Head down to any beach most days and you will find cameras everywhere. Cameras on surfboards, cameras in the air, cameras on phones, cameras in the water. Going for a surf today can be like a red carpet experience with cameras coming at you from all angles.
During the sixties, life was simpler and for many years when the waves were good, Geelong surfer Barrie Sutherland was usually the only photographer in the water or on land capturing surfers and the new art of surfing.
Locally Lorne was the ‘go to’ place for waves for many surfers whilst Bells Beach was only just starting to grab surfers attention. These two surf breaks would provide Sutherland with some of his earliest and most iconic images: “Riding a surfboard over 50 years ago was a simple process. The longer and heavier balsa come foam Malibu style boards were not high performance. The manoeuvers were basic. You paddled into a wave, stood up, turned slowly to track along the unbroken wave. If the wave slowed you cut back into it to regain wave power. It was essential to ‘walk’ the board, cross stepping towards the nose to increase speed and hold a trim line. With the demise of long-boards focus shifted to high speed turns and carves on open face steeper waves, tube riding, going vertical, re-entries and floaters. These manoeuvers were developed and perfected over since the late 1960s. “
Sutherland a keen photographer and member the Geelong Camera Club competing on a regular basis; “The keys that were instilled in me were – light, angles and composition. I discovered it in my surf photography after photographing Southside Bells one day in mid-1964. After I developed the film and contact-printed the film strips, and saw the light glistening on the waves and the crystal clear spray, I knew I’d captured what was missing in my photography. I never looked back and gathered momentum from that day to begin the process of moving towards photo journalism. I set benchmarks of what I wanted to achieve before I approached any surfing magazines.”
Sutherland was one of the first photographers to take shots from the water at Bells and Winky Pop. These and other images from Sutherland can be found in a beautiful new surf publication ‘Surfing In The Sixties’ which was released late last year; “In May 1966, I decided to try some water shots (using my Nikonos camera) from my board during a small but good day at Winky Pop. As there were only the five (Terry Wall was there too) of us in the water it wasn’t difficult getting in close to the action. Sitting on my board on an overcast day with a light NW wind was cold. The wind chill factor quickly kicked in once you were stationary, however this shot is an old favourite of three nice guys sharing a wave together. It was worth the discomfort.”
Today Sutherland still takes surf and landscape photos of the coast. You can check out his amazing surf photographs at WaterMarks Photo Gallery in Torquay or go to www.watermarksphotography.com.au
Written by John Foss