Leroy Grannis: il padrino della “surfphotography”

Leroy Grannis: the godfather of "surfphotography"

LeRoy "Granny" Grannis (August 12, 1917 - February 3, 2011) was a veteran photographer . His surf photographs and images of the sea in the 1960s enjoy a reputation that led the New York Times to dub him "the godfather of surfphotography." He was born in Hermosa Beach , California.


*LeRoy Grannis. Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s

That's right in California where the walls of water curl over boys in bathing suits and some youthful beach slang is part of a now globalized postcard imagery. The "surf music" of the Beach Boys in the 1960s, considered the golden age of rock and surf, documented by several photographers who decided to brave the saltiness to take their telephoto lenses to the beach in those years. Surfers were the perfect models to photograph, with their ever-tanned physiques balanced on the water, in never-identical poses, in the most crowded destinations of Malibu or San Onofre.


*LeRoy Grannis. Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s

Tom Blake, the Hawaiian considered the pioneer of modern surfing, is also one of the first photographers to have invented the "waterproof" case for camera bodies: a rather bulky box made of wood and glass, designed to shelter his Graflex Speed Graphic 45 from the sea at Waikiki Beach. In his wake, there were many surfers who alternated between sport and photography, all strictly self-taught. Among them, LeRoy Grannis made one of the most important archives of athletes on a surfboard, as well as improving Blake's case by putting rubber edges and suction cups, which allowed the camera to change rolls even in the water.

Grannis' legacy does not stop at technological innovation, however. His photographic work was first collected in its entirety in 2006, in a limited-edition Taschen monograph called LeRoy Grannis: Birth of a Culture. But thanks to the book's great popularity, other editions have been produced, including the 2013 edition edited by Jim Heimann: "Surf Photography of the 1960s and the 1970s." These are photographs that convey to us the cultural rise of surfing from a sport to a lifestyle: longboards and sunglasses, "surfer stomp" in station wagon radios, highways filled with surfboards strapped onto car roofs.



The California photographer also had a surfing career behind him that began at age 14 and ended shortly after 40, with a brief interlude that saw him enlisted in the Air Force during World War II. 

In 1960 he debuted his own darkroom and the following year embarked for Hawaii, where with a 650 millimeter he captured the giant waves of Sunset Beach and the surfers braving the Pacific.



His shots at the water's edge captured the surfers' twists and turns on the wave and their races and then embraced the world of commercial advertising as well. "When I started, not a penny was coming in, there weren't all the movies and TV shows of today converting more and more people to surfing" (the photographer had commented).

In every image is the dynamism of the sea and the nostalgia of a discipline that in the eyes of the early "beach boys" must have seemed like the coolest and most ambitious activity in America.

Grannis would drive up and down the entire California coast every weekend, lurk with his car and begin documenting competitions for the nascent surfing magazines. 

Then, when even board or sportswear brands realized the visual power of surfing, here was Grannis improvising brilliant ideas with very little material: like the time he portrayed a surfer from Hermosa Beach balancing on the water in a black suit and dress shoes for Jacobs Surfboards.



In 1964 together with tycoon Dick Graham he founded the magazine "International Surfing" (later just Surfing). 

Editor Grannis' Surfing told about the society of the time. It was a lifestyle that knew no breaks and became a reference even among those who had never seen the beaches.



Today surfing populates the coasts and has become a real fashion. Grannis himself long ago in an interview said, "It's getting so crowded." 

The photographer died in 2011 on the same beach where he was born and had photographed for years, Hermosa Beach.

Today, the surf scene has changed and the images illustrate for us a time when photographing the cleared sea was easier and more poetic.

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