thoughts.

    Image number 3 – wow. big fan of this shot. very different perspective.

    Image number 16 – ditto.

    I would lose image nuber 14. it feels more set up than the rest of the work – image number 20 for me performs the same role in the essay but feels less forced.

    Image number 6 – feels like a “gimmick” or “joke” shot. a bit predictable, especially with that surfer running onto the beach. perhaps the sign on its own, smaller in the frame would work better? just a thought.

    Image number 11 – feels like a t-shirt advertisement. I’d lose this image from your edit.

    Image number 4 – a beautiful portrait, but feels like it is out of context with the rest of the essay which is about young surfers as opposed to kids/families. maybe it will work in a wider edit with other pictures of families/kids featured, but here it seems like an unecessary aside. again, not a criticism of the picture which i really like, just an observation of its position in this essay.



  • Ben, great advice, ignoring Jim at this stage is probably the only way to go. Jim, my essay will soon be up, be forewarned, its grainy b/w. I know your reaction already.

    While some photos were repeats and could be cut out (8 and 9 I think are the same photo especially one after the other, Id probably choose to keep 8) overall it really flowed well. And the music is fantastic it really helps the essay instead of being just an add on.

  • Really quite impressive work chris. Some of the images are truly sublime and the whole hangs together really well. I suspect there are a lot more images filed for this as well. For sure its book worthy. And i bet the prints look great on a wall too.
    Jim. I dont get it. I love the treatment here. I think it works so very well for the subject matter. And also REALLY well done and consistent. Would you have preffered it on Kodachrome? Velvia?
    You pick your stock and use of stock to create a certain VIBE that fits what you are trying to say right? You may well have shot this super clean slide saturated sharpness, and it would also probably look great. others may have done it another route, but chris did it THIS way because, i guess, he FELT that way.
    Again you use the ‘hackneyed defense’ as your critique and i dont quite get why.

  • I love it when a subject that I had no idea I was interested comes *ALIVE* because the photographer has done such a stand-out job of making me passionately aware of a world that’s new for me. These are stunning, graceful images, and they’re even more gorgeous in black-and white (it would be so easy to rely on the luscious colors of the seaside.)
    This is inspiring stuff!!!!!

  • Love this Chris! Well done!

    When I’m in Australia I live at Lennox Head / Byron Bay where we enjoy some of the best surf beaches in the country — your essay captured the feeling of my town beautifully.

    Image 20 is a cracker for me — how many times have I seen that very pose! That and jogging… apparently walking in an orderly manner with a surfboard under your arm is just not on?

    I agree with Ben’s analysis of individual images, however I’d like to know what’s going on in image #14 — it makes me think of a ceremony or something for a fallen comrade? If so, it may have worked better had we been able to see that.

    Let us know about your singer friend who’ll be touring Australia and if he’s coming to Brisbane or Byron Bay, my surfer husband and I be would happy to take him out for a surf and/or a few beers…


    i’ve waited for this for 11 years…..

    i got nothing to say but that my body agape, my heart aquiver, my cameras agone…..

    individual analysis stirs it wrong, like people watching from the beach and never really getting it….

    a beautiful meditation, a visceral poem on what it means to be alone and at piece with the shadow of the swell and the sail of the sky:

    like a swell, my heart is breaking….

    “It’s all about where your mind’s at.”–kelly slater

    i’m gonna stop writing now here, cause this and what twirl at the heart of this, is where it’s at….

    a poem, a disentanglement of the entanglement of our bodies…

    spectacularly beautiful…




    You DO NOT KNOW A DAMN THING ABOUT PHOTOGRPAHY…and it’s a horror show that you’ve been a practicing editor….i recant what i said previously, and fall back on my precious comment: your ideas and words are anemic….i shutter to imagine that you’ve been an editor (i cant imagine the straing beneath your blind tutorship)…i guess you’ve never seen an OBX storm and sunlight aint what it’s about, this story has more versmilitude that you pie-in-the-sky country fair expose you posed a while back….you are, at this point, comical….and clearly, you have never surfed after a storm, where the sky is as dark as this, where light twines water and board like a post in the corner…this is not a story about SUN LIGHT but about the texture of waves and the fracturing of light and thought against the power and silence of a sea, the body, the moment of the body beneath the thumb of the sea…clearly, you’ve never met a photograph you’ve understood…

    i reget

  • Bob its a sentiment I typed…but did not post. To say this is bad b/w reveals the ignorance of the critiquer.

  • Say what you like, photographers, it appears to me, are in real danger of only talking to themselves.

  • it’s a great mood piece Chris. loads of those images are real trophies; i hope they find their way to the walls of the people that pray to those gods and more importantly to an exhibition.

    like Ben i think a few of the images that may seem to add variety, actually collapse the wave a bit, they are valuable images possibly for a book or article, but distract from the singular spiritual mood that ‘this’ essay projects. Image fourteen is the type i find most distracting, anything that seems a bit contrived i guess. But who cares; that’s really just my appetite for a singular candid mood from an essay, a very personal appetite.

    one last thing, again to restate what i’ve already said, you have some real trophy images in this body of work Chris, let’s call them an ’11’ on a scale of 1 – 10, i’d say you have more of these 11’s than images of less calibre, but I feel that if they are not an ‘11’ then they are more like 7’s. and here’s the reason i’m making this point Chris: there a very strange correlation between your 7’s and a very centre-weighted composition, is that lens forcing down that road?

    But most importantly Chris, applause :-)

  • Chris, I really loved your essay; thanks for sharing. Photographs, text and music all worked for me: I was particularly impressed with the photographs facing towards the beach; a waves-eye view of the action. I’ve never seen surfing photographs that capture the view from “out-there” as well as you have shown here.

    Like Gracie, I’d like a few technical details as to how you created your “look”.

    Jim, “the whole world is not dark and grainy”? We know: this is called poetic license. As John Gladdy says “you pick your stock and use of stock to create a certain VIBE”. If only one way of doing anything was the right way it would get very boring; we may as well … go plant a carrot (nice-one Patricia).

    Chris used HIS viewpoint and HIS technique to show us not only what it looks like to surf the Outer Banks but how it FEELS.

    This body of work succeeds on so many levels that it could be shown in newspapers, magazines, on the gallery wall and in a book. I hope it does all of these Chris. Congratulations.


  • Jim, “Say what you like, photographers, it appears to me, are in real danger of only talking to themselves”?

    I can see this in my minds-eye on the pages of magazines and newspapers and can imagine that any teenager (in age or at heart) thinking “Wow! I want to surf the Outer Banks! I want to LIVE on the Outer Banks!”.

    Glad I never worked for you Jim.


  • I hope Chris will let us know how this does in the marketplace. I would be interested in that.

  • hi jim,

    i like your comments and how you stir up the soup and how the group is “civil” and call you sage instead and not nicely stab you in the back. keep critique coming.

    “how this does in the marketplace?”, well, this appeals to me. i want to go there, to the outer banks, back to my memory. smell the beach again. “after the storm” it says, but it makes me sigh… feel good.

    i am an idgit in taking pictures. and there are a lot of idgits out there like me who probably would pay $4.99 for those pages of pictures from walgreens that would turn your present mind off and take you elsewhere. i dont want to see news. i want to see this.

    btw, i saw chris’ website. it’s great work, love the color play. i guess you should not waste time in telling me how you did these. ill just hit the how-to books.

  • “how this does in the marketplace?”, well, this appeals to me. i want to go there, to the outer banks, back to my memory. smell the beach again. “after the storm” it says, but it makes me sigh… feel good.”

    But when it’s published, will you buy it? That’s the question.

  • Congratulations ! Very beautiful work. Thanks.

  • Reading the 30 responses that have been posted up to now, there is one stupid thought that stands head and shoulders above the others: a technique used to the point of being the first thing its viewers see will be perceived by most of them as a gimmick. Stupid solution? Could be the recipe calls for a cup of sugar, not a truckload. Backing off on your post-process intrusion into each frame might be an idea…

  • jim..

    i did laugh..

    can you not see beyond the process, which is a turn off to you, straight to the meat of the photos and appreciate them on that level if not any other?

    i could see these photos in any number of contexts..

    keep it coming jim


  • I’m a little predisposed to water pictures, biased maybe, so that I fell for these quickly is no surprise. I knew where you were shooting, more or less, from the first image. It is about light. The fields of the ocean. Playing. Being in a place in time that won’t repeat itself. Congratulations. Because a tool exists and has been used before does not make it cliche. We have a long line of tools, from hero epics to creation myths, to shape our world and the space inside our heads. Develop what you see in yours. The tools are not your voice.

  • Chris, I got up this morning to read my daily “Burn” as usual. The weather outside today on the outer banks, coincidentally, has the “dark and stormy” (isn’t that a drink?) look as in many of your photographs. I was taken by the theme of your essay. My surfing began over 40 years ago, so I might be categorized in your 60 year old group. Back then we were a bunch of outcasts, fleeing the mainstream. They thought we were nuts. All we wanted to do was surf more than anything else. Some of us lost jobs, and girlfriends because of it. We had no cell phones, internet or high-tech predictors like today. It was all gut instinct. When the surf was up you went. Nothing else mattered. Similar to surfers of today, we were a minority, a cult separate from the rest of society.

    You have obviously made a sacrifice for the photography. Water shots are very difficult and physically demanding. Sure, you could have gone out on your board instead, and been self-indulgent (not a bad thing), but then we wouldn’t have the good fortune, as viewers, to enjoy your efforts. Getting the exhilaration of the ride is fleeting and preserved only in one’s mind, but the photographs are around to be seen by many for years to come.

    I love the image of Richard and Claire.

    Thanks for your hard work… obviously a labor of love.

  • david, the photos are what they are. The process is part of the image. It would be a little silly to say that if these photos were clear, with normal contrast and printed with full tones then I would like them. They aren’t and I don’t.

  • I have rarely seen an essay photographed with so much emotion. Wonderful work, magic. Ignore anyone who says otherwise.

  • fair enough jim..

    i think the post processing adds to the atmosphere of a set of already strong snaps.. and far as i can see is no barrier to publishing.. certainly not by one the the u.k.´s broadsheet supplements which often in the past have featured heavily bleached, toned and burn´t in work..

    after all.. photos which are ¨clear, with normal contrast and printed with full tones¨ have been done to death, no?


  • Chris…Very very nice work. Makes me want to take up surfing! Reminds me a lot of Trente Parke and Narelle Autio and I mean that in the most positive way. I’m sure you know their great book ‘The Seventh Wave’. Look forward to seeing more…will there be more?


  • david, do you really think these photos would work in print? Backlighted on an LCD monitor punches the image a little. But printed, this stuff would be black ink and paper grey.

  • I agree that the post-processing appears gimmicky. That said, I think 3, 10, 15, 26 are strong images that would look good printed and without the heavy burning, tint, and contrast. I feel the processing comes off as too moody for the place, people, and activity.

  • JIM….

    i am quite sure these would work in print…getting a good black is always a challenge in print as is a clean white, but Chris could print accordingly…Gene Smith style printing would work quite well i think..of course, it all depends on how good a printer you use…but, a good printer can usually make it work out the way you want…but, black & white being much more difficult than color…

  • CHris..

    nyc skies are grey and the apartment buildings stand above me stoic, seeming sleepy and closed off to each other this morning..there is a hush but for the garbage trucks and the pigeon wings..

    and then came you :) thank goodness. your spirit and joy and playfulness and above all your personality shines through in every photo here. you make me remember, smell, taste, feel, smile. certain images alone are stunning, intimate, privileged even to exist. together they come like a wave washing over, a baptism, cleansing away my new york grit.

    As a personal preference, I am not a fan of the color / surface that you have chosen, it detracts for me..but you know what, so what, if this is a part of you… you can’t please everyone in everything.

  • DAH (to separate from the other david), of course he could post process it differently for print, but because of the heavy processing, it would then look different in print. It just seems that he processed the photos to look cool on the web, depending on the punch of the LCD to make it work. The problem there is that monitors are all over the place and what looks one way on his monitor could be coal bin blackness on another.

    On the web or in print, I still don’t like this pervasive tendency to make dark, grainy prints when doing B&W. Street shots at night at ISO 3200 are one thing, where contrast is high and the shot is a real Hail Mary. But to take photos shot in daylight and print them down deliberately just doesn’t work for me.

  • Jim

    “Street shots at night at ISO 3200 are one thing, where contrast is high and the shot is a real Hail Mary”

    boy can you ever say that again..Hail Mary, good one!


  • Chris, I’m with Bob B on this one: 1) I feel like I’ve been waiting FOREVER to see it; and 2) this is a poem to the ocean’s fickle face and the surfers who dream of opening that backdoor through the barrel. Your experienced eye, technical wizardry, heart-knowledge and gripping text all combine to let viewers like me who have only seen surfing from afar enter into the magic as if we were riding the waves and joining the community as insiders. What a rush!

    And to answer one of Jim P’s many questions, I will buy this book no matter how badly the economy tanks!!!

    in gratitude

  • jim.

    i think it would depend upon where the prints were made.. newspaper being toilet paper compared to a book.. i do think one way or another they could be printable with punch..

  • My last comment for this essay:

    1) my wife and i print photographs, YES PRINT IN DARKROOMS, from negatives that are more polluted than these, with more contrast, more grain (my negs are dense as mother-earth coal and clay) and they look great…hard work, hell yea, but they print….I THINK CHRIS’ PRINTS (and the book) AND THE EXHIBITION WILL BE DAZZLING…….i am dumbfounded by the discussion that this kind of work (contrast, grain) will be a failure as prints…what kind of work are people actually seeing,…and i know LOTS OF FOLK (‘ve sp[ent the morning showing the essay to 10 folk who are NOT photographers) will eat this beautiful story and pritns up!….

    2) Has anyone read the text??….why is review of essays, here, always a picture-by-picture dissection…take a read of the text 1st and then swallow the work…

    Im with Patricia :)))): im waiting, hungrily, for the book….and the exhibition…and this question, from a school director/businessman

    “where can i buy his photographs”.

    shiiiiiiiiiiiit :)))))))

    im all over that…

  • 23 & 25 are really good.

    Just because we “can” photograph something at a certain aperture or shutter speed or ISO doesn’t mean we “have” to. After all, normal contrast and even tones are in themselves, used commonly and could be labeled as cliche themselves.

    Something to think about…

  • Well, as I said. I hope Chris lets us know how this sells, in whatever format he may present it.

  • Saying, “I would buy this,” after viewing it for free on the web is a far distance from actually putting money on the counter and taking it home.

  • you take me into the water with you..
    being a beach baby myself,
    I loved the journey you took me on…
    playing in the water,
    and overall
    the beautiful vastness of the water,
    the freedom of the waves…
    great essay
    feel your passion…
    pick up any surf magazine and maybe they will answer your questions..

  • wendy, the surf magazines I’ve seen are filled primarily with glossy color stuff. Nothing this dark.

  • JIM
    look again….
    notice his title..

