Photography jobs

An ode to analog surf photography with John Hook

When I decided to try shooting surfing on film, the experience of buying the camera was almost more absurd than the act of putting the film in the water itself.

Browsing the internet, I came across a single listing, quietly titled “Underwater Camera, Works Untested”. The list was full of photos of a Nikonos V, complete with the dive light, extra O-rings, lube and even spare lenses – all sitting there collecting dust.

“Awesome!” I thought as I drove to Malibu. “Some random dude has no idea how much this stuff is worth. If only he loved surfing! Turns out he did. The person selling the camera was actually a surf photographer professional. He had taken pictures of William Finnegan. Appears in surfer diarysame.

But between stacks of old magazines and signed skate movie posters, he told me there was no more money in surf photography. Especially not if it’s filmed. “Magazines all want digital now,” he told me, running the O-rings between his fingers, telling me to check the viewfinder for fungus. There were none.

I bought the camera. But I came home with the music off, not knowing why a professional surf photographer would give away such a novelty item for so little. Was there really no life left for analog surf photography?

I knew someone who would surely have answers. Known to many as a “funtographer”, John Hook’s work recently appeared on the cover of TSJ 30.6 and over the years he has captured the likes of Nathan Florence, Noa Mizuno, Cliff Kapono, Devon Howard and Shayden Pacaro. . Oh yeah, and he did it all on film.

Peahi, as originally designed. Photo: John Hook

Hook has been making movies for over 20 years. “There was a time when I got into surf photography where I just wanted to do it, just to see if I could do it,” he said. “I actually felt more comfortable filming in the water because I thought it made it feel like I was just doing it for fun, not trying to steal surf photographers’ jobs. Now it feels like more and more people are making movies in the surf again, and it’s a very current culture.

He told me he felt lucky to have grown up “just before cell phones”. He has fond memories of his youth, saying, “I loved taking pictures of my friends hanging out and just skateboarding in parking lots and stuff. If someone wanted a memento of something, we had to take a real picture of it.

An ode to analog surf photography with John Hook

Traditional board turned in the traditional format. Photo: John Hook

But the learning curve of working with the film was steep. “I took my film camera everywhere I went and used it every day, but it only had manual photo settings on it, so I had to learn what the camera could do with trial and error,” he said. “Unfortunately, it probably took longer than with a digital camera because I had to wait a few days just to see if my photos came out on film and then adjust from there.”

Finding the right camera settings is crucial in any situation, but finding those settings without a screen for reference, with flippers and maybe gloves, while floating around indoors waiting for the next set wave? He notes one challenge as particularly tricky. “Being more limited to 36 photos per session instead of thousands is tough, but I think it’s more rewarding when you take a good one.”

When asked why he put up with the extra hassle, Hook insisted that “it’s just more fun on film. The process of filming a movie requires me to pay attention to every moment of a wave, or always be aware of the situation in front of you. I seem to enjoy the waves more when I look at them up close.

An ode to analog surf photography with John Hook

What happened to the old double exposure? Photo: John Hook

Elaborating on the euphoria that often accompanies the development of a good roll, Hook spoke specifically about his double exposure images. “It’s like getting a birthday present every time I try to photograph them,” he says. “Sometimes they’re awesome, and sometimes they’re just grandma’s socks. It’s a great aspect of film photography that you can still create images rather than just capture them, so it can be a great way to become “artistic” and create something from your brain.”

Still, I wanted to know what would happen to the rest of those old cameras. Are they all doomed to gather dust in the apartments of pro surf photographers? Hook assured me there was still hope.

“There will always be a future in surf photography with film, or just film photography in general,” he says. “There are some amazing movies (photos) out there that are just awesome when shot in the right conditions. But I think in the future it will be the amazing digital cameras in our phones that will take over the world I think it will be interesting in the future to see how ‘surf photography’ is consumed.”

Him and me both. But if everyone picking up those old film cameras produces half the work John has, we have nothing to worry about.

Editor’s note: John Hook is based in Hawaii.