Last installment we featured a Q&A with Jeff Divine. For ‘Part 2’ I thought I’d hit him with a big blanket question: What makes for a great photograph? Jeff took a moment to think about it. “It’s hard to get out of your own bubble and know what’s actually a good photo,” he said, and explained that thing that every artist struggles with: being so close to your work that you can no longer see it. “What I’ve noticed,” continued Jeff, “is if I have a gallery show where you have 10 photos on the wall, and if about 20 people are attracted to one of those photos, then you know that that photo is speaking to everybody. So there's always that thing of what does everybody else like?”
For this piece, I asked Jeff to send over a dozen or so pics. I was purposely unspecific. There are Jeff’s iconic pics—Buttons flashing a peace sign, Lopez stalling for the tube at Pipe, etc. I wondered if he’d send his ‘greatest hits.’ He didn’t. He sent what we might call the ‘B-sides.’
One of them leapt off the screen and punched me in the gut: this super-stylish cutback shot of J. Riddle at Off The Wall in 1978. I grew up watching “The Riddler” surf Malibu. He had a beautiful approach—he’d be all shortboard rail carve, then he’d suddenly shimmy forward and hang five through a steep section. He blended genres. He was a hybrid surfer.
This shot of Terry “Richo” Richardson also connected deeply. This is Uluwatu in 1976. I grew up on pics of Richo at a spot called Black Rock, aka “Aussie Pipe.” He was a masterful tube rider and a captain of searing roundhouse cutbacks. We became good pals in the late ‘80s. We traveled together. I rode his excellent boards (deep six-channel three-fins). I used to stay with him at his home in Woolongong, south of Sydney. He talked a lot about Bali.
I have fond memories of this shot of Todd Miller. I wondered what made Jeff pick it. “I used to work with the graphic designer/art director David Carson at Surfer magazine,” Jeff told me. “He's the one who rattled the cage and redesigned Surfer from its prior, kind of conservative look, and that rattled a lot of people. But he was really interesting. He would just roam around and come into my office and just pick something that was just kind of a secondary shot. It's that same idea of somebody outside your bubble—you have them take a look. That Todd Miller photo at Lowers is an example. It's kind of an off moment, but Carson recognized it and used it in a spread and it came out awesome.”
I’m real familiar with this shot of Rabbit. Growing up, I’d heard older surfers talk about waves spitting. In Los Angeles County, I’d never seen such a thing. Then this photo appeared in the mag. I stared at it for so long I needed to towel off afterwards. I felt that triumph, those needles of spray.
For more of Jeff Divine check out www.jeffdivinesurf.com.