Book Review: A Golden Age by John Witzig

by Glenn Sakamoto on April 23, 2013 · 1 comment

Chronicling one of the most important times of surfing history, Australian photographer and surfer John Witzig faithfully captures with words and pictures the ethos of the Shortboard Revolution. Those were exciting times, a “golden age” as the title of his new book suggests, when surfboards evolved from ten feet to six feet in a short span of a few years.

It’s fortunate that as many of the ’60s photos survived as they did since a lot got lost. I was always something of an amateur archivist, and I was aware that things were happening around me, especially in the mid-1960s.” says Witzig.

It didn’t hurt that Witzig also happened to be friends with Bob McTavish, George Greenough, Nat Young, and Wayne Lynch. Being able to comfortably photograph these subjects adds to the intimacy of the images. Whereas brother Paul Witzig (Hot Generation, Evolution, Sea of Joy) showed us a moving glimpse of the era, John’s photos suspend the moment and sear into our consciousness an image like Headless McTavish, a breathtaking grainy black and white image of Bob literally involving himself in the curl (page 76).

A beautifully illustrated volume (the publisher is Rizzoli, a well respected coffee table art book publisher) with 208 pages of mostly photographs either in black and white with sepia or full technicolor, Witzig warmly supplies the captions to the imagery in a breezy, personal style. Witzig notes, “I wanted to be as true to them and to the times as I could. I didn’t want the captions to be from an objective observer and I was encouraged to write from the point of view of a participant.”

Like waves, the book’s chapters are delivered in sets with colorful titles as Road Tripping, Revolution, Country Soul, and Iconoclasts. They are given breathing space, or lulls, to present commentaries by some of the most respected surf writers and commentators of our time – Steve Pezman, Dave Parmenter, Nick Carroll, Drew Kampion, and the late Mark Cherry.

In an age of blogs and Instagram, where youth can easily capture their surfing lives with pixels and uploads, it’s hard to imagine that Witzig committed each of his iconic images to a single frame on something made from tiny particles of silver exposed to light that needed to be handled carefully and processed in the dark. Like hand shaping a surfboard, developing photographic film and making prints was a time consuming process. This fact alone makes Witzig’s photographs even more astonishing.

There are many things to love about this book: the physical size, the gorgeous photography and printing, the wonderful writing, and the appearance of our most beloved surfing heroes. But most of all, it is Witzig who makes this book a real  treasure as he imbues it with a genuine abundance of both heart and soul. Every surfing devotee and surf history buff owes it to themselves to find a place for Witzig’s A Golden Age in their library.

To purchase John Witzig’s A Golden Age in the US click here.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Roach April 24, 2013 at 5:15 am

Nice review… always well done.
I’m sold on the pics alone. Know what to ask the wifey for my B-day ; )


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