Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Thomas Lodin is a Biarritz-based surfer/photographer. His rich images present a beautiful simplicity in the act of surfing. A new book by Thomas, “Impressions” commissioned by Oxbow, is a themed photographic journey in three parts – white, blue, and red. We caught up with Thomas to learn more.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I grew up in a small town next to Nantes, in the northwest of France — an hour from the ocean. I spent all my time outside in the fields and in the streets on my BMX messing around with my friends. I was also going to the beach often on weekends and during summer holidays at my grandparents house. Still messing around, in the water this time, bodyboarding or sailing.
When did you first get into surfing?
Pretty late. It was for my 16th or 17th birthday when my older brother offered me a surfboard he had restored. A weird 6’-ish tri-fin shortboard that I still have somewhere. Then he drove me to the beach to go surf with him and it was the beginning of the end.
What’s special about surfing for you?
Everything. The fact that being in the element, the ocean. Of course the act of surfing itself, the feeling of glide is what we are all addicted to. Freedom, you can surf your own way and it will be different for each one of us. And the history and culture are just mind blowing, there is so much to learn, from the surfboards innovations to the characters – it’s really interesting.
Who/What inspired you to begin shooting images?
Basically just hanging out with my friends at the time, riding our BMX in the streets. We were 13 years old. It was just to create memories at first and then I started to want to take “better images” so I kept doing that because it was fun. When I started surfing I just kept bringing my camera with me so I turned my lens to the ocean this time to do the same thing. And essentially I’m still doing it now.
What do you look for in a good photograph?
An emotion. Obviously I’m more interested in a photograph that has interesting light and great contrasts. But beyond all the technical things, composition, light and some other things I don’t know. For me a photograph is fixing a moment that is already gone, it’s so powerful so if it creates an emotion at that exact moment, that’s a good photograph.
Tell us about your relationship with Oxbow.
I’m staff photographer for the brand for the fourth year now. I’m doing a good part of the imagery. I’m following the ambassadors on travels to shoot some projects with them that Oxbow will use for different things. I’m also in charge of shooting the campaigns and lookbooks — two ranges a year.
Tell us about your new book “Impressions.”
I’m a brand ambassador for Oxbow and they asked me 2 years ago if I wanted to do a book about my photography that they could produce. I was kind of unprepared for that huge opportunity at the time. I didn’t know what I could put in a book so I just delayed the project and worked more and more in the last year to produce good imagery.
The subject came back on the table last summer. I was still anxious about it but I gathered all the stuff that I shot for the last 3 years and we started working on a photo selection. It was difficult for me to make choices because an important part of what I’ve shot, I had never showed it to anyone. We managed to keep about 150 great photos that are divided in 3 chapters in the book. I got some precious help of all Oxbow’s marketing staff to make choices and find an interesting path.
We have three chromatic spaces: blue, white and red tones. The Blues bring with them all the shades and remarkable moods of the ocean, the fundamental element for surfing. The Whites that follow, in contrast to black, bring timelessness to sublimate the grace of the ballet orchestrated by the surfer. Finally, light as a fundamental element of photography demonstrates all its intensities of Reds to finish with some subtleties.
What were the locations and who were some of the people you’ve captured?
The photos were taken in France but also in Mexico, California, Spain, Portugal or Guadalupe. They gave me freedom on the layout and art direction so I did something that I would like. You can find some talented surfers like Clovis Donizetti, JJ Wessels, Joe Davies, Ryan Burch, Erin Ashley, Mathieu Maréchal, Alex Knost, Karina Rozunko, etc. And I was fortunate enough to have Devon Howard write the foreword !
What were you hoping to achieve?
I wanted to show surfing as I see it and how I appreciate it. To highlight its aesthetic, its objects – boards and especially traditional longboarding and single fins – the glide of these men and these women which are revealed on these objects. The culture and its playground. "Impressions" is literally a vision, my impressions on surfing and the ocean. The way I see it and live it. As simple as it can be.
The final book is 290+ pages with a hard cover and all the 300 copies of the first edition are sold out so I’m stoked. But don’t worry, there will be a second printing!
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
California still holds my thoughts. As a French kid, even if we have a strong cinema scene, a lot of the movies that we watch come from the US. All the BMX, the freestyle culture come from there, too so I’ve constantly been seeing images, characters, places, etc. in magazines and DVDs that I would dream of when I was younger. The surf culture is no different. It’s endless. I’ve been to California a couple times now and each time I’m amazed at everything at every street corner. From the old cars to the classic surfboards and their history, it’s an open book!
I also like being at home in Biarritz, there’s some balance living here. It’s inspiring to me; the landscapes, the mix between city and nature, the incredible light and the waves too.
Who/what inspires you?
Its comes in many forms. From what surrounds me directly at home to discovering new places and people – they all feed my creativity and inspire. Of course I’m looking beyond surfing and the surfing photography world. I’ve always loved images of any kind - whether it’s art in general, films, also music etc – but I’m also looking back to what was happening at the beginning of surf photography and its history. Also just being in the water and surfing is very important to me. It allows me to clean my mind and start with fresh ideas !
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Just being in the water or having a glass of wine with my friends. Simple things.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I’m not sure if there is only one path. From my point of view everybody is making his own path in surfing, there are so many ways to do it. I’m more interested in free surfing and classical surfing than other kinds of surfing but it’s just me. I like the history and some of its eras but some don’t. I’m also inspired by the way some surf, their style or the way they are, their attitude. That’s personal. And I like some that are just doing their thing without them caring about trends or for glory. In the end it’s just surfing.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I have many boards. I brought back a 9’10 red fin shaped by Mike Hynson in the late 90’s from my last trip to California. It’s definitely my favorite board, from its design and its history it’s also the easiest and the fastest that I surf with at Parlementia in Guéthary, just close to home. That combo works pretty well I must say.
What's your favorite meal?
Maybe pizza or sushi. Or just my mom’s dishes. It’s always perfect you can’t beat it.
What music are you currently listening to?
A bunch of things from Chet Baker to Nick Cave, Johnny Cash to La Femme and everything in between. It all depends on the mood of the moment.
What are you most grateful for?
Living. And for making a living from my hobby. I’m lucky to enjoy every single day!
What’s next for Thomas Lodin?
I’m flying to Japan on the last week of May to exhibit at the Greenroom Festival the 25th and 26th. It’s my first time over there so I’m looking forward to discover Japan and showing my work and my book there. It is a huge honour. So if you are reading this and living in Japan, please come by and say hi! I’m working hard to get everything ready for it and then I will see. I’m still shooting as much as I can and let myself go with the flow. Maybe a summer visit in California?