  • Wow, thanks everyone for the comments; I woke this morning to an email from Bob Black, not knowing that the piece was already up. Thanks, Bob…

    I will sit down later and take more time with everybody’s comments later in the day, but thanks all for the constructive criticism.

    Obviously there is a lot of post-production in the photos, which is something I’ve never shied away from. I was a painter before I was a photographer and I have always gravitated to images that use post-processing to “interpret” the scene. I can go into this in more detail later, because I really find the potential with digital to “reference” earlier photographic styles and combine different techniques to enhance mood, trigger associations, etc, is really exciting, if done well. I’m not really concerned with anyone who has an issue with me using excessive grain or contrast; we all know by now that for some photo-fundamentalists this sort of thing is heresy. But I’ve never been much of a fundamentalist in anything, it’s just too boring to be that way. Anyone who wants to comment on specific critiques of my process (for interest, the vignette in image #3 is uneven, the haloes in image #14 are too obvious, etc,) please feel free to chime in. The beauty and fun of post-processing is that it is an ongoing process, and you can continue to play with and tweak images forever…

    As for Jim Powers, I wish I could come to your house and show you the absolutely gorgeous metallic prints that I have made from these photos. They actually look SO much better in print. The people I’ve shown the prints to say the reverse of what you say; they can’t imagine that the photos could translate well to an LCD or CRT…And in terms of the “marketplace”, the piece has already been picked up by The Surfer’s Journal, and should run sometime late this year. They loved it, and they are the standard-bearers in the industry for high-quality surf photography. I’d spend more time responding to your comments, but I’ve got to get the hi-res CD out to them today:)…

    The rest of you, I will get back and respond to your comments later. Thanks so much everyone–and thanks David and Anton, apologies for the grumpy email yesterday…

    why did you chose not to play the music yourself?

  • Bob Black:


    I am off to Sacramento for the day, will look at the essay tonight, but Bob, knowing your open-mindedness and lack of sectarism, this comment, I can very well being a compliment, after all, no? ;-)

    Jim, I think it’s great you stroke the cat the other way, and create some electricity on BURN. On the other hand, I do not think we gather here to be succinctly dismissive of others efforts (you might find succinct lauding is overdone as well, to be fair). Chris worked long and hard at his essay, and deserves more than just a 2-liners wave-off, or…..Wipe-out! :-)

  • Herve, I hope Chris has great success. As I’ve said, I don’t like heavily manipulated photos. Chris is clearly an art photographer, not a journalist, so anything goes. If folks want to buy his art, then good for him.

  • CHRIS!!!! i love love love it! i am a surfer at heart. i was raised surfing and skateboarding ( longboarding of course too ) this work is wonderful. i think there is allot of discussion going on here about this in a very good way. wonderful work. what is next with it? the text is amazing…. i think there are some people on here that did not fully read the text though…. shame….

  • For the life of me I can’t figure out why everyone always gets so worked up about Jims comments.
    He says he doesn’t like something (well,anything!!), says why, and that’s that.

    He reacts from a perspective of a time gone by and with it the visual baggage of a generation where
    TV dinners constituted fine home dining and Ed Sullivan provided cutting edge entertainment.

    Perhaps, he’s doing exactly what Panos does,at times-yanking everybody’s collective chains just to get
    a reaction.

    As an aside Jim, I’d really like know if there is anything currently being done in photography, today,
    that would elicit a knee jerk positive reaction from you.

  • the text does go a long way in lending an explanation to the post processing.. the two blend well.

  • Great essay Chris. I really enjoyed being taken through the work.

    The way the photographs are processed make them seem like memories…the wistful “please don’t change” refrain of the accompanying music… To me, collectively, these elements taken together make this photo essay less about surfing itself, and more about a celebrating the magic for the Outer Banks, while simultaneously acknowledging that this special place, and all that is possible there, that will cease to exist sometime in the not to distant future.

    Am I going out on a limb to say it could be a eulogy for the Outer Banks?

    Very powerful stuff. Thanks.

  • Mark, I’ve praised several of the photos and essays that have appeared on Burn. Nobody seems to notice. :)

  • Chris … well damn brother!!! Damn, damn, damn. Finally. It’s good to see this here and well shit, what can I do but smile and appreciate the brilliance of this. Damn I miss those beaches. I doubt you will ever stop with this, I hope you don’t cause I feel it could grow and grow. Love to have a beer and talk about it. Coming to see you this year … after your room in the rain forest is done here. May I suggest though, more hula hoop shots ;-))

    Jim, this would be hard to print on newsprint but not impossible. You have to think bigger, pay for better paper of course (I used the best I couldn’t afford) and have a damn good pressman who knows how to run a good press (in my case Goss Community) but this kind of work, this “artsy” black and white as you call it, I did print as often as possible, in a beach town, and it was always the most popular. Really. People loved it, loved it, begged for more cause no one else did it. They appreciated the local newspaper thinking they weren’t stupid, or pedestrian. I made all kinds of money (relative term in newspapers) off this kind of artsy work, which in my mind was just plain “good” work. And to be clear, I was a mainstream publication, not an entertainment or alternative tab (had those too) but a broadsheet legal publication of record. So Jim, I gotta say with all appreciation and great, great respect to those who slog it out to keep people honest in an industry in a death spiral, you have to think bigger. You have to change. Things have changed, or rather, the core advertising market has nothing to do with old and tired.

    Ask David about newspapers, and risk taking, and editors who got it, or were at least open to it, even 40 years ago. :)))

    Gotta go, got my electrician here … hmm, where will we fit that overhead projector so we can watch it Burn big on the wall!

  • LOL. The core advertising market has nothing to do with newspapers! Print newspapers are dinosaurs gasping their last breath.

    I try to take the long view of these photos and essays. How will these photographers make a living at this so they can be photographers for decades if they want to? Obviously, only an old guy would attempt to do this. I hope Chris does well selling surf photos. He clearly has a passion for it.

  • Chris,

    I would buy this if it were a book. You have given us a peek into life on the beach in a very unique way. Usually I see photos and I get hung up on the technical things but this has such a different vibe to it that I don’t even care if it’s film or digital or if it would have been better in color and so on. This is something that inspires me to go out and shoot my own life in my own way. Thank you!

  • Chris-

    very nice! I like the way the images make me feel. i taste the salt, the rip pulling me out into the beautiful darkness…

    i have several faves, including number 20, which i can’t help but to see “eyes” staring out upon the ocean, watching, waiting.

  • Tracking backwards here while I have a second…

    Young Tom, you know you are welcome here anytime, come on home to the East Coast and get your roots back…and let me know when the guest room is done out there; I’m due for a long sojourn in the great Northwest…

    Adam Smith, thanks for those comments, very well said. I think you said it better than I could, in far fewer words! :)

    Mike Berube, thanks, always good to get props from a boardrider…

    David B, thanks for kicking things off, I look forward to seeing your piece soon, so I can give you glowing compliments as well:)

    Wendy, I’d have put some of my own music on there if I had anything appropriate. My old songs are all about trains and buses and getting the hell out of town and breaking up with girlfriends, so none of that really fit. Thanks for your poetry, it made me feel good to read.

    Thanks also to the click and dvaphoto…keep on pingin’…

    More in a few, got to go back to the previous page…


  • I’m always struck by the fact that with every essay or selected photo posted on Burn, Jim Powers gets almost as many comments as the photographer. If anyone ever had the time and/or inclination to go back and count how many comments begin with the single word, Jim, or are posted by the man himself, I think they’d be astounded. When are we going to stop letting him yank our collective chains?


  • I really enjoyed the series – some killer frames definitely – but I did find the post-processing a little strong for my taste. A bit less vignetting and burning maybe… Nothing against either two, but some frames could have done well with less.

    Haven’t read the text.

  • I suspect that Jim is a Magnum PHotographer….having fun…..


  • [hijacking]
    chris – all
    please don´t wait until i have something on burn before you dismiss / praise or exhibit utter indifference to my work :ø)

  • I really got to get back to work, but Ryan, Mike Peters, and others who have commented on how the piece makes them FEEL, thank you, that makes me feel like I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do. When somebody tells me they can taste the salt in a photo, then I really feel like I got it.

    I’d like to sit down and write a little bit more at some point about the choices I made in terms of making it black and white, using heavy grain, etc. There were specific reasons for this, and non-specific, intuitive reasons, as well…and I will make no apologies for the fact that some of these photos, if processed “straight”, with no grain and “realistic” color, would look like absolute crap…but once the project started gaining momentum and I saw what the images looked like processed, I was able to take some liberties and shoot a little looser and stranger, and just focus on the overall shapes and tones…in the editing process, I spent a lot of time looking at the images as a set of low-res thumbnails, and kept gravitating towards the ones that had interesting shapes. There are lots more images in the vault (as Anton can attest to:)), many of which are more “storytelling” images…I’m going to keep shooting and we’ll see how it evolves and whether or not it gets more documentary or more abstract. I feel that a certain amount of the final piece should pay homage to some of the people on the OBX that make it a surf community, and that part of the project I haven’t even scratched the surface of yet…but we’ll see…more in a few hours, got to get back to taxes…

  • CHRIS,
    you photograph like an ancient greek sculptor,
    you understand geometry,
    you see 3 and more dimensions..
    you have your own palette…
    You are a MASTER…
    OF COURSE the constipated typical
    B&W lovers wont get it… ( same with “color” ones )..
    and that should make you happy…malaka…
    again, im a beach lover myself yet never seen the beach “your” way…
    YOU ARE AN INVENTOR…. what else to say ?
    not only the colors but also your unique angles…
    .. and btw what inventor sells immediately…
    AND thank you for not complaining, preaching,
    or trying to save the seagulls or clean up the
    beach from pollution…
    fresh, not deep, LIGHT, ON THE ANCIENT “SURFACE”…
    OF THE TIDE you move and surf…
    You are a beautiful “serpent” my friend…
    Now sit back … relax and enjoy all those dissectors and coroners
    drinking tea in front of their fireplace, trying hard to explain you…
    I wish i was YOU today my friend… a historic day for burn indeed…
    someday you will be studied at schools…
    you will…
    remember that…

  • JIM…

    you are quite correct about the dying press business…and the shift in advertising….

    but, what did confuse me was why you think Chris Bickford is an “art photographer” (your term) when he is so clearly a straight photojournalist….i could see this story as a newspaper picture page any day…can’t you???

    yes, this work could also be in an art gallery and Chris could sell prints..but, that has nothing to do with the kind of photographer he is…

    how photographers are going to earn a living in the future IS totally up for grabs…but, it has nothing to do with how they should be working or how their work should be judged…

    no matter what they do , times are hard…there is no market they can easily play to anyway…the most likely good sales for photographer in the most immediate future is by selling prints…all the more reason for photographers to follow their instincts…

    i know this is the exact opposite of how YOU worked at the newspaper….but, as you yourself admit , those jobs are not there anymore anyway..

    so why would you have old parameters, that by your own comment do not even exist at all, as your parameters for judging a photographer’s motives and result??? hmmmmmmm….

    cheers, david

  • … relax and enjoy all those dissectors and coroners
    drinking tea in front of their fireplace, trying hard to explain you…

    … i just feel to explain that this comment is not pointed to Jim…
    not at all..honestly..

    ok.. nuff said!

    again, CHRIS,
    right on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I really enjoy the dramatic feel this essay conveys


    i am totally starting to think that Jim Powers is somebody’s “game”…no Magnum photog would take the time to play this “game”, but i can think of a few retired magazine photographers who would enjoy nothing more than to see our eyes widen as we read a “Jim comment”

    this could really be a net ruse…a fictitious caricature of the grumbling old newspaper editor who just doesn’t get it….even the name Jim Powers sounds fishy…anybody checked him out???

    as you point out Patricia, the “game” is working because “JIM” knows all the right buttons to push, makes everyone angry with his lack of knowledge, and a point of view that none of us think could really exist at this point in time….

    so, we all write mostly in total disbelief….right?? funny really

    IF Jim Powers were actually “for real”, why would he keep coming back??? makes no sense….

    cheers, david

  • David, why don’t you just come clean and reveal to the world that YOU are Jim Powers? :)

    There’s always gonna be a Jim in the world, we’ve seen him here before under various noms de plume…good to have him in a way, as it keeps our wits honed. Just like having an ultra-conservative brother (James I love you if you ever read this) keeps me on my toes with my political thinking…even though we never talk politics anymore, just hearing his arguments in my head make me that much more cogent in my own arguments..

  • LOL. David, I’m very much for real, and exactly who I say I am. I’m still wondering why I haven’t been taken to task for those photos and essays I’ve praised. Obviously, if I’m not expressing an opinion that others don’t like, everyone ignores my posts.

  • i just had a great idea – lets talk about chris’s photographs.

  • And, David, if you doubt I’m for real, I’ll give you my phone number so you can do a reverse look up and call me if you like.

  • BEN…

    laughing…good idea….

    it is quite easy for me to love these surfing pictures…for one thing, i grew up with this sport and for another i just bought my dream house (an old fishing shack) within yards of some of these pictures…as Chris said in his text, those of us who live OBX know we will be blown out to sea someday…nobody is really supposed to live on the outer banks from a geologists point of view…most just shake their heads at those of us who live there…but, for the time being and all life is for the time being, no place better!!!


    c’mon, don’t i get to yank your chain back?? hey, i will call you of course when i get to Texas….

    cheers, david

  • Chris

    I like the dramatic post production work you have done. It lends itself to this body of work great… Would make a great book and certainly a gallery show. I can’t imagine these prints wouldn’t sell especially in surf towns. For the sake of BURN I would probably do a tighter edit. Too many repeat images for me… Overall nice work, looks like you had fun doing it…

    For those of you were took part in my comments on the “Hand” forum, then my being slammed by David, I’d just like to follow up with you all. First off, I realize, I probably deserved to get slammed. My comments were obviously a bit harsh for some. I just wish I was slammed in a way that inspired me to work harder rather than in a way that made me feel like my efforts over the years amounted to almost nothing and that my work was “just less than ok”. That’s hard to hear especially from DAH and a big pill to swallow. Well, I swallowed it and have learned a bit on the other end. David, I tried to call you in order to take you up on your offer to work with me but reception in the Andes is pretty bad and you couldn’t hear me. If you were serious about helping me, I’d love to let the bruises on my ass and ego heal and learn something from you, I know I can and will. I’ll call you any time that works for you, just let me know when.

    Lastly, I promise I won’t make anymore posts if I have had more than three drinks…

  • BORING… enough Jim Powers shit… do not feed this mans ego.

    Chris – have you seen the work of Narelle Autio? some of your images reminded me of her stuff.

    were you working with a full underwater camera kit? it might have been interesting to see some images shot from the seabed looking up?

  • OK, DAH, I’m beginning to think you’re right. The “Jim Powers” we respond to so incredibly often here could well be someone’s idea of a joke. I mean if he were a real newspaper editor how in the world could he have so much free time to spend in these continuous back-and-forth exchanges with folks here?


  • Jim is real..
    His website above..
    Sorry Jim..

