The counter cultural explosion of 60's America revolutionised youth culture. A time of radical experimentation, kids rejected the traditional values of mainstream America in favour of liberated, uninhibited pursuits. California, with its perfect climate and permissive attitude, became a catalyst for new experimentation in music, drugs and spirituality.
Against this backdrop, Californian youth were adopting activities which in essence allowed them to appreciate and honour the landscape by utilising its elements. Unrestrained by convention and obligation, the motivation was the pure challenge. This escape from the monotony of daily life offered a template for a new, care-free way of living rather than one based on material rewards. A purity of vision, combined with an athletic stream of consciousness and a huge appetite for adrenaline, made this a golden age for youth culture. These pursuits appeared reckless at the time but would capture the imagination of generations to follow. To celebrate this pioneering spirit we have gathered together a selection of titles that embody the ethos of this free spirited age and its legacy visible to this day.
Interview: Tom Adler
Publisher and designer Tom Adler is the man behind such books as Surfing Photography in the Eighties, Surf Contest and Yosemite in the Sixties. Since 1996 he has published over twenty momentous titles that each include a mix of powerful imagery and Adler's unique design sense. T. Adler books are motivated by a personal passion: being a surfer himself, his books come from a genuine interest in the subject as well as an ambition to provide a historical record of events that have taken place.
Obviously your books are driven by an extreme passion for surfing and the great outdoors. Where did this personal interest begin and how did this evolve into publishing books on the subject?
I grew up in a coastal town in Southern California where surfing and beach related activities always seemed at the centre of things. After high school I moved to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB and study contemporary literature. Santa Barbara is surrounded by dozens of first-rate surf spots and backcountry trails, which proved to be a frequent distraction. Around that time, I began collecting limited edition letterpress books and photography monographs. It wasnít until the mid-nineties that I was able to combine my interests in surfing, photography and books.
What was your motivation to start publishing? How did your first book come about?
In 1994, the surf photographer/dentist Dr. Don James rented a house two doors away from our house at Rincon Point, south of Santa Barbara. Since junior high I had been familiar with his color surf photography from the 60ís and 70ís. One day I ran into Don while he was sorting through things in his garage. He showed me a scrapbook of photos he had taken as a teenager in the 1930ís and early 1940ís. The beautifully composed and captioned black and white images showed Don and his friends surfing and hanging out on the beaches of Southern California, before the war and the widespread development that followed. The photos revealed a lost era of innocence and natural beauty. I realized the photos would make a nice book. Craig Stecyk and I met with Don often over the next year to edit the photos, record the stories and put the book together. Don died the day after we received the books from the printer.
When you began publishing did you have a clear vision of who you wanted to reach? And having published over 20 titles since 1996, did you have a long term plan, or did it happen more organically?
Yes, there was a plan. I wanted to publish a sequence of well-designed books that, when combined, would serve as a historical survey of surf culture and show the relationships and connections to the culture at large. The plan was to feature photographers who represented specific periods beginning with Tom Blake in the 1920ís, followed by Don James in the 30ís and 40ís and so on.
Your titles are very distinctive in their content and design but also have a particular sensibility that makes them stand out from other books on the subject. Did you feel surfing was misrepresented in some way in publications that preceded yours?
No, not at all. Over the years there have been many well researched, lavishly illustrated overview books on the topic. The monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly magazines and journals, published since the early sixties provide an on-going, accurate insiderís view of surfing and the corresponding lifestyle.
At odds with many of these earlier books and publications, the books we publish apply a deliberate minimal design sensibility; the photographs and text are often edited and arranged in unexpected ways. Clean, simple design, packaging and type treatments create a common thread among our books.
Your books approach surfing more from the angle of a countercultural pursuit, what does surfing embody for you personally other than just a physical activity/sport?
Surfing allows you to enjoy relaxed days and situations with friends and family. It is a healthy, inexpensive way to spend free time and have fun. Road trips, boat trips, travel and adventure are all part of the nature driven experience.
Tom Blake and Miki Dora were momentous forces in surfing, what did they offer that made them so compelling to yourself?
Iím not sure Tom Blake and Miki Dora were actually momentous forces at all. They were simply outsidersÖ somewhat self-absorbed loners who followed their own interests and beliefs rather than conforming to the conventions of the times. Tom Blakeís contributions to surfing photography, board/fin design and historical research/publications are undisputed. The spiritual/naturalistic and health related notions he promoted were certainly significant, if not visionary.
Miki Dora, on the other hand, was considered to be a rebellious, derisive antihero. He was the ultimate stylist: graceful and soulfully elegant in the water and cool, oblique and contrary on land.
