Jair Bortoleto is a Brazilian surfer/photographer who is adept at capturing that elusive moment. He is well known for his talent and believes that everyday is an opportunity for him to become a better person. We caught up with Jair to find out more about his life.
What was your life like growing up?
I grow up in a suburb of São Paulo, far away from the ocean. My dad was a metallurgic worker and we had a simple life, but a very good one. My family used to go to the beach for vacation, but when I was little I hated the feeling of sand in my feet. Only after some years did I discover the pleasure of feeling sand between my toes.
When did you get your first surfboard?
On a family vacation to North Coast, my dad bought me a 5’8” thruster and I started to surf. I was around 9 or 10 years old. When I was little, those styrofoam boards were very popular around the area we used to spend vacations, and I used to belly surf with those things. It was so much fun. I only felt that again when I belly surfed with an alaia and fins.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I can’t really remember the first wave, but I remember getting so happy when I went down the line. I can still feel the same rush in my heart every time I remember it.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
I grow up as a Jehovah’s Witness. So my role model is Jesus and his father, Jehovah. They are my models to try to be a good man… even with all my faults.
How did you get involved in photography?
I always loved art class in elementary school, but never had an idea that I would really get involved with art. I start to travel the world when I was 18, and always brought a “point and shoot” camera with me to document everything. After my first trip to Hawaii, I showed some photos to some friends and all of them used to say that I was a pretty good photographer. I went to Boston to learn about jazz, art, real life. And I met some photographers and artists. One of them, a photography student named Tiffany Knight, gave me a black and white roll of film. I shot with it and after I saw the results, everything changed. I started to see the world completely in black and white! I looked at everything in black and white… even if colors are there. I decided to use more and more rolls.
What is your process for creating your art?
I’m not the kind of photographer that brings the camera always with me. I just don’t work like that. Actually, I wish I could, but I simply don’t work like that. I’ll see something and come back later to photograph it. Or I have something in my mind and then I bring the camera and shoot. I always like to think that each frame is a painting, and if I can get many paintings in one roll, then it’s all good.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
I would say many places, but I just love Hawaii. Everything in that place makes me feel so good. After I came back last time, it makes me feel so much yearning. It’s a word in Portuguese that people say that you can’t really translate. The word is “saudade”. Saudade is that feeling when you miss something so bad that it really hurts you. You can feel real pain in your heart. I feel saudade from Hawaii, and just like Rick Kane in the North Shore movie: “One day I will came back to the North Shore”. That’s what makes me feel good—the memories and the chance to come back one day.
Who or what inspires you?
In photography, I would say Cartier-Bresson. He was the best and, to me, still the best photographer ever. Also, surf photographers like Leroy Grannis, Andrew Kidman, Kyle Lightner, Thomas Campbell, Joe Curren. Most of the 60’s and 70’s photography.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Try my best to be humble. We are surrounded by so many egos that we always need to look into ourselves and try to be humble. Also to love. The world is such a crazy place right now, that most people forget to love. I forget to love sometimes. And I’m sorry to all that I made feel bad or unloved.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Oh, yeah… many regrets and I wish I could go back in time and change it all.
What are you most proud of?
My relationship with God. Also, I should say my book, Alma Santista (published in 2007 to create and curate the Santos SurfArt exhibitions—especially the second one). Showing my work in Japan for the Greenroom Festival 2009.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing was a dream when I was a child. I was away from the ocean, and it was all about vacation time, magazines and some stuff on TV. So, having a chance to make images related to surfing is like living a dream. The act of surfing is something hard to describe. Most people call it an athletic thing and stuff, but surfing is more like being in touch with nature. It’s like being on another dimension, that all that matters is a wave, the board and you. Of course, friends around, sun… but the feeling of surf alone on a wave is unique and can definitely change someone’s life forever.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
A smile. Most of my time, I was a worried person. But today, I try to smile more, and don’t close any door that it can’t be opened again. We should all smile non– stop. (Laughs)
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Richard Kenvin with the Hydrodynamica thing. It’s so old and so new at the same time. All this new/old movement is so good for surfing and opens so many paths in life that are nice to see. It is nice to see the new era of surfing on tour. I would lie if I say no. That kid Gabriel Medina is incredible and for sure is one of the top scientists on surf.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I have my boards that are special. I have my new signature model, shaped by Felipe Siebert. It’s a 5’8” hollow wood keel fish. I love surfing close to home— walk all the way to the beach, surf, and come back home. It gives me so much pleasure.
What’s your favorite meal?
Brazilian food. I love barbecue with friends. Beer. Chocolate.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I’m listening a lot of Bön Iver, William Fitzsimmons, Neil Halstead, The Mattson 2, Ray Barbee. Also, old stuff like Bob Marley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd. I love jazz – everything… like John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Monk, Miles Davis.
What causes or organizations do you support?
Anything related to surfing. I’m one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so we try to keep busy on talking to people about God’s Kingdom.
What are you most grateful for?
Life. To be able to see a new day. Waking up to see the sun shining. To see birds flying above the ocean from my window.
What’s next for Jair Bortoleto?
My main goal is always to be a better man—make less mistakes and choose the right paths in life. I want to keep taking photos. I’m not that active anymore, but continue taking photos with my eyes and soon will be on film. And Hawaii always will be in my future. I really want to go back.