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Process Distortion

Digital disruptions of natural wave patterns.

Light / Dark

From very early on in my career as a photographer, I’ve been motivated by creating images outside the typical surf captures. Part of this was out of necessity. Growing up in NYC, I personally knew only five or so other people who surfed, and I spent the majority of my time in the water alone. 

As such, I was quickly drawn to shooting the details of waveforms—their textures and patterns and light—as opposed to the act of surfing itself. Even as my circle expanded and I started going on trips, my interests remained in the up-close study and documentation of wave shapes and color, the moments and scenes that pass by in an instant and often go overlooked. 

Naturally, I began to experiment with the camera. I’d shoot at 200 mm in the shorebreak, which would create a tiny plane of focus, highlighting the texture of the wave face. I’d use manual-focus lenses at 1.4 with ND filters to create speed blurs in bright sunlight. I’d disassemble lenses and flip the internals the wrong way, purposefully shooting soft-focused images. I’d shoot macro photographs in normal-size surf, totally and completely “wasting” a session of good waves having only photographed what appeared inches away from my lens. I’d apply colored gels to the flash. I’d even bring physical mirrors out in the shorebreak in order to play with reflections. Even with those effects, the visual outcomes are more in the mold of traditional looks at breaking waves and ocean energy.

One of the less glamorous aspects of photography is having to edit your work. And as I combed through and processed those photographs over and over again, I started to see shapes and forms within the shapes and forms. That led me to experiment with post-processing itself, just as I’d done actually making the images out in the water.

Early iterations featured heavy crops, which cuts the action off and cheats the viewer’s eye. That turned into a series of images where a portion of the shot was magnified and pixelated, the rest retaining its original high resolution. Eventually, I went into full digital-distortion mode, often breaking down images by way of copying and pasting sections of the original image over and over again, flipping parts upside-down and inverting, reducing the image to the size of a stamp and then enlarging that stamp to the size of a billboard. Mix that all together—collage and manipulation and a few other tricks I’ll keep to myself—and the result is a collection of visuals I’ve titled Datatubes, a sampling of which you’ll find here.

As elementary as it may be to “destroy” my own work, and as kitsch as the photographs themselves may look, I’m essentially doing exactly what I’ve always done. It’s just altered through a different technique, one that really offers more potential for my creative input beyond clicking a shutter. 

And while the images you see here find their final form by means of digital manipulation, they come from a wholly natural place. I still wake up at some ungodly hour to drive down to the beach and swim out into the dark. I’m still bobbing around and shooting frantically, trying to capture the first half-hour of light as dawn breaks, even in the cold of Northeast winters. There’s still no one around; the sand and surf are always empty. I’m still just hoping to luck into slipping under the right falling lip to get the mechanism started again.