  • cheers panos.
    astonishing work.


  • Sumptuous – I really thought this essay captured the dreamy life that is surfing. Shooting from the water towards the shore is something I don’t often see in surfing photos, and the houses, condos and developments bobbing out of the waves brought home the delicate relationship lifestyle surfers have with the rest of the world.

  • CHRIS….

    doing your taxes?? hmmmmm, is it that time of year again??? and here i thought i had some “space”, but alas i guess i had better get on it too…

    i do agree with you…nice to have Jim here….and i am going to go meet the guy…..honestly, won’t EVERYONE be waiting for my report??

    i leave tomorrow for Spain and back around April 1…see you in New York or OBX amigo…

    cheers, david

  • Chris,

    Great job.

    A love story if I’ve ever seen one :))
    “Please don’t change”…the perfect song. I hope it doesn’t.

    Thanks for mentioning your painting background. It definitely shows in your work.
    Looking forward to seeing much more on this subject from you.

  • Panos! Thanks for posting that. That’s the 50 feature photos I’ve shot for the paper over the last year. I love to shoot feature stuff. No ambulances and fire trucks to dodge.


  • Really beautiful work. I might make a few different choices in editing and sequencing but that’s just me….


    You sound like my mother in the late eighties when I was photographing local rock and roll bands (and making no money at it at the time): “Why don’t you go talk to Nordstrom’s or Eddie Bauer and try and shoot some real work making money.” Well, of course that tune quickly changed as soon as Nirvana was selling millions of albums. And of course I would have been totally useless shooting those gigs (and yes, I have done fashion catalog work since and hate it – though not the $). And now I make a healthy sum of money on print sales, licensing, etc. on that work that wasn’t making me a dime when I was originally shooting it. I think that goes for most photographers and some of their best work. Quite often the stuff we do for money stays off the radar (or at least the client’s edit of it).

    Anyway, I know photographer’s who make bank with the same look Chris has here – shooting weddings at that. It’s a style most good magazine editors are comfortable with. Of course that might not apply to the Tyler County Farm Report but why try and fit everything into your little box? Also, editors may not run this exact work, but others might look at Chris’ style and get him a shoot even more lucrative than just magazine reprint fees. Often the best personal work leads to the best paying ad or editorial assignments. Creative buyers look for what’s called “vision” – it’s most important to them what/how the photographer wants to shoot in their own unique way. Okay, enough banging head against the “brick wall.”

    Anyway, great work and style Chris and keep on shooting. And I’d wager your prints are beautiful (jeez what’s there not to like about deep blacks!).



  • PANOS…

    nice detective work…now, can you find out where my ex-wife hid my old baseball glove??

  • I must (momentarily step from under my rock to) say there are some really nice, moving images in this essay. As someone who used to spend much time in/on the water, I found many of the water-based images particularly emotive and true to the experience. Some of the land images were also strong, but some did seem to conflict, or maybe dilute the intensity of those from the water. It was funny to read Mr Powers question their salability, as they immediately reminded me of an essay of images which appeared in Surfer in the 70-80s taken underwater, looking up at the turmoil of the wave with the surfers amidst. Those images, and many others which break out of the cookie-cutter standards, are what in fact stay with the viewer. Sure, some of the post processing is a bit strong, and I know “art” is a bad word, but isn’t the creator allowed a little license? Variety is the spice of life, right? And I must say the words really conveyed the scene well. Ahh the East Coast blues.

  • ¨It’s a style most good magazine editors are comfortable with. ¨

    and thats the point..
    the kind of work shot over the years for pr and marketing people.. wedding snaps to newspaper hired eyes has changed.
    these days marketing people use digi cams to grab photos needed, photos which are not difficult to take.

    i think the above statement is true, since everyone now knows about technique.. how to expose.. shoot.. people moonlight constantly because they do not have to dedicate time to hit the lab..
    and so..
    today more than ever highly stylized work or work which focuses in depth on a subject is sought after.. the old stock photos hardly sell, unless there is a long relationship between buyer and snapper..

    perhaps, though, it has always been the way – stylized and individual work is the best which is out there.. the rest can and is shot by anyone in the digital age..

    and so – if there is an area of the photographic industry which is dying.. which is suffering.. it is probably the area inhabited by the jims rather than that inhabited by the chris´..
    i think jims concern with making money is a valid concern – although i think it is much more relevant within jims area than chris´..

    hey – we´re all plumbers you know..
    chris is fitting retrospective systems in old builds while i think jim is changing the washer in a tap.. with the disadvantage that since DIY most people can now change a washer..


  • BEN ;)))

    AGAIN, about Chris’ work:

    it totally works, and i say this as a photographer, as a guy who thrives on photography, carves his life out with it, but the story also works for me as a person Who has been to OBX, has lots of personal memories of OBX, but the story also works as a documentation of what it means to surf, especially big waves, after storms…but most importantly, Chris has caught the PHYSICAL and EMOTIONAL feeling of what it means to surf…as i tried to write in my first post, more poetically. The images of the shore (the beach house being swallowed by the wave, the town caught in the lower lip of the ocean’s bite) is not only a unique ‘angle’ but more important allows non-surfers to udnerstand that extraordinary and weird sensation of surfing toward houses…it fucks up the head…cause surfing is like meditation, really…surfing captures the BODY in all it’s stillness and all it’s lightness….being toss by a wave reduces you, allows you to feel the emmensity of the world, of the wave, to feel your body as if a easily crushed feather…and when surfing, it is all physical…as with meditation, the physicality of the act frees the head, clears the mind, and makes one, well, at whole with place…this may sound like bullshit hogump, but trust me…all surfers know that…the exhiliration and the peace, to be a piece of somthering…and the visual work here does that: all the gorgeous geometry and abstraction, the thining of light…no way to explain, for those who havent seen it, the contour and ‘grain’ of light after one of these storms…even more maddening in the tropical climes…chris captured some of that abstraction and wordless-njess in all these visceral images in the water, but the ‘factual’ story is, for me, what also hammered it home…the lone vision of the kids, of the guying showering…ultimately, while beach communities always feel communal, the biggest thing is that surfing ultimately is solitary, just you and the fcuking ocean and sky and salt and sound…that’s it, silent sound…and all the photographic choices he’s made here, hammer that home….and when you add the wonderful, insightful and clean text, it all adds up to a visual and textual expression of the life that many of us have defined our lives by…

    and what else do we need from photography but that:

    to mark the moment, to offer that story up to those who havent experienced, to tell the tale as a way of communing….

    I dont care one ioda anymore about Jim’s comments, what i do care is that people try to Look at the totality of work, allow it to enter you, read it, sit with it, swallow it before all the individual dissection….

    at the risk of sounding like an prick (sorry, i tossed off my Homer cloak), i find it frustrating that essay after essay are analyzed on the micro level first…a dissection, a vivisection, picture by picture…this is important in understanding the mechanics of work, of an essay, but i find often its a forest lost for the trees issue…understanding what succeeds or fails is important, but i think one can only get at the detail of inspection if they first have digested and sad with something as wholeness first…

    and for me, NOTHING FAILS about this story, nothing….at least in the sense that there are NO PERFECT photogrpahs, no perfect books, no perfect essays, no perfect photographers…I get criticized often about being too ‘nice’…well, what is the reason we even discuss work , share work, swallow plant harvet toss it away….

    i awoke this morning and was taken on a journey that i thought i’d left behind, because of moving and life’s permutations, no more boards in my house…but, this story for me, surfing, is the beginning to point, for in truth, Chris’ story is really about something else…

    coming to terms with our selves and our homes and how that dream, that negotiated dream, dies hard, very hard…and like all things on this grey planet, returns with the light….


  • LOL..
    Honestly, I didn’t mean to hurt Jim..
    I do honor private emails..
    But I think Jim wanted me to expose him..
    Otherwise why send me anything?
    Everyone knows I’m a BURN reporter..
    Driving right now,
    But I will send you the exact GPS link that
    locates your GLOVE..!
    let me pull over..

  • DAH..

    I have a question, will write under times and timing..

  • david b, I expressed an opinion. I also wished Chris luck and said that I hope he is successful. He is chasing his passion. That’s never bad.

    I’m always pretty clear to say “I don’t like it.” And, then say why I don’t like it. I get the feeling that “I don’t like it,” isn’t acceptable here. I could only comment on the ones I like. Which I’ve also done. Would that be preferable?

  • panos! It’s not a secret. I actually had the link attached to my name here, but realized I was using James on the laptop and Jim on the desktop computer, so changed them both to Jim and didn’t re-connect the link. I’m not trying to hide.

  • hey jim – i have and do express enjoyment at your being here.. i think it´s funny..

  • Guys, there’s nothing wrong with not liking something. It’s a free country.

  • of course !! and i never said jim had to like it..


    of course it is ok not to like something….and ok to express it right here as well…

    rarely does anyone ever give Jim a hard time for not liking something..many writers here do not like one photo or essay or another….so, it is not about the dissent at is only about the reasons often given for the “not liking” that set some folks “off”..or, the “jump to a conclusion” that may seem unreasonable to some (me included)..but but and but, i have no problems….i agree with David to have Jim here…after all, we do not HAVE to respond to Jim if we do not want…..freedom to write…freedom to respond…

    cheers, david

  • Journalist VS. Art Photographer > W. Eugene Smith anyone??? ;)

    Some VERY nice transitions there — really dig the way you put us into the frame through perspective shift!


  • Chris…
    awesome stuff

    i’d like to see some more of your text in your pictures

    for example this:

    ”But here and there, there are signs of life….

    In front of Avalon pier, a rag-tag procession of pickup trucks, SUV’s, and beat-up sedans with racks on top rolls through the parking lot, each vehicle pulling up to a different spot along the bulkhead, and parking to face the sea. They will stay a minute or two, maybe ten or twenty, maybe an hour—engines running, tailpipe smoke wisping in the damp wind—their drivers warm inside, watching, waiting. A few intrepid fishermen brave it out on the pier, the platform trembling with each wave crashing through the rickety pilings, the spray shooting up through the planks and drenching their trousers. Clouds of seafoam roll down the beach, breakers lash against houses laid bare to the ocean’s fury from years of shoreline erosion.”


  • just showed beate, my lover, your piece chris.. b has only recently begun to photograph.. i bought her a g9 and she has taken to it well.. :ø)
    anyroad – her comments ran like this..
    what a life.
    god.. it looks so peacefull.
    i guess it’s the music too..


  • David B.

    Beate might be interested to see a less peaceful side that shows a little of what, I imagine,
    Chris had to work with.

  • Breathtaking! No.3 is something not of this world. Solaris may be?

  • thanks mark..

    reminds me of childhood and teen days down the south west of england fighting the undercurrent with my boogie board, although the scale was much different.

    that link makes chris and his work seem all the more remarkable.. given the working conditions..

    it´s the lifestyle which i think chris has captured very well, that transcends the power and fury of the ocean.. the dual play between the mellow and the furious which i really love.. duality is a fact for all and i love seeing it represented.

    also – any work which i know involves a great deal of risk, personal discomfort or technical stress really impresses me when it is presented in a way that makes it look effortless.. and chris has achieved that for me.

    again – i would love to see more of the surf and also of the lifestyle.. a really deep dig into that spit of sand slowly eroding by natures unique indifference.. maybe one of the collapsed houses.. certainly some more of the tribal elements of the surf clan..

    this taste, for me, is just that – a taste.. and if i HAD to prod chris in just one way it would be to get even more down for a book.. clearly there is enough for print sales in short runs.. a magazine piece or newspaper supplement.. and perhaps the money earn´t from them could be used to carry on.. keep on..

    chris – apologies for talking about you in the 3rd person..
    hope our paths cross.

    wikkd n bad

  • I don’t have time to write a bunch, but my reaction after my first viewing is that I love it! I live on the shore myself in Southeastern, CT, and there’s something so special that you connect with on the shoreline…though I’m not a surfer, I identified with the love of the water and need for it. I’ll write more later when I get the chance to catch up on the comments….

  • I really enjoy this essay Chris. I think the music adds an interesting dynamic to it as well. The images are both storytelling and graphically pleasing. You seem to have a clear vision for what you wanted with this project and did it. It’s a fresh look for me, and in my opinion it works. As someone above said, some of the images are other-worldy, I love that. Keep up the good work.

  • hi Chris, very nostalgic essay, by the way you photograph seems like sweet old times

  • Jim,

    its not about not liking things its about the tone of your “contributions”.

    Anyway, nice response from Chris, looks like the story has sold and it looks yet again your photographic instincts are so far off the mark it really makes me wonder about who you claim to be.

    One thing about money. Is this your primary or sole interest in photography? Is it not possible for you to grasp the idea that not everyone shoots an essay with the interest of selling it? Money is a CRASS thing to bring up, yet you bring it up over and over again, Jim. The essay Ive been shooting never was meant to make me any money. I would be happy if it never did. Then again I wouldnt be sad if it did, but money is never on my mind. Many of my images from the essay were invited by Getty to be part of their stock library. i would never dream of turning them over to them. Not everyone shoots with money as the primary goal, Jim. I dont know about Chris’ reasons for shooting this, but Im sure there are people who have had stories posted (Bob, Patricia, Panos, yunghee? others?) who are inspired by their passion and vision and not the green. I rarely make disparaging comments about people’s work but Jim, looking at the photos in your link, I dont see any passion. Its standard local newpaper fare….have you ever had a passionate, personal project inspired by a subject you love more than money? Or has it always been weddings and county fairs for you?

  • Chris, I’ve just looked at your website: very impressed. Good, strong, photographs. I will look closely tomorrow (now Wed, 23:25 in U.K.).

    Best wishes,


  • Chris –
    BEAUTIFUL work, well seen, overall excellent with some perfectly poetic images.

    (this jim p truly has his head up his arse; i looked at his overlit saccharine images, opposite of this, no wonder he doesn’t like these) (i anonymously think jim that you are the squarest of the square.)

  • Chris,

    I like everything here: images first (post-production included), the music and the introduction (good prose and really informative: it helped me a lot – together with google earth ;) – to understand OBX environment… surf = california for me up to today, but I live closer to the mountain than to the sea, sea which has no such waves by the way).

    Focus is clearly on surfers, but at the same time your vision seems to expand including the larger shore community, and this could be a direction to go further.

  • Rafal, if you can’t make a living you can’t shoot everyday. If you can’t pay the bills, it doesn’t matter how much passion, determination and talent you have. Modern life is expensive. Equipment is expensive. Travel is expensive. I understand you think talk of money is crass. But it’s just the real world.

  • Wrong, Jim.

    I shoot every day. I make more than a good living. I just dont make a living from shooting which makes no difference to me. Infact, its good, Im free to do what I want, to satisfy myself and my vision instead of an editor. I dont need to travel to shoot, I can shoot without going anywhere far. You are making leaps to false conclusions. Tell Sally Mann or Nan Goldin that you have to travel to shoot. Sorry Jim, open your eyes. Not everyone is interested in what you are interested in. Tell Patricia she had to travel to shoot.

