M+B Los Angeles is pleased to present an exhibition bringing together two of surfing's legendary photographers for the first time: LeRoy Grannis and Jeff Divine. Both Grannis and Divine are the undisputable capturers of their generations, with Grannis documenting the humble beginnings of the sport in the 60's and Divine picking up the lens and capturing the psychedelic spin of the 70's. Featuring over forty large-scale, limited edition photographs focusing on what many consider to be the golden age of surfing--the Sixties and Seventies--both Grannis and Divine artfully capture the purity, soul and lifestyle of a seminal moment in American cultural history.
At a time when surfing is more popular than ever, it is fitting to look back at the years that brought the sport into the mainstream. Developed by Hawaiian islanders over five centuries ago, surfing began to peak on the mainland in the early 1960s, taking America--and the world--by storm. Surfing became not just a sport, but a way of life, and the culture that surrounded it was admired and exported across the globe. This exhibition marks a momentous occasion and rare opportunity to see the work of the sport's two most influential photographers together, in one room.
At first glance, the differences between the two generations of surfing is astounding. The style, the hair, the boards, the locations, the attitudes--each a sign of their own time. And by intentionally exhibiting Grannis' black and white photographs alongside Divine's color-saturated work, the contrasts between the two generations are further magnified. However, upon closer inspection, it is overwhelmingly clear that those in front of the camera, and those behind share one common and integral tie: a true passion and a personal dedication to a lifestyle and sport at a time when the phrases "surfing industry" or "celebrity endorsement" was incomprehensible and unimaginable.
One of the key image-makers from the period is LeRoy Grannis, who began photographing the scene in California and Hawaii in the long board Gidget era of the early 1960s. Schooled by California's first surf photographer "Doc" Ball, Grannis would soon be hailed as one of the only photographers to capture the true essence of this burgeoning lifestyle. Whether shooting surf-god (and surfing buddy) Mickey Dora catching the perfect wave in Malibu or Greg Noll taking on death-defying waves at Oahu's famed North Shore to covering "surfer stomps and board-laden woody station wagons along the Pacific Coast Highway, Grannis' photographs encapsulate this new era in it's rawest form. It is in these iconic images that Grannis' work nostalgically embraces both the lost elegance of the sport as well as the idealization of this uniquely California lifestyle. Grannis' poignant images record the innocence of the decade and evoke a sense of timeless grace that greatly contrasts to the modern-day "extreme sport" notion of surfing.
A surfer since 1931, LeRoy Grannis was born in Hermosa Beach, California in 1917 and began shooting surf-culture images on 22 nd Street in Hermosa in 1960 as a hobby at the suggestion of a family doctor. His work immediately appeared in the important surf culture magazines of the time including Surfer, Reef and Surfing Illustrated. He quickly became one of the sport's most important documentarians, voted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame as the number one lensman in 1966 and in 2002 was awarded SIMA's Lifetime Achievement Award. Grannis was the subject of The Surfers Journal's first ode to the master photographers in 1998 with Photo: Grannis; his work was featured in Stacy Peralta's 2002 award-winning documentary of the sport, Riding Giants; and just this year, LeRoy Grannis: Birth of a Culture was published as a limited-edition, signed collector's edition monograph by TASCHEN. The artist, who will turn ninety next year, continues to photograph the sport from his home near San Diego. This is Grannis' second exhibition at M+B.
The Seventies birthed a new generation of surfers, with a new language, new attitude and--with the advent of the short board--a new way of surfing. Like Grannis in the decade before him, Divine captured the time in a comprehensive, on-the-spot fashion. At a time when surf media was still a nascent, near-underground affair, Divine's vision was vibrantly tuned the times and captured the free-spirited nature embodied by a sport in its adolescence.
This was the decade of Hippies, long hair, Mexican wedding shirts and bell bottoms. Santana, The Dead, Steppenwolf and the Stones were on the stereo, hallucinogenic drugs and free love were everywhere and Vietnam had left an entire generation of disillusioned youth. And for those surfers making (or non-making) a life for themselves on the swells on the North Shore, that culture was apparent, but with one distinguishing factor: their prized possessions were their garage-made surfboards all lined up in the side yard. That was what mattered most.
This was the time of the glorious Barry Kanaiaupuni carves and delicate-yet-dangerous pitch-outs at Pipeline. Rory Russell and Gerry Lopez reigned as kings. Surfing had reached a Zen-like, escapist zeal. According to Divine, "It was all about the karma you had, that and going with the flow. We really believed that when the surf was on that's what it was all about: good vibes actually caused good waves to happen. I surfed first and then shot photos. As things got more serious, I shot first and surfed later." Photographing the second generation of surfers, Divine impressively captures the feeling of being on the beach during its most creative era and at the inception of a subculture too large and photogenic to stay down long.
Growing up in La Jolla, Jeff Divine began taking pictures of fellow surfers in his hometown during the 1960s and got to know the original alternative sport before the mainstream media blew it into the commercial kingdom it has now come to be. His photo focus took him into a staff position in 1971 with Surfer Magazine, where he would begin the first of some 35 annual trips to the North Shore. In 1981, Divine would become the Photo Editor of the magazine, a position he held for the next 16 years. Today, Divine is the Photo Editor at The Surfer's Journal and continues to contribute to Surfer. Divine was the focus of The Surfers Journal 's second ode to the master photographers in 2000 with Masters of Surf Photography: Jeff Divine. This year, T. Adler books published Surfing Photographs from the Seventies Taken by Jeff Divine. This is Jeff Divine's first exhibition of his work.