Both men distanced themselves from mainstream society and found a rewarding refuge in the ocean, where they rode waves. Both were disciplined purists, single minded and entirely singular.
In recent years the topics published by T. Adler have diversified, from ĎYosemite in the Sixtiesí to ĎTahitian Beautiesí. There is however a very particular mood that runs through all your books. Could you explain from your perspective what connects them all?
Each of the books Iíve done have an intentional narrow focus. They involve a limited period of time or place that I find intriguing. We find, select, and edit beautiful photographs from talented photographers, sequence and order them in interesting ways that expand and enhance the stories and moments they express.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
A book on bodysurfing titled The Plight of Torpedo People, which Iím doing with Keith and Chris Malloy. Itís a companion book to the film Come Hell or High Water that Keith directed and produced. Craig Stecyk and I have been working on The Curse of the Chumash, an illustrated, esoteric history of Malibu which Craig wrote and edited over thirty-five years ago. Recently, Iíve been editing 8mm footage taken in 1955 by a fourteen-year-old boy, Peter Mangone, as he followed Marilyn Monroe up and down Fifth Avenue. The small book, Marilyn Monroe NYC 1955, will come out this fall in association with a show at Danziger Gallery in New York.
Interview: Hugh Holland
Hugh Holland began photographing skateboarders one sunny Californian afternoon in 1975. He was transfixed by their grace and athleticism and so he grabbed a camera rather than a board and joined in. Despite not being a skateboarder himself nor having any formal art training, Holland managed to masterfully capture those first pioneers of skateboarding. Thirty years on those photographs have been brought together in the definitive book, Locals Only.
Can you tell us what drove you to start photographing the skateboard scene?
It was the summer of 1975. I was making lots of photographs of anything that caught my fancy, and I started seeing a sudden deluge of young skateboarders trying out incredible vertical maneuvers on whatever drainage bowl in the hills that they could commandeer. Their style and grace made for a ballet on concrete and asphalt. I picked up my camera and started making photos. Everything about it was appealing. I had to record it.
Over the course of three years you shot a wealth of material, What was your motivation to photograph? And how often did you seek out the opportunity for a good photograph?
Every weekend, and many times weekdays after work. I was just having fun, really. They were having fun, and so was I. I was already shooting and processing in my home darkroom, and although I didn't think about it at the time, I had almost instantly discovered my new subject, which I pursued with a passion for the next three years.
Despite not being a skater yourself did you feel like you became accepted in the scene?
I feel that I was accepted right away. Today I realize that it was mainly because I had a camera. There were not that many cameras around then, compared to now, and the skaters were hungry for pictures. They had a whole lot of new tricks to show off.
What was it about that early skate scene and the skaters within it that drew you to it?
It was beautiful...visually beautiful. That's all. What more do I need to make art with a camera? Wild, unbleached hair, tans, california afternoons, and most of all, the grace and style that emerged from kids on the street.
How far do you feel the skate scene had progressed by the time you had come across it? And did it still have any connection with its surf origins at that time?
Oh yes, Surfing and Skating were at that time two different sides of the same coin. I believe skating was just at the beginning of the second wave, the first being the beginnings in the mid-sixties. In the mid-seventies, there were new urethane wheels that made it possible to get the traction needed to go vertical. That was the beginning of what is now a big, big sport. In 1975, it was perfect for my art. Just kids getting high on the thrill of new frontiers in riding a board.
Did skateboarding offer something other youth subcultures didn't? And how many of the skateboarders you photographed pursued it further to become successful?
It was something different, that's for sure. The moves of surfing, but it was it's own phenomenon already. Personally I think they were successful when they were doing it for fun! I suppose you mean they became pros. Quite a few.
You captured the scene between 1975 Ė 1978, how did you reach a point where you stopped taking skateboard photos?
There were many reasons. I got busy with other things, business, etc. There wasn't a particular point, it just rapidly tapered off. Probably the main reason, looking back, is that as commerciality took over, the images were not as fresh and spontaneous as before. I don't like photographing company logos and slogans written across the figures.
Locals Only definitely glamourizes those early years of skateboarding, how does the reality of the early skate scene compare with the nostalgic perspective nowadays?
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. It makes these images come alive for many people. I think I don't remember reality. Nostalgia has taken over.
You began photographing skateboarders for fun without any intention for the outcome or an audience, how were your photos discovered?
They were discovered in 2005 on a big scale. They had mostly been in boxes for 30 years, and the first one to find me and get me to dig them out, was Benjamin Trigano of M+B gallery in LA. Then in 2010, Steve Crist, of AMMO books, made "Locals Only".