  • I’ll just comment and say, I know I saw some POV shots which I really liked. I also think another edit was in order as some of the images repeated, though admittedly they were great images, but did they add anything? No.

    Not sure about the technique, Jim does have a point, not sure how I can add anything there, would like to see a version of the essay in colour in a straight from from B&W. I want to see those skies again in colour though.

  • Rafal, I never wanted to do any other work but photography. So I have to make a living at it. Hobby photography is great, though. I know several hobby photographers that are better than many pros.

    I assumed that most people presenting work here aspired to be working pros, making a living from photography. If many are hobby photographers, I’ll look at the stuff differently.

  • Ben, I know Chris has seen Autio’s work because we were looking at it on my laptop in New York. I can’t even begin to express how much of a fan I am of her beach work, both above and below the water line, (why oh why is she not in Magnum with her partner?) and you brought up an interesting point about underwater shots and the lack of them here. I meant to ask about this as well. I see a lot of Trent in Chris’ work too but no “copying,” just influence, and Parke certainly has his iconic Nikonos shots as well.

    I also did not see something else I kind of expected – the “just the feet” shot which I seem to see a lot of now whether it’s diving into a swimming hole or a wave.

    So Chris, did you make a conscious decision not to shoot underwater up because you felt “it had been done,” or ….? Interested.

  • Jim,

    its possible to be a non pro and not be a hobby photographer. Im not sure if Partricia is making money from her work but calling somebody like that a hobby photographer is ridiculous. Her work has depth and power your pro work is clearly lacking.

  • Pros are called pros when they make the majority of their income from photography. It’s simply a definition. You can’t be a “Pro” if you don’t make a substantial percentage of your income from it.

    Would you prefer “Amateur” to “Hobby Photographer?

  • enough about jim’s work!! what about chris’s? jeez….. take this elsewhere please…

  • Rafal, once again, I’m a Professional Photographer because I make a living from it. The term Pro says nothing of my ability or talent. Only that someone is willing to pay me to do it.

  • I’d prefer photographer. Period. It is a word that defines anyone who takes photos on a regular basis.

  • Ben,

    ofcourse, you are right.

  • ben, what else would you like to say about Chris’ work?

  • The problem with leaving an essay up for a week is that most of what is going to be said about the essay will occur in the first day or two. Then you start to get folder drift. Which seems to be David’s concern with allowing comments.

  • its not about what i want to say jim, i’ve thought about and written two decent comments; its just frustrating (and possibly more frustrating for chris?) to come on to this thread hoping to read some discussion about an interesting set of photographs, and instead get more pathetic posturing and inane nonsense from you, (designed to antagonise and attention seek) and sadly people responding to it. just like i am doing it now! this isn’t my forum by any means, but I’ve asked 3 times for the conversation to be kept on topic, and its been ignored; some might say “that’s the internet for you”. i would say, that’s pathetic and self centred.

  • ben, I only respond to people who seem determined to prove to me that my opinions are wrong (an odd idea, since opinions are just that). If my opinions are crap, why even confront me about them? Weird.

    My point is that once everyone has said all they are going to about the topic of a thread, either the thread is going to die or it is going to drift. You can’t force people in a thread to stay on topic once all the comments on the topic are exhausted.

    Go ahead. Try it. Work up an interesting and extended exchange of the posters here on the subtleties of Chris’ work now that they have all commented.

    Maybe David is right. Maybe there should be no comments. Or, perhaps, only one comment per poster.

  • Yes, well it can lead to bedlam ben.

  • ben, here’s the way to solve your problem. Everyone ignore my comments. Then the thread can continue as pure as the driven snow. Seems simple to me. I’m happy, I get to say what I think, and you are happy, because the thread proceeds on topic. How about that?

  • i don’t have anything more to say jim, but thanks for proving my point.

  • Ben ;))

    Ben/Tom: :)))…great discussion about Narelle’s work…it’s funny, cause, you bet, EVERY surf or water pic/story I see now too, immediately i think of not only 7th Wave (a brilliant brilliant book, and sort-of, kind-of prefer her pics to T’s in that body of work), but all her work, including her new stuff from The Place In Between and all those gorgeous overhead shot geometries…..and when Tamara was visiting us last year, she and stayed up late into the night talking about this: the interesting thing about the 2 of them, T off to Magnum…but shit, N is still represented by Vu and fuck it, even if T’s name is the ‘more known’, both their work is just flat out brilliant and inspired…cant help but think, this time around, Narelle’s color has inspired T, as he made the turn from B/w to Color…

    and so, yes, i think it would be great to hear Chris chime in about ‘underwater’ pics…why none?…though, for me, it wouldn’t really makes sense, as surfing is about above water and avoiding being taken under water ;))))….pic #22 is almost underwater ;)))))))….

    so, good chat: how much of an influence has Trent and Narelle’s work been…how important 7th Wave, and why no-submerged (hope it’s cause surfing is above ;)) )…


  • Well, I guess it’s just one of those twists of fate, today we had some of the best surf on the Outer Banks we have had since the beginning of the year, albeit hovering in the mid-40’s in the water…the air was an unseasonable 70 degrees…the clocks have sprung forward, the days are getting longer, and after such a brutal winter and despite an abysmal economy–which hit our town earlier than most because we are fueled by the “disposable” income of tourism–the beach was alive today with hope and smiles.

    Hopefully I can steer the conversation here back to something worthwhile by commenting a little bit on my process and responding to some of the very good comments people have left here.

    Ben, Young Tom was actually the one who turned me on to Narelle Autio’s work, after seeing After the Storm this December at the Loft. We sat and looked at her stuff on his laptop. I had seen Trent’s work from the same project on the Magnum site, but her stuff really blew me away, I think mainly because it was in color. And Young Tom, it wasn’t a conscious decision not to shoot underwater–matter of fact I have bought a pair of goggles for just that purpose…it’s just too cold at the moment to keep your head underwater for more than a couple of seconds. It’s a style that has been explored by a number of surf photographers, so it won’t be breaking any new ground if I get a few good shots, but I am intrigued by the Carravagio-esque tones that shooting underwater can capture and hope to put my own spin on it once the water warms up a bit.

    David Bowen, you are spot on in terms of where the project should go, and that’s what I’m hoping to do more of this year, spend a little more time hanging out with different characters, legends, and local heroes…I have more environmental shots that got edited out for this presentation but which could be good for a book. We’ll see what the next year holds.

    On the same note, Stelios, your comments duly noted; I would like to get some evocative photos of “the storm” itself, maybe with some lonely characters on the beach or pier…

    As to whether this is “art photography” or “photojournalism”, I kinda hope that it’s both, or neither…

    I’ve got a few comments to make about post-processing and “grain”, but I’ll post all of this in pieces so it doesn’t get too long…

  • Scratching salt from my sun burned skin…bleach hair…the sound of the ocean, waves that come and go..seagulls…hang fives…waves breaking against the rocks…freezing water (who cares?)…adrenaline…catching the wave forming…riding it untill the end…the girls on the beach commenting wich surfer is the best…the girls practising with the boys…the scraches under the arms due the surf suit…blue lips from being hours in the water…chiken skin…cool sweaters made of wool…walking on the sand and dunes…late at nigh fires on the beach…someone always playing guitar…laughting all the time…music playing…beers and whisky to warm up or cold down…Winter and Summer on the beach with friends and dogs around…the smell of the ocean… dry sand under the feet…

    So many memories come along with this essay Chris! Thank you so much! I loved your choice for black and white and the way you processed your photos. Also the photos done on the water are really good. Surf’s up! :)

  • “I am not especially interested in anonymous photography, or pictorialist photography, or avant-garde photography, or in straight, crooked or any other subspecific category of photography; I am interested in the entire, indivisible, hairy beast—because in the real world, where photographs are made, these subspecies, or races, interbreed shamelessly and continually.”- John Szarkowski

    I think Szarkowski is bang on the money here – and (unwittingly?) it seems like you are in line with him chris; why can’t journalism be art? and surely journalistic photography can perform it’s purpose better by being artistic (whatever that is…)

    Anyway – it sounds like there is going to be plenty to explore in your project Chris; My experience of surf photography is limited, but some of your images made me think about the movie “Dogtown and Z Boys” – its mainly about skateboarding of course, but the initial sequences chart the early days of surfing in LA, (Venice I think…). I think by casting your net wide and pulling in more biographical threads, you’ll be able to make the story more intimate and personal – an aspect that is often lacking in sports photography, the temptation being to concentrate on the action. it seems that as a sport, surfing transcends human effort and achievement, and becomes more of a lifestyle, in a similar way to other sports where the “results” are not so easily defined – mountaineering and rock climbing spring to mind.

    i did read an interesting article about Surfing being used as a healing tool for children with autism – it was in the Guardian newspaper over here in the UK a year or so ago. I found a website here:

    I’m sure you will have heard about it – while it may not be of use to your current project (due to location etc) perhaps it could be something else that has photographic value?

  • In response to people who wanted to see this project in color, or without as much post-processing, I respect your opinions, but you’ve got to trust me that this project was meant to be presented in warm, ciaroscuro, black and white tones. Those of you who are familiar with any of my other work know that for the most part I am a color photographer with a big “C”…But this project had to be black-and-white. I had always conceived it that way, as anyone who wants to jump into the way-back machine and read my old Road Trips proposal from May of ’08 can see. As a matter of fact, I did, in spite of myself, start shooting and processing in color and almost gave up the project in the early days because I wasn’t happy with what I was getting. Once I converted a few of the choice photos to black-and-white, though, the piece came alive. So there you have it. If you still think the project should be in color, you can come on down and shoot it yourself, I’ll lend you a wetsuit…

    Now on the subject of “grain”…

    I know I’m not fooling anybody into believing that I shot this thing with uprated tri-x or anything like that. The grain is digital, and was added in postproduction to every photo. Why? Well there are many reasons…

    The first and simplest reason is that I like it. I like the look of it, and I like what it does to the photos. It breaks them up into little pointillist puzzles, and it encourages the eye to do its own construction work to put the pieces together. There is a reason that Monet, Seurat, and many of the great painters of their era were inspired by the graininess of early photography and started incorporating a similar style into their paintings, and there is a reason that from the early Pictorialists on photographers have exploited the use of grain. It does something to a picture, it does something to the eyes. In a way, it lays bare the essential magic of picture-making by making it obvious what is happening; thousands (or millions) of different-colored dots are coming together to form a cohesive whole. Kind of the way the universe works…

    Then, of course, there are the cultural/mnemonic associations that grainy photographs carry. Grain is nostalgic, it is old (because of course nowadays we can take pictures that have zero perceptible grain)…it makes us think of earlier times…and this is part of the feeling I’m working on in this piece. A sense of memory, of time and timelessness, of reverie and dreams, of something that is precious because it is fleeting.

    While I’m at it, I can’t forget the most obvious reason, and that is that the OBX is a very grainy place. If you ever come here, you will know what I mean. Sand gets into everything. I have sand in my bed, sand in my shower, sand in my car, even my computer has grains of sand on it.

    There are also technical reasons to use grain: it softens the pixelation and artifacting of digital, it increases apparent sharpness, it smooths out digital banding, which gets very pronounced in heavily vignetted and dodged-and-burned photos such as these…but maybe I’m not supposed to talk about stuff like that, because some asshole will say that it’s “cheating” or something.

    The way I see it, if you are going to shoot digital–and almost all of us shoot digital these days–you need to learn how to USE digital. And that means learning how to expose it, how to process it; learning how it behaves in different situations; learning how to use the amazing tools at your disposal in Photoshop and RAW file processing…it also means learning how to reference film techniques, how to duplicate them, and how to throw them out the window when necessary…it’s pointless to try to act like you’re still shooting kodachrome and you can’t do anything to enhance the photo once you’ve clicked the shutter. A straight digital file, with no postprocessing, is just plain ugly, and if you don’t process your digital files, you should go back to shooting film and drop it off at the lab.

    It’s all about using the tools you have to get the effect you want. I am very conscious of the effects I am creating in these photographs. I am not using post-processing as any kind of “crutch” or just adding grain and vignetting in some kind of knee-jerk way. Yes, there is a certain visceral sense of “I just like it that way”, but as I hope you can tell from this post, I can back the intuitive use of such effects with very solid and deliberate reasoning. Not that I should spend so much time dissecting my own work, but in light of the discussion I figure I might as well, maybe we can get some more interesting dialogue out of it rather than the same old poo-poing by grandpas, fundamentalists and curmudgeons…

  • I fear I sounded a little negative at the end of that last post. I must say that I really appreciate the dialogue and commentary I’ve gotten so far. There was just a point early in the evening when it was deteriorating a little bit.

    Sofia, have you been hanging out in my neighborhood? We used to have the best bonfires down here, everybody playing guitar and singing ten-part harmonies…maybe this summer we’ll revive them.

    Ben Roberts, you are right, I think the people have spoken in terms of the project getting a little more biographical. And “Dogtown”…that movie is iconic, revolutionary, an instant classic. I wouldn’t dare to be spoken of in the same breath as those boys…

  • “The first and simplest reason is that I like it. I like the look of it, and I like what it does to the photos.”

    That is all that matters…

  • No Chris I haven’t been playing in your neighborhood. Surfers are a tribe anywhere in the world, it’s a comunion with nature and friendship that once your in it, you won’t forget. I almost grew up in the beach because I live in Portugal which has a big coastline and lots of good spots to surf. It’s a natural thing here to surf, kitesurf, bodyboard, scubadive etc. It will be a waste not to profite ftom our nature and sun :)

    Regarding the processiing discussion (which I only knew it was happening because I read your post. I never have the time to read all the comments so sorry if this was said before) I only have to add that no matter what you do to your photos what matters to me when I see photographs is the end result. They are your babies, you grow them the way you think is the best to meet your feelings and experiences. Photoshop, cameras, lenses, labs are only tools to creativity. If people like the end result or not that’s not in your hand. It’s like painting you may like or hate Van Gogh. As long as you do a body of work coming from your heart, soul and guts and that’s honest regarding your subject and your intentions…let the dogs bark and the caravan will passes through ;)

  • Ah, Portugal…some of the best waves in the world, at least so far as I’ve seen in the magazines. Where are you in Portugal? I saw a photo of a surf spot in Lisbon next to a big castle on a rock. I’d love to go there…

  • That’s probably Cascais near Lisbon, i’m in the other side of the river, with a bigger coastline and no rocks. Come when you wish, no need to bring your board, we have plenty here :)

  • I may take you up on that. Hey, I looked at your Love Motels piece on flickr…wow, that’s really good! have you done anything with that?

  • Thanks. Yes, I’ve publish it in a magazine as a suggestion for valentine’s day (like dare in valentine’s day or surprise your wife/husband and leave the kids elsewhere for a night), along with a text from a journalist with who I work sometimes. It was fun to do it believe me! But it’s a small report, not any personal projects Things to pay the bills :)

    You should think of maling a book with your work displayed here, or an wxhibition. That grain will look superb in big prints.It will give eben more the notion of sandy atmosphere. Don’t give up and dig.

