This week I went to south Wales to do some shoots with some more female surfers. I wanted to try to get some different shots this weekend and not just portraits. I did do some portrait shots as well, because I do want to include photographs of the different faces of female surfers in the UK. But I also wanted to get some more of the environments and surroundings UK surfers surf in. I want to show that the tropical fantasy of surfing is not the everyday reality for UK surfers, but they still surf.
The weather this weekend was certainly typical UK autumn weather so most definitely not sunny with perfect waves. In fact on the Saturday in Aberavon there was nothing surfable at all, it was cold, raining, and windy. However, as this is the reality for UK female surfers in a way it seemed fortuitous that I was going to be able to do some shots of these not perfect conditions!
We did some portrait shots, and some environmental portraits as well. I think are quite a good start in terms of showing the environment and conditions for female surfers in the UK. There’s a couple that I think could be a great addition to my project to show the varying weather and location conditions for UK surfers. The rain did hamper the shoot a bit so either this module or next I’d like to go back to get some other shots in Aberavon of the surf there, and of my participant (Debbie) actually surfing!
During my 1-2-1 with Paul we discussed including quotes/text from the women I photograph regarding their experience of and opinions on the representation of female surfers in advertising and media. I feel this would elevate the project from being only photographs of the women but by also including their words would provide another dimension to the work. The project would, I think, become more inclusive for the subjects of the work, and become more about them than me. Even though the project began from my own experiences of being a female surfer, it is not an autobiographical project. I want the project to be inclusive of other female surfers in the UK, to show a broader view of who they are.
I have found it hard to remember the exact words they use when we discuss the project etc. during the shoots. I also don’t want to record the discussions and turn them into interviews with some photographs as illustration to an interview. However if I do include some text as part of the project I don’t want to misquote what the participants say. So I have thought about asking them to complete a short questionnaire after the session. This would just be a few questions on their experiences and opinions of representation and images of female surfers in the media/advertising.
I feel that quite a lot of photography of female surfers portrays them in quite an overtly sexualised way. This seems to have become the norm for women in surfing and female surfers are not judged or discussed only on their surfing ability, but on how they look. Surf-wear brands in advertising, for example, heavily contribute to this in the photographs of women they use. Earlier this year surf-brand Billabong came under fire for the pictures they had on the entry page to their website. The left hand side, to click through to the men’s store/blog/event news, featured a photograph of a male surfer, surfing, and doing an incredible air off the wave. The right hand side however, to click through to the women’s store/blog/event news, contained a photograph of a bikini-clad woman lying seductively on the sand – not surfing. There was a lot of media/social-media response to this and from what I can tell the majority of commentary came about after the publication of an article by Karen Knowlton, for the website Women 2.0 (https://you.women2.com/); “F*ck you Billabong. Seriously, f*ck you”[i]. Knowlton quite correctly called Billabong out on its blatant sexism and the effects this has on the women and girls that visit their site – that men are there to do sports, and women are there to look good. This was from a surf-brand that creates apparel and technical surf wear for both men and women, and not only for adults but for children and teenagers as well, and sponsors professional male and female surfers. So this particularly surprising that they would approve such misogynistic photographs on their website, especially in 2017.
It is this kind of photography within the surf world that I want to show is not the only way for women in surfing to be represented. As a surfer that is not who I am, it is not who I see out surfing, and it is not who others see either. The women I am photographing for my project do not have that unrealistic body type and do not sit around on the beach whilst men surf. They are of all different shapes and sizes, they are out there surfing, and they deserve to be out there just as much men do. Seeing surf brands promoting women in that sexist way makes it hard to identify with female surfers, and hard to believe that women can, or should, surf – even if you yourself are a female surfer. It makes it hard to believe that you can be surfer if you do not look like a supermodel and don’t live somewhere where surfing is done in a bikini and in tropical weather. I want to show that female surfers don’t always look like that, and show others – men and women, surfers and non-surfers, that just because someone doesn’t look like that, doesn’t mean they aren’t a surfer. I want to create photographs to show who female surfers actually are, in the “real world” – and hopefully, provide images for “real” people to identify with, and to maybe provide a photographs for us “real” surfers to relate to.
[i] KNOWLTON, K. 2017. F*ck you Billabong. Seriously, f*ck you. Women 2.0. Available at: https://you.women2.com/f-ck-you-billabong-seriously-f-ck-you-84995f3d7946. Accessed on 18-Nov-2017