For a three-decade stretch beginning in the early 70s, Art Brewer, along with Jeff Divine, was one of the twin pillars of surf photography. Tha
For a three-decade stretch beginning in the early 70s, Art Brewer, along with Jeff Divine, was one of the twin pillars of surf photography. That the two men were working at the same time blessed the surf world with world-class photographic talent during arguably its most visually arresting age. Whereas Divine was a master of framing surfer and wave in shots that celebrated the beauty of the ocean as much as the surfer, Brewer was a portraitist at heart (and in practice). His photography showed off the beauty of the surfer, sending the sex appeal of surfing into the stratosphere. He wasn’t afraid to capitalize on the rawness of surfing’s loudest characters, breathing life into a culture that at times retreats into a demure, too-cool-for-school humility.
Brewer was from Dana Point, California, started surfing at 12, picked up his first camera at age 16, and by 17 had images published in Surfer magazine. The entirely self-taught lensman spent the next decade jumping back and forth on the mastheads of Surfer and its upstart rival Surfing magazine. Throughout the 80s and 90s he continued ruling over surf photography with some of the most memorable action shots the sport has ever seen.
Brewer went to to cast his net a bit wider than surf action and portraiture over the past few decades, turning to commercial work once the digital camera and interner obliterated traditional surf photography. No matter, Brewer worked in the best, most visually interesting periods—not period—of surf history. He cut his teeth at the tail end of the longboard era, really learned the craft during the freewheeling 70s, gave the day-glo 80s more grit than most, and by the 90s, as surf performance and the discovery of picture perfect surf in Indonesia gave him the perfect blend of sexy surfers and sexy waves.
From the Encyclopedia of Surfing:
“Brewer’s size (he once weighed nearly 300 pounds) and flaring temper, meanwhile, further suggested the idea of grand, even explosive creative talent. At times Brewer played on his aggression. Asked to supply a self-portrait for a 1997 portfolio, “this big elephant seal of a man,” as described by surf journalist Evan Slater, provided a green-tinged face shot negative, jaggedly cut in two, then taped and stapled back together, with the handwritten caption: “Surf photography constipates me!”
He died earlier this week at age 71, after battling liver failure. A terrific book, Masters of Surf Photography: Art Brewer, was published by The Surfer’s Journal in 2001.
Top photo: Self-portrait, 1969, age 18. Via Instagram