  • Just checked out the essay. Absolutely brilliant. As is your website. Wow M’man.

    Gordon L.

  • Nice work Chris, I enjoyed seeing this new expanded edit. I’ve always liked how you photograph your peers in whatever situation you find yourself. I like what you said about the grainy look of the pictures and the actual grain of the OBX. Keep it up.


    no problem with the mix for me….there is a whole lot of “photojournalism” in the permanent archives of MOMA and the Biblioteque Nacianal, the Tate etc etc… of the things i knew for sure as a teenager (i was not sure about anything else) was there should not be a gap between so called documentary and so called art…i felt compelled early on to pursue my world of photography with an intent as would an artist , but with an attitude of bearing witness….i saw those worlds split most of the time either by editors or by curators or both…EXCEPT in the very finest venues and by the most astute photographers….so i followed those exceptions as a very young man (John Szarkowski being very influential,HCB,Frank, etc)…i have always tried to bridge that “gap” both with how i produce in final form my own work, and in presenting the work of others in its inherent eclectic and personalized nature….

    cheers, david

  • Hey Sofia, if you have any contacts for possible exhibitions in Portugal please let me know, you can send me an email through my website. I’d be happy to send you a book if you will show it around. I will be doing a couple of exhibitions in the States this fall and have been thinking about trying to line up a traveling exhibition in Europe.

  • Great writing on your production process Chris, it really mirrors what I think. Put it mildly, digital is ugly. I hate digital colors. I hate digital b/w (the kind shot in b/w options in camera). Theres nothing nice about digital except two things: it is affordable and it is malleable. From a RAW file you can take an image anywhere you want to. You can play with it and get what you want. What a beautiful thing. Is it cheating? Thats b.s. but Im sure someone may think so. Once you have a workflow down, it is a very good way to shoot. No cheating about it.

    As far as people saying they would rather it be color or something else, to me thats a bit of an insult to the photographer. Projecting and trying to foce your likes onto another creator is a slap in the face.

  • Hey Rafal, well said. I really like the malleability of digital; it makes every photo a work-in-progress. Takes you back to darkroom days when you could try a bunch of different things just to see what might happen, and sometimes come up with something totally freakin’ crazy. And that encourages you to go out and shoot something even crazier, and process that all crazy…shooting and postprocessing reinforce each other, inform each other in a dance, swirling around the subject until we either know it intimately or no longer care…

  • ok… CHRIS…


    im in love…..

  • … and Freida is right next to me…
    and she approves…
    so…. there you have it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • One would be a fool not to be as liberal with editing….the mere fact that digital is restricted to several sensors while film has multitudes of different films really makes it obvious to me anyway that you have to take ownership of your own workflow.

    Panos, are you moving to Greece?

  • RAFAL…
    totally second your thoughts…
    as a MASTER said here, the other day, WELCOME TO 2009

  • PANOS…

    the girl you are in love with in #16 is my son Bryan’s girlfriend Michelle!! you met her already at Look3 last year….yea, i love her too….

    cheers, david

  • Panos,
    ha make us smile ( as ususal) over here !

  • thank you chris for discussing the technical aspects of your pictures and the why’s. in my earliest post, i felt a little silly asking how these pictures came about because i thought everyone would know how it is done but then i don’t know squat. that’s why i follow ALL the greek philosophers here in burn, thinkers, dissenters and gladiators… everyone.

    i was surprised how this is black and white, i guess this essay as i understand was born to be black and white. and your website is a pasture of color, that was a cool surprise. i dig the fact you mentioned about knowing how it is to do digital, all aspects of it, so you can get what you want.

    being a fledgling, i may be able to ‘spot’ a good picture but i cannot make it be the way my mind sees it and how i want to remember it. it is just so frustrating.

    so now i learn that blurry is ok, heads cut off is ok, not so perfect smiles is ok, negative print looks are ok, grainy is ok, squiggly night life lights are ok and why? because i think they are all ok. and maybe that is all that matters… to me. for now.

  • ok…………..
    i apologize…
    im in trouble now…
    sorry Bryan,
    sorry Michelle….
    Freida right next to me yells ( get it together panos )…
    oh my, oh my…
    sleeping in the couch ,Again………

    did i just make BEIJING laugh??????????

  • Always late to the party, me. Though I can’t say I’m sorry I missed the Jim invasion.


    Really nice work, with tons of different roads you can go down to expand. Glad you talked about the post – nice to hear some level-headedness in the photographic world.

  • chris.. thats great man… keep on and seeing the periferal activity will really feed the project overall.
    such a strong start .. it´s going to be a brilliant book.

  • Where along the road, though, do you go before photography becomes illustration? Or, does “photography” now mean anything that starts out as the output of a camera, regardless of how it has been altered in Photoshop? Not suggesting Chris has any interest in it, but what if he took these color digital photos that he has converted to B&W, printed down and increased contrast, then digitally added grain, and then what if he composited in other surfers or altered their positions in the waves, etc. Would this still qualify as “photography?”

    Serious question from an old school photographer trying to understand what is now considered photography.

  • Gracie, yes, you get it: if it looks good to you – then it is good. If you use non-destructive software like Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture you can always keep your original photograph while being able to make multiple copies from it to try different ideas, styles etc. By always having the original available, you can make better copies as your skill level improves or take advantage of new software as it is released. The best way to train your eye and gain your own perspective and style is to 1. shoot lots of photographs and 2. look at lots of photographs; particularly photographic books. If I had to add a 3. I’d say don’t get too hung up on equipment (easy to say, hard to do).

    Best wishes,


  • JIM,
    Personally I consider everything that can be done with a film, a lens, darkroom etc. OK to use also in the digital world. I mean when you shot film the film manufacturer added the grain, why is’nt it ok to do that by ourselves in photoshop? The contrast, the vignetting and everything really could be done in the film days too..
    However if you alter the image by adding or detracting important elements of an image it’s another thing. As long people tell us they do it and don’t use it for photojournalism I find it ok. As I’ve said earlier I still consider it partly photography as the medium is used.


  • Chris “this is part of the feeling I’m working on in this piece. A sense of memory, of time and timelessness, of reverie and dreams, of something that is precious because it is fleeting.”.

    If this is what your wanted to achieve; you nailed it.


  • Martin, just trying to wrap my mind, after really looking at a lot of contemporary stuff over the last year or so, around the current state of the art.

  • Grain, b/w, heavy contrast, mixing colour and b/w, out of focus, motion blur, vignetting, these are all part of photography and have been from the very beginning of photography as a medium.

    Some of these physical/mechanical “defienciencies” have now been taken away from us with the advent of the grainless, high resolution, low noise digital file, but these characterisitcs also convey emotion and a feeling of place, just as a certain smell can trigger long distant memories. What is the harm in reintroducing these elements to convey emotion, like a painter using oils to bring texture to an image.

    I don’t know what this guy shoots on but it has all of the above “defiencieson” and god it’s strong.

  • ian, even if I don’t like that much manipulation, Chris has every right to produce art that meets his vision. I’m just looking for a contemporary definition of “photography” and what contemporary photographers like Chris consider the boundaries of their craft. Photoshop and digital cameras have opened Pandora’s Box, and whatever has been unleashed will permeate all of the craft. Just trying to understand contemporary photographer’s thinking on this.

  • Photoshop simply levels the field for digital photography. As I said, digital photographs are ugly and without a proper process, both b/w and color, 99% of the time they simply fall flat. Film has such a rich menu, why not digital? Also, drawing any similarities between manipulation of the look and manipulation of content is a bit of a stretch, Jim.

  • Rafal, I’m not drawing similarities. I’m asking a straight forward question about where contemporary photographers draw the lines. I would like to hear what Chris thinks about it, because his website is filled with very contemporary stuff.

  • Jim:

    for me, the definition of what constitutes photography is a very simple one:

    to tell a story using the properties of light

    This is very different than using words or sound or paint or sculptural elements. Photography, for me, begins and ends, with the expression of a place, a moment, a thought, a relationship as expressed by the shape and shift of light, period.

    It seems the difficulty, for many (particular ‘old school’ photogs) is that they often (as do young ones) confuse the media of Photography, the language of Photography with the Applications: documentary, narrative, conceptual, illustrative, commercial, adversising, cinematic, etc etc etc. For me, an advertisement in a magazaine, that has been ‘created’ using photoshop with elements of images/light/shadow/time taken from some kind of camera (traditional, pinhole, digital, webcam, cellphone, whatever) is STILL PHOTOGRAPHY. Only the Application is very very different. Is there a ‘better’ or ‘truer” photography: hell NO. This is the problem for many purists and non-purists: they confuse or construct an architecture of Quality or Assignment born of some silly notion.

    Now, given this, there are ‘clearer’ defintions for work or profession or application because we rely on certain definitions to help us negotiate meaning. In other words, if you manipulate a photo’s content profoundly and toss it off as PJ/News, this is, for most, a priori not legitimate. Though, in truth, even journalism is hounded by subjectivity and bias and manipulation (as we’ve discussed countless times here, at LS and other places). Photography’s standard is NOT about a value of defining what CONSTRAINS photography, but the quite opposite, what defines or inhabits it.

    For my own work (highly hermetic, personal, narrative-oriented, abstract), poetry, painting and internal logic guides the work as does my love of process and texture (thus my love of abstraction and grain and focus to-ward more pictorial questions rather than realistic ones) and the play that painting and literature and philosophy dictate how i shoot and how i See. I do not add anything to my negatives, but of course burn in darkroom and over process the film as well as, in camera and in situ, try as best as i can to shoot as if im breathing, and playing with the ideas of what constitutes a ‘good’ (in the traiditonal sense) photograph.

    The key is that photography, like all language, like all expressions, is defined by parameters that have defined it, but like all languages and means of expressions, expanding and recounting and re-writing these boundaries are what allow for the freedom of story. The truth is that Photography does NOT EVEN COME CLOSE to the boundlessness of human experience and human expression (both externally and internally) and it’s still not only in its infancy but hasn’t even begun to stretch its legs….

    compared with painting or language or music, photography still have lots and lots to do…but, what a gorgeous expression…

    simpler definition: does it, for you, speak of something using the tools that is has to offer…if you feel manipulated, than sure, it aint for you, but what are ALL STORIES but a manipulation as a way to grant us something…something richer than the story itself…

    and from that, give me everything photography has to offer


  • JIM:

    to be more succinct, i think you confuse Application of Photography with Photography itself. I do agree with you in that it is important that each photographer know or understand for themselve what is it they wish to achieve (journalism, documentary, conceptual, commercial, whatever) as a way to hoe these dintinctions. But it is ALL photography. Like many photographers who were weened on the Documentary work of the 30’s/40’s/50’s, most photographers who question the ‘contemporary’ often fail to see this distinction. I am not suggestion you fail to see this, but I would ask they you see it in this perspective:

    There is not purity of language (grammar is not a set of rules to proscribe language, but really a set of values that describe how language, at a given time, is often communicated, but is always in flux) but a range of language….so too photography…

    my hero PJG once called Parr (and others) Magnum Lite, and therein lay the profound and unfortunate problem….and I am afraid many still ahve this mindset….

    just a lack of thinking…or maybe insecurity….the better way:

    to widen….it’s all in the mind anyway…


  • bobblack, given that freedom and boundlessness, do we have an obligation as photographers to reveal the extent of our manipulation to viewers? I’m not clear how it would be workable, but, just using Chris’ essay as an example, should viewers be told that the photos don’t represent the way things actually looked, but represent the way the photographer perceived the scenes, represent his emotions about the subject? Or is this just irrelevant in contemporary photography and to contemporary viewers?

    I’m not trying to be provocative, I’m really trying to get a handle on this.

  • Jim,

    well, dont you think theres more to it? Its not an absolute black or white sort of thing. I would say that adding or eliminating content is not something I would like to see in documentary photography but in other contexts I have no problem with it. Check out the work of Josef Schulz for example.

  • Jim,

    what do you think about tri-x? Things dont actually look like that, do they? How about Polaroid? I mean seriously, I could shoot something on a dozen different films and the scene would not look like it did when I saw it with my eyes. Actually, no camera will ever show what something REALLY looks like. Its a silly question, Jim. Your photos dont look like reality either. They are flat, taken from a monocular perspective. Your choice of framing itself distorts reality.

  • Jim:

    it’s about context. I think, and have written about this extensively, that VIEWERS HAVE THE OBLIGATION to work…the work for the photographer is in the photograph. I dont TRUST photographs to begin with, and therein lay the problem: people believe images are REal, they are not. People believe a photograph or moment photographed is real, they are not. They are expressions, very personal and subjective, moments of expression. Shit, even the Editor of the newspaper i worked for as a late-blooming 26 year old pointed that out: “it’s a lie, remember the people not the pic”. It’s clear, even in Chris’ work, that this essay represents an EXPRESSION of the feelings of the moment….so too your work…

    I think EVERYONE that has photograph knows that the photograph is NOTHING like the moment/person/place/time, but merely a palimpsest (a shadow) of things…and yet, the beauty is that that shadow, somehow, contains great information and great expression of the Real moment…that’s the paradox of photogrpahy….

    now, any photographer that denies this is lying…so, in this sense, phtoographer should be truthful of how they shoot, cause what matters anyway, if any of it matters, is what the viewer takes and how this related to what the author attempted…

    more later, gotta teach, students waiting


  • with this in mind, i think photographers SHOULD talk about their process and ideas if they are asked…on my Bones essay here (which is different that most of how i work, in a sense that it was shot in a short period of time for a very specific person (dah, my son)), i tried to write alot about the process, the meaning, the ideas and how i shot (including talking about the cameras, film and process)….i think that photographers should feel comfortable talking about what their work means (if they are able) or the technique…because i think the key is NOT to ‘trick’ people, to lie to them….to be open as possible, and to allow them to process as they wish….

    ok, gotta fly…

    u are not being provactive (here at least ;) ), it’s an important discussion! :))


  • Bob, I’m with you completely. I have been taken to task many times when I’ve told folks that all photos are lies. We are always selecting when we are shooting photos, and that selection alters whatever “truth” the scene might have held. Of course, since everyone at an event interpreted what they saw differently, the idea that there is some kind of objective truth is questionable at best.

    Rafal, I agree with you completely. Everything we shoot is a distortion of reality. My question here though is, with the tools now to distort that reality infinitely, and still have a photo look like a straight shot out of the camera, do we have any obligation to the viewer to explain what we are up to? How do contemporary photographers look at this?

  • I think theres an obligation not to lie. I pointed out Josef Schulz and the reason I like his work is that he is pushing it but also being honest about the process. Then again, I dont think he has an obligation to be forthcoming, he isnt reporting but creating a new reality, a fiction with a camera.

