Pulled Into the Ocean: Camera’s Eye on Surfers

Posted on 22 May 2009

By Marianna Levine

 

Blair Seagram, a Canadian artist and photographer, who has been a part-time resident of Sag Harbor since the mid-90s, will have her first solo exhibit “Surf Report” at the Tulla Booth Gallery in Sag Harbor starting Saturday May 23 with an artist’s reception from 6-8 p.m.

Seagram has been drawn to water since her childhood. She lived near Lake Huron in Canada and learned to swim at age four. But she states a lake is quite different from an ocean, even a Great Lake, such as Huron. Since living out on Eastern Long Island she has become increasingly interested in the ocean and capturing images of it.

 “Water has always been an important part of my life, a really major interest for me, which is probably why I ended up living here right by the water. I love being in it, on it, everything to do with it, and the water is so varied here,” said Seagram. “I was really struck by the general beauty (of the East End) and have taken photographs of gardens and buildings, but ultimately I am always drawn back to the water.”

Therefore it made sense the photographer eventually ended up focusing her work on the ocean and more recently began taking pictures of surfers on Ditch Plains. She notes it’s always important for artists to work on that which really inspires them in order to “make something come alive. To capture the essence or spirit of something.”

She adds her job, as a photographer is “to make all the preparations and then see what happens.” And she was more than happy to wait and see what happened with the surfers. “It was so exciting to get out there and watch them.” Often she wouldn’t know what she actually captured until she got home and downloaded the images.

Seagram felt her interest in taking panoramic photographs, using a digital technique that she has developed over the years, was well suited to taking pictures of surfers, in that she was able to take several photographs of the surfers’ rides and then blend them into a panorama, giving the images some movement. She also found the location of Camp Hero, above several surf spots, gave a great aerial vantage point for her photographs.

In the panoramic images on display at Tulla Booth, viewers can watch a surfer get up on his board and follow the ride until he wipes out all within one single still photograph albeit a very wide one. This technique of blending several photographs digitally into one seamless image came out of an experience Seagram had visiting the Yukon with her family in1995.

“I got to the top of this place called the ‘midnight dome,’ and I had a regular Pentax 35mil camera, and I looked at this enormous view and just started clicking pictures from left to right to get the whole big image I was seeing on film. I then pasted the images together and rescanned them. Later I learned more about Photoshop and how to work in layers, but the whole idea of panoramic photographs really started in the 19th century, so it has a history,” Seagram explains.

“When I started taking pictures of surfers I already had my panoramic technique in place, but I wondered how to get the movement I wanted in my photographs. I wanted to catch someone going through their ride.” She them found her multiple image technique did indeed capture a surfer’s ride almost as a moving image would, and gave viewers a new way to see surf images.

While taking photographs of surfers, Seagram who is not a surfer herself, has come to respect the surfing lifestyle and the surfer’s relationship with the water. As a photographer who sits and watches for an image to capture, she was sympathetic to the special way in which surfers look at the ocean.

 “I’ve seen them get out of their cars and just watch the water. They stand and look and watch the ocean for a long time until they make a decision of where to enter the water. These guys know so much about the weather and how the water is affected by it. It’s pretty amazing.”

And Seagram has come to learn a lot about the various surf spots on the East End, and the various nicknames surfers give the spots. The names themselves, she notices, are quite interesting such as Turtle Bay, Radar, and Trailer Park, to name a few.

Seagram’s interest in surfing is fairly new. The idea to take images of surfer’s came as a suggestion from a friend who thought Seagram’s panoramic format would make for interesting surf images. It took her a few years to really take to the idea, but since then she’s been mesmerized by surf culture.

 “Surfers have such a wonderful peaceful, natural co-existence with the ocean.”

Seagram has also realized through watching the surfers and the ocean that, “the Ocean should be treated with respect. It’s awesome and can be dangerous. One should never take things in nature for granted.”

 

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