Since the first race in 1908, surfboat rowers have been taking this iconic Australian sport very seriously. The most adventurous of the volunteer Surf Life Savers sweep seaward through huge breakers and over rough swells and then return shoreward, powered by the waves.
How then can one photograph this dramatic sport? The usual sport photographs, with high shutter speed to stop the action, seem snap-frozen rather than true representations of the surf rowing experience. Rather, I have followed the movement with a slow shutter speed, a technique pioneered over a century ago by the Bragaglia brothers, who coined the term ‘Photodynamism’. “This approach overcame what they called the ‘rigor mortis’ of the discrete image … the point was not to mimic reality but to unmask it, and only the paradox of an image that contained motion but did not stop time had the power to do that.” as Lyle Rexer says in The Edge of Vision: the Rise of Abstraction in Photography:
The sense of movement in my photographs is captured in camera rather than by being digitally created later. I hope my work is closer to what surf rowers and spectators actually experience.
More about surf rowing
Each boat has 4 rowers and a sweep, usually the most experienced person, who guides the crew and controls the boat using the oar at the stern.
This series of photographs shows examples of the main phases during surf rowing: Heading out through the breakers, straining to make good time beyond the breakers, and then, after rounding a buoy, timing the return to take advantage of the swell to surf back to shore.
“Brute strength helps, but it doesn’t rule. Technique is vital.”
Australian Surf Rowers League