  • I am in love with #23 and love the black and white

  • g mornin’ jim,

    ‘about obligation to the viewer’, if i was looking at j.nachtwey’s pictures of someone getting shot and crushed and he would color it and make it fake with tools, i would get mad and more get turned off and to me he will lose his credibility. but if the ‘end effect’ is supposed to make it dreamy or appeal to the inner sense then this blurry business, ‘colored’ items in the pictures work for me. now if you ask me about the photoshop tools magazine where pictures have wings growing out of their eyes like manga or sorts, i dont cough up the 10.99 to buy it because that that does not appeal to me.

    if it is photojournalism, it has to be real. but if the subject is meant to be light then you can tweak it.

    you can consider me as an end buyer because even though i am enthusiastic about photography, i dont know technical stuff at all. so that does not color my opinion about how it coulda woulda shoulda been done.

  • About grain and vigneting and post production…

    Do you ask a writer what pencil/feather/pen/typewriter/computer he used to write his once-in-lifetime novel with? Of course not.

    Do you question his honesty/integrity? Of course you do…Because you want to know who exactly you are communicating with. So what are the questions you would ask the writer? The pen he used? Is that going to reveal this writer to you? And yet that is the kind of stuff we’re constantly asking photographers (lens, camera, Photoshop, Lightroom, film, digital)… And guess what: with photographers unlike with writers sometimes it IS part of the revelation. But most of the time it isn’t. So when is the photographer cheating? How can you tell? In fact he is cheating all the time. With his photographs. Not necessarily as a human being.

    (Chris I’m sorry but I could not see the totality of your essay: bandwith… What I saw looked quite promising)

  • Gracie, my concern is that the tools are so good that the viewer can no longer distinguish between Nachtwey’s “reality” and, for example, Chris’s “interpretation” in this essay.

    Qualifier: I’m not a luddite with digital. Been using Photoshop since Version 1.0. I use Photoshop 4, Lightroom 2, and have all the cool plugins- Focalpoint, Exposure 2, Portraiture, Viveza. Every action Kubota makes. You name it. Long time member of NAPP.

    It’s not an abstract discussion for me.

  • Hey Jim, I hear what you are saying and it’s an age-old issue. I’m not sure you were around at the beginning when Tom Chambers’ photo went up. That certainly crossed a lot of people’s lines because he was compositing and cloning multiple parts of different photographs onto a frame.

    I didn’t composite or clone any of these images, but I won’t go so far as to day that’s something I would never do. If a project called for that, I would do it. Is it still “photography” then? I would say so, using Bob Black’s definition above, as something that was taken with a camera—and breaking the word itself into its requisite parts, a picture made with light…but really does it matter what you call it if it succeeds in moving the viewer or conveying a strong visual message?

    I think a lot of photographers that spent most of their life shooting film get hung up on anything that one does to a photo in the digital darkroom as “artificial”. Some of my favorite photographers are film photographers who use compositing and other film “tricks”. No digital, but WAAY more manipulation than what I do. Check out, for example, Robert Parke-Harrison’s work. Or how about Jan Saudek’s use of hand-coloring, or Elizabeth Opalenik’s multitude of image-manipulation techniques, all with film.

    All I’m doing in these photos is dodging, burning, tweaking contrast, and adding grain. All of which are extremely basic black-and-white darkroom techniques. But if I decided, for instance, to take multiple motor-drive snaps of a surfer on a wave and composite them into a single photograph to show the motion and the arc of his ride…I would have no “ethical” “artistic” or “philosophical” qualms about doing that. I just probably wouldn’t do it because it would look cheesy.

    To me it’s more a matter of taste and desired effect than it is about the “process” or the “boundaries” of
    “what is photography”. Who cares what you call it or what the “boundaries” are? You can’t do anything interesting if you’re too concerned about playing by the rules.

  • John Vink, well said sir. A photographer is always cheating, just by the simple act of choosing what to include in the picture and what not to include. Not to mention the technical decisions (film quality and speed, f-stop, shutter speed, focus, etc) all made before the shutter clicks.

    I hope you get to see it when you get more bandwidth…

  • Jim Powers, even James Nachtwey employs post-production on his photographs. It’s much more subtle, but the pictures don’t just pop out of a digital camera looking as beautiful as his photos do. And of all the great war photographers out there, none are more about “interpretation” than Nachtwey.

  • Oh, and Panos…Panos, Panos. Whatever you want, my friend, it’s yours. I’d be honored to hang on a wall in Greece–as long as I can come crash on the sofa!!

  • Chris,

    is Nachtway shooting digital? John Vink, how about you?

  • Rafal, I can’t comment on that.

    Cary Conover, it’s time for a cold one my friend. I’ll be up next week.


    Nachtwey shoots digi…post production for sure…

    actually the most impressive use of post production is coming from Paolo Pellegrin….well, not exactly him , but from his assistant Analissa who IS very much a part of the creative team and is even credited for doing so in his New York Times essay on Great Performers…

    post production??? been happening forever in the darkroom…no surprises here in my mind…however, i have no idea how to use Photoshop and i print “straight” when using digi…but, i am not opposed to it and probably should learn from a few folks….so many years of shooting transparencies made me get it right in the camera….but, i really should take advantage of the tech abilities given to me now…

    cheers, david

  • Its funny David because I was really astonished by the vibrancy of the color in your korea prints at the exhibition. Not digi looking at all.

  • Nachtwey spent a lot of time with his printer when he was shooting film. I’m sure he is even more exacting given the control shooting and post with digital give him. Amazing photographer.

  • JIM..

    I do my best to understand you, but you’ve got me stumped with your words here: “If many are hobby photographers, I’ll look at the stuff differently.” Why would the fact that someone chooses to earn their living outside of shooting affect the way you react to the work? The images are the images..and they don’t need a label about the photographer’s primary source of income. When you walk into a museum and see a painting, do you adjust your impression of it if you find out that the painter was a waiter?

    I myself have said it would be helpful to know more about the photographers here in order to give the best feedback, but that has nothing to do with how I SEE FEEL UNDERSTAND the actual work. If I were to review your work for example, it would be helpful for me to know that your years in the field will frame my words..but your actual experience won’t add anything to my relationship with the images themselves.

  • Yes, John vink shoots digital…and doesnt make a damn bit a difference ;))))))))))…..

    he’s one brilliant novelist! :)))


  • About Paolo Pellegrin and his brilliant essay in the New York Times–I’ve had a couple of conversations with different people in the industry–including David H–about that piece, and there are differing opinions on the post-production used there. I’d say for sure that there is just as much post-production going on in that piece as anything I’ve done to the photos here. Heavy dodging and burning, local contrast sharpening, half-sat toning, brightening of eyes, smoothing out of skin tones…a lot more retouching than anything I’ve done. And the piece, which was truly an instant classic, was very self-consciously described by the TIMES editors as “photojournalistic” which, of course, it was, completely. BUT, given both the use of supplemental flash lighting and digital darkroom enhancements, I’m not sure it would pass the “Jim Powers” test of whatever rules he is going by, as the photos definitely do not look “like it was”, but are stylized and hyper-realistic…at the same time, the moments captured are spectacular and the overall vibe of the piece is classic Hollywood. So again, where do you draw the line? In terms of magazine work, it depends on the editors. New York Times Magazine is cool with that sort of thing, but NatGeo is not. So Paolo and his team would use different, more subtle processing for a NatGeo piece…

    David H, you are of course a master at “getting it right in the camera”, and along with Alex Webb and others you pioneered the artful use of high-contrast color transparency film in a photojournalistic setting. But I have always appreciated the fact that you don’t push this philosophy on others, and as many times as I have shown you my photographs, you have never once commented on the post-production. It has always been about the pictures, and nothing else, and that has allowed me to follow my instincts about what kind of photoshop work to do and never to feel self-conscious about it.

  • Chris-

    This work is beautiful and distinctively yours. I think you’re getting to the point where your images have a recognizable signature. It’s unlike any surf photography I’ve seen before, and man, am I envious of your hometown! Looks like a great place to live and photograph.

    And belated congratulations on the two-page spread in (was it NG Traveler or Adventure?). Either way, another awesome picture. You’re on a roll!

  • Chris, my problem with the “hyper-realistic” look is that it smacks of a fad, and is overused in the extreme. Just because a few can pull it off doesn’t mean that everyone should try. It is popular, though.

    Erica, my English department college professors were much more critical of the work done by those of us who were English majors than others who were not. It had nothing to do with ability and everything to do with aspirations.

  • Chris, somehow, and after much of what has been said about print vs screen here, I now kinda see your shots as having each their intrinsec value, single images more than essay. Their subject matter does invite such thought, as it can go from bikini girl to moody sea and sky, treated quite differently “in the darkroom”. It might all coalesce within gallery walls or book pages, though.

    Art photography. I hope we do not confuse it witrh artfulness. I am still a bit recalcitrant to art photography (say, a bell paper shot/sublimized for its sensuous shapes, for example), for some reason. Just as poetry is not my forte, vs prose, yet, poetry should also not be confused with poetic, which many texts and things (music, people…. Photography), not defined as poetry, project unmistakably. This artfulness, I do applaud in this series of pictures, and of course, in your site portfolios.

    PS: total stranger to the surf subculture, but 15-20 miles south of SF, we have a little surfing bay, it’s one of my favorite places to go to on an idle day, with a camera. On top of it, it’s called ROCKAWAY BEACH. Cities with the name of a RAMONES song, for crissakes, that’s why i came to AMERICA in the first place! ;-)

  • J. VINK..said:

    “…So when is the photographer cheating? How can you tell? In fact he is cheating all the time. With his photographs. ….”

    Oh, John, u killing me now…
    i already spent the night on the couch (even after i made Beijing laugh…although immediately apologized to Bryan & Michelle…it was too late…)

    and now you??? a respected master/Magnum photog confirms that im (we) a cheater????
    oh my… and i thought the couch was bad… i think im “discovering” the floor today….

    good evening from snowy BIG BEAR….
    i think Rafal is up

  • All,

    Despite all I’ve said I was refering to this essay only. Yes, my main concern when I see photographs it’s the end result, what it makes me feel, but of course I don’t agree with pos-processing that take objects from the image or those kind of things. I defend the use of post-processing as the digital darkroom, which I think Chris has well achieved in this essay.

  • OK, Panos, for the last time, just for you….. STRAVINSKY:

    “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal”. He just forgot to add… and cheat too! ;-)

    out shooting…. Friday pix tomorrow!

  • Was it Stravinsky who coined that phrase Herve? My dad has been quoting that for years, I never knew where it came from?

    Rockaway Beach of Ramones fame is actually a surfing beach as well, pretty much the closest place to NYC to surf. I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing a little essay there, call it “Surf Brooklyn” (although technically it’s Queens)…make it all tattooed and urban, kinda punk rock…

  • Chris, I liked this essay a lot. I like this kind of photo, for reasons I am not sure I altogether understand. This was a wonderful introduction for me to the surfing world, or at least your interpretation of the surfing world, which is a world about as far from where I am at as it is possible to be and still be on the same planet. As for the post-production thing, I dont really see this as a problem here. The argument itself goes back to when Aristotle declared Tragedy greater than History, because Tragedy could deal with the higher truths of human existence whereas History was bound by the mundane facts of the matter. So long as you’re not passing your personal vision off as straight news, I dont see what the problem is.

  • JIM

    that’s part of my point..aspiration isn’t measured by where your paycheck comes from. To the contrary, a lot of people “save” themselves for their true art / vision / passion by keeping it pure from the trappings that can come when you rely on something for financial security..

  • erica, if you have a trust fund to pursue your art unsullied by filthy lucre, more power to you. Must of us who do full time photography have to make a living. What nonsense.

  • Chris,

    Only today did I finally get to see your photo essay. I have been living without regular broadband for several months, and additionally in the last week I had to move temporarily out of my apartment, so I am way, way behind in seeing most of the photo essays on Burn. Today I camped out in a coffee shop with broadband to catch up a little. I already liked your color work very much. This surfing essay in b+w is a superb visual statement, stylistically very well-defined and consistent, strong in every way. Can’t for the life of me understand anyone objecting to the ‘processing’ of the images. Keep shooting!


  • I wish I was sullied with filthy lucre, but some things are not meant to be, it seems. Ah well, such is life.

  • Mmm, filthy lucre…that sounds dirty…gimme some of that

    Jim, I’m not sure where you are coming from with that last statement, and “nonsense” is a fairly disrespectful use of language for a valid point made by Erica. Even if you are a full-time professional photographer (as I am) it doesn’t mean that every photo you snap is for the money. Matter of fact, the way I see it, great photographers are nearly always defined by their personal work, not by their paid work. And in today’s marketplace, that is even more the case. If photography is only about making a buck and working for the man, whell shit, you can make more money doing a lot of other things, my friend.

    Look, there’s nothing wrong with being a newspaper photographer and bringing home a couple hundred bucks per assignment, but the world is MUCH bigger than that! You make being a photographer sound so depressing…

    Sidney, thanks for the comments. I’m glad you finally got to see it.

    And Michael Halminski, if you are still out there, thanks for the words way back in the discussion. I’m hoping to spend more time in Rodanthe this summer, so I’ll stop by and say hello sometime.

  • Chris, you don’t get paid for your photography?

  • Auggh JIM..

    I am not saying it is wrong to be paid to shoot..I am paid to shoot and I am happy for that. I am saying that you can’t judge the strength of a photo or of a photographer because the photographer has or has not chosen photography as a way to pay the bills. Why, in your mind, can’t someone be a baker, a nanny, a human rights advocate, a social worker or whatever else to support himself and still take images that are as strong as someone who supports himself financially with photography? How is the idea nonsense? I am most certainly not trying to attack you, but I am shocked that you could believe what I think you are saying. (And this has nothing to do with not having to work to support oneself..)

    For a contemporary example, what about someone like my friend Jason Eskenazi, who works as a security guard at the Met to provide for himself and to make sure he has benefits. Jason is not comfortable working as a hired shooter, and how on earth could you say that matters with regard to the quality of his work? Yes, now that his book Wonderland has won book of the year award from poyi ( will receive some money for his books / prints, but he’ll just be getting back what he had to put into it to get it published and his 11 years of costs of traveling and shooting (with film) for the book. You can hear an interview with him here if you are interested (

  • erica, you have gone off on a tangent. I never said amateurs or hobby photographers were worse photographers. And if people want to work at any other job and pursue photography as a sideline, that works for me. My post response to you was that I was more critical of pros than amateurs (by definition, those who aren’t pros…I know of no other terms to describe them). As I’ve said before here, I know several amateurs – people who hold full time jobs not related to photography – who are better photographers than many pros.

    I’ve been a photographer for hire for 40 years and have had a hell of a good time. If I was pimping my work for money, it’s given me a great life. It is you whom seem to denigrate those who trade their photography for money.

  • JIM

    I’m going to have to go with the theory that we are misunderstanding each other, because it is clear that you are misunderstanding me..not sure what molecule of support you have for the thought that I “denigrate those who trade their photography for money” (that would be self-denigration :)) and i seem to be misunderstanding you, as I thought when you said “I assumed that most people presenting work here aspired to be working pros, making a living from photography. If many are hobby photographers, I’ll look at the stuff differently.” that that implied that in your mind you felt there was, across the board, a difference between the two that warrants a separation when considering the work that David posts here.

