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Interview: Surfing's master photographer Art Brewer

Barry Kaniaupuni © Art Brewer



The Surfersvillage Interview

Art Brewer believes time is the best test of a visual event

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 14 June, 2015 - Thousands of surfers grew up with Art Brewer images Scotch-taped to their walls. His photos were ubiquitous grom fodder throughout the 70s and 80s.

In 1968 Brewer nailed his first Surfer Magazine cover shot. In the following decades his images made for a good chunk of the photos in US surf magazines. In both Surfer and Surfing publications he captured many touchstone moments in our sport, from Herbie Fletcher at Maalea to Bunker Spreckles’ space oddity travels to early Mentawai and Antarctic surf exploration. All done with that artful, amazing Art Brewer eye.

“Brewer's eye for color and framing is unmatched in the surf world,” says Matt Warshaw. “Much of his best work has been done as a portraitist, when he has unfettered control over light, texture, and mood.

Brewer now takes his four decades of knowledge and leads photography classes in far-flung corners of the globe for budding lensemen. His next course is in the wild outpost of Sumba.

The Boozer crew © Art Brewer


Mr. Brewer was kind enough to join us for the Surfersvillage interview

How would you describe what you do for work to a small, inattentive child?
I make money by using a big iPhone to take pictures like your mommy does.

What is that you do professionally that you are most proud of?
I’m a photographer, keeping a visual record of the world that I live in. I have had a camera in my hand for almost 50 out of the 60 something years that I have been on this earth.  

Munga Barry © Art Brewer


What are you currently working on that you’re really excited about?
Archiving and scanning along with making a few select prints from the deep body of work that is near and dear to my heart. Everyday I find something that didn’t seem important in the past. It’s funny how if you don’t look at something for years, it can age into something special or not. Time is the test of a visual event.

I am also pretty excited about the international photography workshops that I have been teaching. There is nothing greater than passing on your skills to the next generation of knowledge-thirsty photographers. My next trip is planned for May, 2016 and we will be taking applicants to Sumba, an island 500 miles off the coast of Bali, Indonesia.

On safari with Bunker Spreckles and Rory Russell © Art Brewer


Tell us what has been your biggest mistake?
There’s been too many. If anything, my biggest mistakes happen when I am unaware that a mistake has been made.

What did you learn from that mistake?
Bottom line is don’t make that mistake again and learn how mistakes run parallel to each other.

Share with us your biggest Rocky Balboa moment (you know, punching meat in a freezer then running up the steps of City Hall with your own special theme music blaring.)
That would have to be the summer of 1975, surviving the wrath of Bunker Spreckels. There is an entire book about it. I spent the summer with Bunker and his girlfriend, Ellie, traveling the world and documenting his spending spree and surf trip after inheriting the Spreckels Sugar Cane fortune. The best part was that I wasn't sure if I really had anything of value until I got back to California and was able to develop all of the film.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Selling shoes?
It would be women’s shoes! But... I’m not much of a salesman. I pretty much work at face value, straight up, so I’m sure I’d be working as an artist, painter, or sculptor making visual items that get a reaction from the viewer.

One Palm Point © Art Brewer


OK, you get to drop into five moments in history – surf or otherwise. Please name them and why.

1. California on the coast 1920 - 1950 for the abalone and lobster diving as well as for the big Black and White Sea Bass fishing and diving.

2. 1951 - 1975 for surfing the California Coast before the madding crowds that exist today.

3. I’d have to cheat because the Hawaiian Islands 1920 - 1975 would be in the top 5 as well because of the Magic and Mana Hawaii had. That island lifestyle, the people, surf, sailing, all the unknown. Biggest difference would be that I would have the knowledge about surfing, diving, and fishing that I have now. 

4. 1900 - 1930 Indonesia with the knowledge of a waterman for the same reasons I stated earlier along with the arts, crafts, culture, magic, and mystery it held.

5. 1981 - 2041 in California. That would make me 90 and would give me a chance to watch and see how my daughter, her husband, and my two grandchildren get to deal with the unknown future. Hopefully it's something better that where it seems to be going  now 

Art Brewer

Bryan Dickerson

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