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TASCHEN’S – Leroy Grannis’ Surf Photography of the 1960’s and 1970’s

Apr 29, 2011 by D. J. Schwartz

This book features the world famous surf photographer, Leroy Grannis’ ability to photograph the beauty and power of the ocean and his mastery at creating iconic images for over 20 years.

Grannis’ photographs documented surfing during the two most important and epochal decades in its history, and helped define Grannis’ photographs as the archetypes to define surfing and its generational changes.

Although he wasn’t the first of only a handful of surf photographers who chronicled a sport which celebrated man’s love, appreciation and subsequent mastery of the ocean, he was instrumental in defining the sport of surfing and its colorful and legendary figures.

The famous surfers he photographed during this time is the who’s who of the surfing world–past and present.

TASCHEN’S 25th year celebratory book, Leroy Grannis’ Surf Photography of the 1960’s and 1970’s, not only celebrated the famous surfers, surfing locations of both Southern California and Hawaii, it also recorded the evolution of surfing from the longboard era to the shortboard revolution.

Grannis’ photographs, allowed us to see first-hand the beauty and powerful majestic strength of the ocean and the many legendary surfers who graced them with their skills.

Through his specially made waterproof cameras which he used to shoot surfing pictures from the water, Grannis showed us the duality and dalliance of how the many watermen he photographed combined their raw physical ability to combine them with their styles.

The practitioners of the sport of surfing have a culture, history, and landscape unique unlike most other human endeavors. Granis understood this, as having been born, raised and continued to live in the beaches he loved–Hermosa, Redondo, Huntington, Malibu, San Onofre and Palos Verdes.

Yet, Grannis’ focus remained to photograph the beauty and harmony of the ocean and those who chose to ride its waves.

Put another way, the combination of Grannis’ aesthetic, the sport and history, and the famous surfers he featured, all converged during the sport’s most critical time–the 1960’s and 1970’s–has forever altered the surf world.

Some may say, what’s the big deal, or perhaps they think it’s just “another” thing people do while at the beach.

Well, “at a time when surfing is more popular than ever, it’s fitting to look back at the years that brought the sport into the mainstream. Developed by Hawaiian islanders over five centuries ago, surfing began to peak on the mainland in the 1950s—becoming not just a sport, but a way of life, admired and exported across the globe. One of the key image-makers from that period is LeRoy Grannis, a surfer since 1931, who began photographing the scene in California and Hawaii in the longboard era of the early 1960s.”

Growing up in San Diego I started surfing at age 11 and understand the intricacies and plain ole’ “ya see what ya get” type of Grannis’ photography.

However, Grannis’ subject matter consisted both of the cosmic and ephemeral nature of surfing and, as well, the beautiful ocean waters of Southern California and Hawaii–and the waterman who were the best at it.

Grannis’ “got it”–by developing his own “brand of surf photography–from both ocean and land.

And the waves and surf greats that broke down the barriers from the good to great to the legendary–he knew them all.

“On what became known as ‘the day war came to Malibu,’ superstars Fain (left) and Dora nearly come to blows over wave rights at the annual club contest”

Many long term surfers abandoned the sport as it became more mainstream including contests, and the growth in its participants.

Grannis was an expert in both surf photography and the ability to artistically frame up the sport into his own “brand,”–from its participants to the physical topography of the ever changing ocean–to bring the viewer one step closer to the reality and splendorment of what surfing was all about–or at least as close to what it actually looked like.

First published in a limited edition, which sold out instantly on publication, this new edition showcases Grannis’s most vibrant work—from the bliss of catching the perfect wave at San Onofre to dramatic wipeouts at Oahu’s famed North Shore.

An innovator in the field, Grannis suction-cupped a waterproof box to his board, enabling him to change film in the water and stay closer to the action than other photographers of the time. He also covered the emerging surf lifestyle, from "surfer stomps" and hoards of fans at surf contests to board-laden woody station wagons along the Pacific Coast Highway.

It is in these iconic images that a sport still in its adolescence embodied the free-spirited nature of an era—a time before shortboards and celebrity endorsements, when surfing was at its bronzed best.

What was once the home to the Hawaiians’ and the Californians, saw a sea change play out during the 1970’s decade due to the arrival of the aggressive in your face hot-dogging skills of the Australian surfers, who brought a whole new aggressive approach to surfing the giant waves of Oahu.

Their skills brought them here. Behavior seen as arrogant and disrespectful got them in trouble, and now they frequently face a possible lynching.

And Grannis’ photographs of surfing during this tiime he captured it all. His witness to the many changes in the sport—including, but not limited to the type of surfboard, the surfers, the perception of surfers as counter-culture rebels, and the cultural and historical process which made surfing what it is today–was not on Grannis’ radar.

First and foremost, Grannis was the quintessential surfing photographer who was dedicated to one thing and one thing only—surfing photography and surfing.

The TASCHEN team that assisted in the creation of this magnificent book on Grannis’ Photographs of Surf Photography of the 1960’s and 1970’s, acknowledgment is also given to author Surfer magazine’s globe-roaming editor at large, photojournalist Steve Barilotti has made it his business to document the sport, art, and lore of surfing. He has also written for The Perfect Day and books by renowned surf photographers Art Brewer and Ted Grambeau.

And to its editor: cultural anthropologist and graphic design historian Jim Heimann is Executive Editor for TASCHEN America, and author of numerous books on architecture, pop culture, and the history of the West Coast, Los Angeles, and Hollywood.

His unrivaled private collection of ephemera has been featured in museum exhibitions around the world and dozens of books.

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