    Not into having any animosity with you, I was trying to understand what made no sense to me.

  • Chris;
    I love this piece. I love the grittiness and the feeling it imparts. I’ve never been a surfer but love the sea and swimming in it. To me this piece leaves me with the feeling of “being there” and sharing in your experience and life.

    Thank you

  • Jim, of course I get paid for my photography, how else could I claim to be a full-time photographer? My point is that not ALL of my work is for pay, and the work I care most about is not work that I get paid for. That’s not to say that this work doesn’t bring in money, it’s just that nobody’s sending me out on assignment to do it.

    This is not an “either-or” situation. I am proud of the work I get paid to do, but it certainly doesn’t define me, and I would feel much less fulfilled if all I did was assigned work.

    I don’t think Erica was “denigrating” hired guns. She was just saying that for some people, not having to worry about paying the bills with photography gave them the freedom to pursue it as a passion without the stress involved in making photography a full-time career.

    Look at some of the great poets of the modern age. William Carlos Willams was a doctor. TS Eliot was a banker. The great linguist Benjamin Whorf, who unlocked secrets in the Navajo language that produced a gestalt shift in the realms of anthropology and psychology, was a fire marshall.

    There are all sorts of ways to marry life, livelihood, and passions of the heart and mind. Nobody’s knocking you for doing it your way. It’s just not the only way. I also think it’s a little strange, the attitude you bring to this site, when it is clear that almost ALL of the work done here is unpaid, self-financed, personal work done by photographers who have a strong affinity for their subject matter and are going to shoot it regardless of whether they ever make a cent from it. In that sense, we are all “amateurs” in the truest sense of the word, in that we do it for the LOVE of it and we love doing what we do.

  • Thank you Ross. In many ways, the surfing theme is just a metaphor, or a container, for an exploration of the human relationship with the ocean and the weather. Which is why I’ve included a number of non-surfing shots in here…So picture yourself, swimming in the ocean, tasting the salt. Surfing is just a big excuse to play in the water.

  • Chris; I know what you mean. I used to drive four hours each way just to spend the weekend snorkelling with fur seals. Incredibly rough stormy southerly facing New Zealand coast. Suspended in the water and giant kelp, with twenty to thirty fur seals flying past, pure magic!!


  • Chris..thanks..and for my part I will let the focus come rightly back to your powerful images now :)

  • Chris, I’ve never surfed but there was a day when watching surfers bobbing in the Pacific Ocean taught me everything I needed to know about life.

    I was in a raw place when nothing was making sense, when relationships were going sour and I was wondering what I was doing with my life. This was back in 1998, during the years when I’d spend 3-6 months living by myself in San Francisco. I remember taking MUNI from my sublet apartment in the Mission out to Ocean Beach. I knew I just needed to sit by the water and let its elemental power wash over me. It was a windy day and the surf was breaking onto the shore, but evidently not breaking where the surfers hoped it would, those black dots bobbing on the horizon, waiting for the perfect wave.

    I sat by myself on the beach for three hours that afternoon. During that time I probably saw three surfers catch a good wave. The rest just kept bobbing in the water. A few tried to ride the swells, but they only managed to body surf into shore. They’d pick themselves up, hop up on their boards and paddle back out where they’d bob some more.

    It was the surfers patient anticipation that struck me that day, their undying sense of hope that something would come their way if they just waited it out. It was just the lesson I needed to learn, a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

    Chris, your essay shows the exciting part of surfing but I know you understand what I’m talking about. No one knows how to wait like a surfer.


  • Chris, this was the realization that led to my original comment about hobby photographers here that upset Erica. I had incorrectly assumed that all of the work posted here was from people who were at least aspiring to be professional photographers. Clearly that was an incorrect assumption. I never said that hobby photographers were in general any less skilled or dedicated than pros.

  • Chris, that Stravinsky statement has been quite edited over the years.

    I knew it as : “mediocre artists copy, good ones imitate and geniuses steal”, which i like even better (in truth, it is a bit of a gruff and ungenerous statement, as Stravinsky was himself), but today, googled “stravinsky quotes” for veracity and found it as I wrote it above.

    I am not sure one can do photography that pays the bills, and another that would be one’s real artistry, if one is determined to be primarily or ultimately defined by the latter one. Most (all?) photographers who have achieved recognition for their undiluted artistry, did not practice it on the side, yes? I think david said that much and encouraged evryone not to start, as an emerging pro, by assuming one can do both separately.

    Of course, one can be known for one’s artistry and thereafter makes some money with commercial/corporate assignments.

  • Herve, I firmly disagree with what you are saying. You put your artistry into whatever you do, whether you make money at it or not, whether it is self-directed or assigned. It’s limiting to try to seek some sort of “model” for success by making rules based on other photographers. Most of them had to make the rules up as they went along, and there are plenty of examples of photographers who did commercial or commissioned work to finance their other work. Look no further than Ansel Adams; he was a portrait photographer and ran a very successful private studio in San Francisco. Does anybody remember Ansel Adams as a portrait photographer? Do you think the fact that he did this for a living “diluted” his landscape work?

    I respect the high-mindedness of what you are saying, but by all means do not turn down any job where you are making money taking pictures just because you think it will destroy your chances of getting into the Pantheon…

    Jim Powers, I still think you are missing the point. Of course most, if not all, of the photographers here are aspiring professionals. Just because you are a professional doesn’t mean that every click of the shutter has to happen on someone else’s dime. Especially if you want to move FORWARD in your career. Just like a builder will go out and build a killer spec house to show potential buyers what he can do, the photographers here are doing the same thing. We are showing what we can do. And in so doing, we are showing how it CAN be done…and if we are successful, we will not only move our careers forward in positive ways, but we may even influence the future of photography.

    Yes, it is uncharted territory, but the world of photography is changing rapidly, and those who are going to survive and thrive in the future are not going to be the ones clinging to outdated models, but the ones trying new things and BURNing into new territory with a combination of careful assessment of the new situation and a sense of reckless experimentation…

  • Hey Patricia, I know exactly what you are saying. Surfing is actually a lot like photography in that way. Some days you sit there and wait, and wait, and nothing happens all day, but you keep hoping that it’ll pick up…and some days you get lucky. Thanks for the very evocative story. I’ve sat on the beach like that many times. Sometimes the ocean delivers pearls of insight. Some times it’s just big and vast and you know you’ll never figure it or anything else out.

  • Adam’s actually become a very busy commercial photographer (portraits, what we would call now Annual Report work, etc., because he could not make enough money to survive otherwise. Even when he left the commercial work to “get my photography back on track,” he struggled financially into fairly late in life.

    Most of the work of photographers past that we now celebrate in the permanent collection of galleries or in books was produced on assignment. For the most part, they weren’t trying to create art, they were trying to earn a living. Perhaps you folks can find a different way of doing it.

  • “I respect the high-mindedness of what you are saying, but by all means do not turn down any job where you are making money taking pictures just because you think it will destroy your chances of getting into the Pantheon…”

    LOL. Christ, there isn’t any high-mindedness in what I’m saying. I’m simply telling you the truth. All of the top prosare working their butts off to make a living. It’s incredibly competitive out there.

  • Christ=chris, of course. Unless you want to live with the former. :)

  • Well, let’s see, I’m sitting here looking at my bookshelf, and we have Alex Webb’s “Istanbul” (personal project that became a book), Ernst Haas’s “The Creation” (same), Elliot Erwitt’s “Snaps” (a lifetime of street shooting that is now a book), Robert Doisneau’s “Three Seconds of Eternity” (same)…Brassai’s “Paris by Night” (another personal project), Robert Frank’s “The Americans”…do I need to go on? None of this was assignment work, even though all the above photographers were (and some still are) well-respected assignment photographers. How about Bruno Barbey’s “The Italians”, or Peter Turnley’s “Parisians”? Or Sally Mann’s “Immediate Family”? None of this work was commissioned…But Turnley and Barbey are both globetrotting photojournalists whose schedules are plenty full of “assignments”…Or how about Trent Parke’s “Dream/Life”? He was doing this crazy street photography at the same time he was working as a sports photographer. So, Jim, I find your previous statement to be both sweeping and incorrect.

  • Jim, dude, don’t patronize me, I know just as well as anyone what the market is like; we all struggle to make a living as photographers. And I was referring to Herve’s comments when I spoke of high-mindedness…

    You know some times I think you’re about to make sense and then you knock it right off. You were totally backing up my point about Ansel Adams and then suddenly you say that most of the work of the greats was produced on assignment, in order to make money. When in the previous paragraph, you said that Adams couldn’t make money off of his iconic work that he is now known for, and had to keep shooting portraits and commercial work to pay the bills…But the work that he is known for, he went out and shot on his own, NOT on assignment…

    That’s all I got in me tonight. It’s a good discussion, but sleep is beckoning…

  • Ah, what’s the point. Chris, set the world on fire.

  • Not to worry, Chris, I won’t turn anything down… :-)

    Ansel Adams, OK, that’s a bit way back, as far as the business of freelance/salaried photography. And he was an entrepreneur/director from the word go, owning that studio, not fulfilling the desires of an editor, no?

    I remember more vividly David’s words now. that he’d have washed dishes, maybe give up altogether, rather than make photography that was not following his true calling (to be short). It does not mean high-minded (washing dishes!), it means aiming to work with the very people who can help you cultivate your own voice/style, rather than taking a job, as it pays the bills.

  • I think Chris is looking at books of long term projects without really understanding how they happen. Let’s take Sebastiao Salgado, since he is known for his long term projects. Do you think he simply wonders around for six or eight (his current project, Genesis, is an eight year project) years on his own dime to produce these things? Of course not. With Genesis, for example, he has contracts with, I think, six magazines worldwide that will use the photos and a short written content as they are produced.

    Ansel Adams did extensive commercial photography, work for hire. The Mural Project was done for the U.S. Government, who owns the images. He had no qualms at all about pimping his talent out for money, which he struggled to earn enough of until his later life.

    Chris, you are as blinded by the future as I am mired in the past. But that’s the eternal conflict. I was an early adopter of digital technology and shoot almost exclusively digital these days. But I also understand the danger in what this essay’s methods represents. Digital photography and post camera manipulation has within it the potential to blow up the house you live in as a photographer.

  • have not real time to way in with a long post again, but i think, once again, the crux of the problem is the separation between notions: photographer? Being a photographer is a simple thing, and it DOES NOT constitute whatsoever a distinction between pro/am, hired gun/enthusiast, amateur/lecturer, newbie/old timer. I think, like many people, or people caught in the entanglement of labels, some here confuse, or relegate themselves to a stilted nomenclature of titles. A “Professional photographer” is NOT a definition of quality, but a job title. The problem is that many many equate “Professional” (in my book this means a job title, pure and simple) with a photographer who makes great work: NOT TRUE! Just as the title “Artist” to me is no more, in truth, than a job description, pure and simple, period. the fact that these titles have a relationship to the artistry or the significance and contribution of the work is purely coincidental. Those photographers who give a fuck about the title ‘pro’, at least with respect to the nature or quality of their work, are, well, insecure. Not all photographers aspire to being ‘Pros’ in the sense of going out and shooting for assignment or commercial clients. some aspire to make for their own vision. some prefer to shoot and teach. I have a friend who teaches photographer at the best art school in the city here, is a great photographer, but in truth, is life’s work is probably more about teaching. The ONLY money he has made from photography (and he’s a well respected, highly exhibited, established Canadian artist) has been from a few (very few) print sales and from his salary as a professor. Is he less a photographer?

    the problem is that people attribute standards about who is a photographer based on this completely idiotic relationship to job/money. there are great photographers (past and present) whose SOLE occupation was shooting and there were the great majority of hacks. Nothing wrong with that, it was an occupation. The same is true with photographers who earn their livelihood elsewhere (doctor, dentist, teacher, postal clerk, secretary, editor, etc). some are great, most are like the rest. The real question, Jim, is this:


    And NO, the majority of the photography that we now view and process as significant were done by photographers whose vision was about the work and NOT about the means that culled it. Adams WAS A PHOTOGRAPHER (by value and by occupation). Lartique WAS a photographer (by value, not by occupation). Minor white was a photographer (by occupation, editor too, teacher too, and value). Meatyard was a photographer (by value not by occupation) and on and on and on and on and on….

    the most frustrating and discouraging partof this discussion is that conflict. The condition of whether or not a person is a phtoographer is a simple one:

    does he or she commit their life and love to making photographs.

    The result of that (earnings or not, exhibitions or not) or the substantial support of that (from photographic jobs or non-photographic jobs) is an irrelevancy. The first REAL photographer i ever met was my grandmother, who had her own photography shop in Philadelphia: the first one own and operated soley by a woman. She spent her entire life photographing…and does anyone know her or her work. Only me, my brother and my dad….was she a pro? of course she was, she developed, she printed, she worked her ass off for other people and shot like mad until her dying days…

    this discussion is about as apish as all get out…


  • “Does he or she commit their life and love to making photographs” – thanks for that, Bob, just-about says it all.

    I’m not going to use the “J” word.

    Hobbyist: Hmm. I remember when I was young and having to decide between buying new shoes to replace the (one) pair of shoes I owned or to stuff cardboard over the holes in the existing pair and buy film instead. Used a lot of cardboard. The title Photographer will do for me.


  • p.s.

    and for ceratin, there is one who photographer WHO WOULD NOT WISH to make photographers 100% of the time, of their life, who wouldnt want to be free and unencumbered from worrying about nothing but their photography…many many professional photogrpahers who are my friends (again, i use this description as a job title: commerical phtoographer, newspaper photographer, portrait photographer, artist), spend a large amount of their time photographing for $$ and not for what they consider their work….this is true of the great unwash majority of us…that’s the dilemma, many become ‘pros’ because they love phtoographer, they dont or cant imagine anything else, and then they realize that MOST of the shit they must shoot aint for them but to put a roof over their head….i’ve worked for a newspaper as a writer who also had to shoot the stories he was writing about and i hated it…stopped, cold out, stopped…and i wasnt a photographer then…i am a photographer now, my life is dedicated to 3 things: 1) my wife and son, 2) my phtoography and 3) my writing….almost all my money comes from teaching…some from grants (fingers crossed) and little (at this point) from prints sold (yes i’ve sold, but not much, at gallery)…and i DONT CARE at all about the difference between me and, for example, my friend Arantxa Cedillo (now in Cambodia) who shoots full time for newspapers, magazines, agencies and her own work…we are both photographers…we earn our money differently….and all that matters is that our lives are committed to producing work we believe in…

    that’s a photographer…not the size of the ranch, the name of the magazine, not the name of the agency, not the way the bread on the table arrived…

    it’s only about the dedication to the idea that, for good and ill, you need to make and DO MAKE photographs as a gesture of your life…

    full stop

  • “that’s the dilemma, many become ‘pros’ because they love phtoographer, they dont or cant imagine anything else, and then they realize that MOST of the shit they must shoot aint for them but to put a roof over their head…”

    There is that bias again. I have many PJ friends, and they don’t have this attitude that the stuff they shoot everyday is shit. They love their jobs. They are fulfilled by the photography they do as part of their jobs. They don’t discount it as inferior to “personal work.” Do you really believe that most pro photographers are frustrated by the work they do every day for money?

    I’ve certainly never felt that way and none of the other PJ’s I know feel that way.

  • Jim, “Digital photography and post camera manipulation has within it the potential to blow up the house you live in as a photographer.. Can you explain?


  • JIM

    “I never said that hobby photographers were in general any less skilled or dedicated than pros.” That’s great, seriously. But you did say that you would look the work of hobby photographers who show their work here, differently. And I still don’t understand why. That’s all.

    You ask “Do you really believe that most pro photographers are frustrated by the work they do every day for money?” Quite possibly, yes. A lot of people are hustling to survive by shooting grip and grin and butterflies for the newspaper or corporate stuff or headshots or whatever pays the bills when they would rather be assigned to shoot what they shoot on the side, on spec, and try to place later.

  • Mike, I remember, when I was a kid, watching a professional retoucher working on some of Frank Cricchio’s images (Frank, if you don’t know, is one of the top Portrait photographers around). His studio was near where I lived, and I would sit in his darkroom watching him develop photos after hours (he hasn’t had to do that for decades now :). Anyway, this retoucher was incredible with his brushes, airbrush and spotting inks. Years later I watched retouchers with photoshop do even more incredible work. It was precise and time consuming. I own a piece of software, now, Portraiture, that does 95% of what they did on portraits with a single click of the mouse. Even pro retouchers are blown away by it (and many use it, along with other tools).

    Don’t misunderstand me. I have no desire to hold back technology, even if I could. But as digital manipulation becomes more acceptable to consumers of photography, the tools to accomplish it will get better and better. And require less and less skill. I have no skill as a retoucher. But I can blow away that old time retoucher that spent hours with a brush, and I can do it in seconds.

    I can also manipulate photos as Chris has in this essay, and although I do have the photoshop skills, someone with no Photoshop skills at all can do the same thing with Exposure 2. With a few mouse clicks. And the software will get better and better to do it.

    The only thing left is the skill and talent of the photographer. And the only thing that is going to separate the talented from the poseur is the clear, unvarnished photograph. Otherwise, eventually, the manipulation is the message and we are irrelevant. Digital has introduced change that is very different from the changes of the past.

  • Tell you what, Chris certainly has a style.

    Personally it’s very appealing, don’t really care whether its digital/film whatever. Just a wonderful set of photographs that show a different and intriguiing perspective to your standard surf shots. Agree that 15 is killer, but then so is 16… in all it’s noisy, grainy goodness.

    Nice (in the most understated way possible….Chris, and thanks DAH – (so far) at least 20 fantastic photographers that I wouldnt have found otherwise.

  • Why why WHY do we keep trying to change this one person’s mind, a person who has never changed his mind no matter how many posts we fire off to him or about his views? Come on folks, give it a rest. This is Chris’ thread although by now that’s hard to tell. Large egos that are fed just get larger and larger and demand more and more food (attention). Just stop feeding him. Please.


  • Erica, I don’t consider grip & grin photos below me. I enjoy going to these events, meeting the people and talking to them about their business or cause, or whatever. The photos don’t require much creative energy, but I try to make them interesting. I really love what I do. The other PJ’s I know do, too. I have newspaper PJ’s who have been at the same daily for 30 years. You have some kind of distorted idea that all PJ’s are frustrated art photographers.

  • Patricia, this seems like a discussion relevant to Chris’s essay. Do you really want 200 posts about how the essay has reached into your soul and changed your life?

  • JIM:

    the use of the word ‘shit’ was as ‘bad things to shoot’ i meant that in an idiomatic way: that is most of the shit i do (as in, the work, way of living) is just that: the nuts and bolts of life…maybe i should have used a different idiomatic expression….sorry jim, but you’re the one who seems to have the bias…

    for me, if a PJ is happy GREAT…I know LOTS AND LOTS who struggle with what they have to shoot day in and day out…like any job it can be draining…and exhausting…being a PRO photographer is just as rewarding and/or just as demoralizing as any job….

    you have the bias…sorry, you tend to interpret what others write based on your experience….


  • typo: i meant “the use of the word ’shit’ was NOT meant as ‘bad things to shoot’ …but as things i shoot…when i describe my own work, i’ll say, ‘im working on some shit about memory”….hope that clarifies…I HAVE NO BIAS TOWARD ANY MEANS OF WORK OR ANY PHOTOGRAPHER….that wwould be your orientation…


  • JIM

    I don’t think ALL PJs are frustrated art photographers..It’s really clear that you love what you do and that is a gift..and the same for your peers..I think it is a true blessing that you and they are content and creatively fulfilled and financially stable.

    But your question was as to whether I / we really think that there is a lot of frustration on the part of many pros..and in my experience the answer is yes. (But I live in NYC and we do have our share of frustrated artists :)) Why do you think the dream of belonging to Magnum, for example, is still so prevalent? In part, I think it is because people have this concept that they will be paid to shoot what they love.


    I’ll try to leave it at that..

  • Work to live. Never just live to work. I am lucky i guess in that i get paid to take shitty pictures. Corporate nonsense for the most part. Its well paid jim (almost obscenely). I do it very well. I also make documentaries in a similar vein. None of this in any way relates to what i call ‘the work’. ie trying to make pictures that have some meaning to ME. I NEVER put my name to any of this work, preferring it to remain uncredited. I have no interest in these pictures or films other than the money they make that allows me to do what i do. For the most part they are just utter crap. Saying that, I do make them as well as i can, and the clients always love them, but then they are used to jobbing togs who really believe this kind of shit is spiritually fulfilling. This pays for me to be a bum most of the time, hanging round backstage at gigs, shooting portraits of friends and freaks, and travelling the world. Like I said Work to live. My life is very short (yours too maybe) and i dont intend to waste what i have left in being mundane. Its a really really big world out there.
    Note 1
    In support of jim,in a way.
    My lab costs each week for my own personal work run about £200….out of my pocket.
    My cameras and lenses at the moment run to about £25,000 or so……out of my pocket.
    So yeah, in a way, without the corporate shit i probably wouldnt be able to maintain the stuff i do for ME.
    But if i only did the corporate and the mundane, and if i thought that that was somehow ‘enough’ then i would throw it all in and go back to being a junkie. Seems just as empty to me.
    Note 2
    The illness defence
    I am dying. Large cocktails of meds keep me alive, for the time being. So maybe my agenda and the way I attack life are related to that and may not be at all relevent to those who feel a need to put things by for their dotage. Most people are not as acutely aware of their mortality and so seem to live their lives for some future tommorow.
    We have NOW. We should all use it in the best way we can.

  • Thanks for that Jim, I wasn’t sure if you meant that the manipulation that Chris has done here with his essay was running the risk of becoming in some way old fashioned or dated as time passes and tastes change. I would have countered that argument with my assertion that, of course there is an element of fashion within photography, just as in any other field of human activity (remember flared trousers) but although this fact might anchor a photograph in a particular timeframe, it doesn’t take away its artistic or visual merit. Incidentally, I think that Chris’s work, shown here, will have a very long shelf life.

    You seem to be saying that manipulation – any manipulation – is bad: “The only thing left is the skill and talent of the photographer” that manipulation will take over. I remember this argument from the early days of digital photography. Magazines; mainly non-photography magazines, would show images of e.g. a group of people with the heads switched to different bodies (you know the scenario). Photo magazines would bewail the lost innocence of photography; how the public would no-longer believe what was put before their eyes – ignoring the established photographic arts of burning, dodging, bleaching, montage etc.

    I think we should set some ground rules here. Let’s try to separate the difference between manipulation as a means of obstructing or defacing the truth of a situation and manipulation as an attempt to set a particular mood or vibe or emotion that the photographer wants her / his audience to feel. What I previously called Artistic Licence (License). Examples of this could be the use of Black & White (which you don’t seem to mind, Jim) to adding grain, vignette and tone (as per Chris’s essay).

    Where, specifically, do you draw the line Jim?

    Do you dismiss photographs that don’t match your own standards of manipulation or can you appreciate them even though you would not, personally, take them “that way”?

    You seem to be in danger of “if it’s not a daguerreotype it can’t be real photography” syndrome.

    Apologies for so many questions Jim but I’m just attempting to see your point of view, which at the moment seems to be inconsistent and disjointed.

    Best wishes,


  • Bob, I do not think the discussion is about nomeclatura, being or not a photographer, and who is and is not. As I see it, and Chris brouhgt up this with the “making one’s own rule”: yes, it’s about rules. How much you may submnit to certain rules expected of you, and how much this may have you departing from, again to be short, your best/calling.

    I read from you that photography is a calling altogether, no matter how some of your work might differe from the other, according to earning a living. Open question: is photography the calling, or is the true calling actually achieving your own voice?

    Also, if we throw names of “own voice” succesful photographers, and how their early years went on, it is not exactly the same as talking about emerging photographers, which should matter the most to us, here, given the nature of our gathering.

    Here, it is up to each one to honestly act themselves: am I bending the rules so my voice is/will be heard? Can I obey some rules (do the job you are paid for) and make my own at the same time? How long can I do this? Bob, this is not labels, this is about questions we all ask ourselves (sometimes, not so consciously), photographer or not, as we went into the world.

    Thanks for dropping the name of Arantxa, is her work in Cambodia available on the net, some of at least? Which paper does she work for?

    Trent Parke. Not contradicting you, Chris, just to add to your point. This guy was the real thing since he started, just like David (Magnum people do recognize this unflinching calling in their acceptance standards). His sport work was not done on the side to pay the bills, it put him on the “map” and probably was formative (didn’t he say so himself?).


    I’m sad to hear where your wise perspective on life comes from. I’ve been struck by your clear-sightedness and disinclination to waste time or energy with discussions that go around in circles and get nowhere in the end. I hope you are not in pain and are finding some degree of peace in the midst of it all. I also hope you have the support of family and friends that you need and deserve. Please stick with us as long as you can. You bring a lot of experience and wisdom to our discussions. Besides you have a wonderfully quirky sense of humor.


  • Jim I am not “blinded by the future” or whatever phrase you used earlier. I am not some green, wide-eyed child. I own a business and a house and work hard to pay the bills. I have no idea what the future holds. Of course I am optimistic, that’s what keeps me striving. I am not looking to “set the world on fire” as you said. I’m just trying to make some good photo projects happen, and with any luck, make a few books and sell a few prints. If I make money off of them, so much the better.

    Of course advances in technology have made things “easier”. That’s the way of human progress. But the measure of a good picture is not how hard it was to make it, it’s whether or not it speaks to the viewer. Obsessing about the “means” by which a picture was made blinds you to the actual impact of the picture itself. And so, to some extent, this discussion is moot, but since this is a photography site, and we are all interested in technique, we can have a good time discussing it here.

    I’m not sure what’s left to be said about the subject, we seem to be going around in circles. I’m all for discussion, and this has been a good one, but unless you have something more to say than the same tired old arguments, I’m not really interested anymore.

  • john g:

    that is it….only NOW….indeed.

    end of tale.


  • John Gladdy, keep living my friend! I have some small inkling of what you are going through, being a longtime sufferer of CFS and a fairly severe sleep disorder; I travel with boxes of supplements and a few choice meds. Not in any danger of dying (any more than anyone else), but every day is a struggle for my health nonetheless. You are courageous to keep working and traveling and taking such great photos in the face of your own mortality. Keep living, your photos are photos of record. I’m a fan.

  • Bravo Chris! Just got back from a surf trip with Philippa and crew and didn’t have ‘net access, so I’m seeing the slideshow for the first time. Stunning work my friend.

    The prints you showed us at the bar in DC were the subject of conversation in the line-up. Everyone’s still raving about them. Of course they’re all art collectors, so that makes you an “art photographer” !! Be proud, my brother. Celebrate your “artsy-fartsy” superficiality!!

    And keep making pictures

  • John G; “We have NOW”, how true. Looking at your website you seem to be having a good now: keep it up. You show quite a few people who are of an age that clearly “should know better”; it’s so refreshing to see that they don’t!!!

    Best wishes,


  • Beautiful images, well written! Nice.

    I fully understand what you have said here about it being “one or the other”, you can’t just bring a camera into every situation in life, for one reason or another. Often you must make the choice, I think this was an excellent decision; one that will bring the act of surfing, and all that surrounds it, that much closer to your being!

    You do terrific work Chris, look forward to seeing more!

    Cheers, Jeremy

  • Tony Skater, next time you’re taking me to CR…this winter is killin’ me!! I’ll be up your way soon, will be in touch!

    Jeremy, you’re right; it’s always a tough call, to be a “participant” or an “observer”. You’re always riding that edge; being a participant gives you the appreciation for the subject matter and gets you “in”, but you’ve always got to be standing outside of yourself looking down on the situation and know when you need to break the flow just enough to grab the shot. Or, you just go in guns blazing and strike up a conversation afterward so everybody walks away cool…I learned that one from Harvey…I think his actual quote was, “shoot first, make friends later”…with surfers it’s actually pretty easy because they all wanna be rock stars anyway, and if you’re clearly working the situation, they figure they may get their photo in a mag or something…

  • Chris,

    I am just back from 3 weeks away on Europe… I had a computer that for reasons that I still do not understand would not allow me to post any comments…. weird…the “submit” buttom is simply not there….Any way, not that important. What IS, is that I absolutely love your essay… I must have watched it 20 times… I put the music loud, the big screen and I feel I am there, on the beach, feeling the waves so strong that these almost penetrate into the town, the sand, the freedom, the frienship, this feeling also of being small in front of nature, the elements… Thank you Chris for sharing this work. Love love it!!!!! On a more personal note, I have been wondering if you still plan on going to Brazil??? Have you been yet? Is this still progressing? Hope to see you sometimes my friend!



  • amazing and inspiring work there!!!

  • Hi Chris

    I just wanted to say that i really enjoyed this essay. It most certainly had an impact on me, there were some proper ‘decisive moments’ in there (see the dog in the hula hoop, the surfer beteen two buildings, the surfer framed in wave as it wraps around the camera). I really like your style too, i find it very pleasing on my eye.

    I hope to see more in future, many thanks


  • Chris,
    Man it “burns” to look at these from a world away in my hotel room in Bahrain. Homesick for all of it. Makes me realize how much I love our little corner of the world. All I can think about now is coming home to spring surf season, my favorite time. I cant wait!
    Nice work!
    Happy hour next week dude!


  • this is great. way to go Chris Bickford!

  • uFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF … no words … !!!

  • another on worth digging up for a Captain Cook

  • This is one of my favorite essays on Burn. I’m not sure why I never commented on it but I’ve looked at it many times. I feel engaged by the characters and somehow connected to the ocean. Thanks for your excellent work.

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