Week 1 - The Shapeshifter

My project about female surfers in the UK relates to how they are a fairly under-represented group of people in the UK, and a mis-represented culture and image within the wider surf & advertising world. Images of female surfers in advertising tend to lean towards women that look like models, are skinny, conventionally beautiful, and usually wearing a tiny bikini somewhere tropical. That is not the reality for surfers in the UK, where temperatures necessitate wetsuits pretty much year round, and many female surfers do not fit the stereotype of the surfer-model seen in advertising. Because of this many female surfers do not identify with the brands aimed at them, and non-surfers are put off trying the sport because they don’t look like the girls in magazines. 

The nature of my work is mostly concerned with the process of creating the photographs. Akin to the characteristics Szarkowski stated as specific to the photographic medium[i]; the thing itself, the detail, the frame, time, and vantage point. Szarkowski postulated that photography captures a trace of reality, invoking a presence of reality, and the detail that is captured tries to represent a fragment of reality. In my work I am trying to show a reality that isn’t ordinarily associated with female surfers, and trying to capture a moment in the reality of the world of UK female surfers. I am intending to show that how female surfers are shown in advertising and by surf brands on social media isn’t reality for every female surfer. That female surfers in the UK aren’t all skinny bikini-wearing models, but are “normal” women, of varying shapes and sizes and lifestyles, but that those differences don’t make them any less of a surfer.

He identified that another aspect of photography is what photographers choose to include, and exclude in the frame of the photographs they take. I’m constantly aware of this when taking photographs; of what I’m including and excluding, and how that choice affects what the images “say”, how they are received, and how by including/excluding a certain aspect of the world in or from the image, I impact the meaning of the photograph. I think for me this is probably the aspect of Szarkowski’s characteristics that most relates to my current work.

The characteristics of time and vantage point are probably less of a factor in how I create my work at present. However I plan to expand the range of subject matter in my project over the next few weeks. I hope by doing this to create a broader view of who UK female surfers are. Something I’m considering doing is taking photographs of the women surfing. In which case the two aspects of time and vantage point may become more relevant/more important, for my work.

The human choices I make are mostly related to the types of photographs I chose to take. I wanted to show who female surfers in the UK actually are – their different, non-model standard faces/bodies, the fact that they have to wear wetsuits to surf in, and trying to show that they are strong women to get out in the cold and rain to surf. Last module I did this by taking portrait photographs of them – focussing on their faces but also some photographs highlighting their hands in the cold, their wetsuits/boots etc.

I think the success of this was that it did show the women as they are, without unnecessary editing and in a more natural way than female surfers in adverts tend to look. The weakness is that I think the work only showed one dimension to the women I photographed. Feedback from the assignment in  the last module was that the work was repetitive, and looking at it again I can see how including some other variety of images could broaden the communication of who female surfers are. For example, as mentioned above, I am looking at including images of them surfing. 

Further development of the project will include looking at other ways of showing who female surfers are, to widen the range of photographs in the project and provide more depth. I’ll experiment with some additional focuses for my photographs, e.g. them surfing/preparing to get in the water. I also need to decide on the direction I want the project to go in and what I want the end product to look like. I changed my project focus half way through the last module so I need to re-think where I want the project to go and what I want to do with it.

I want the project to be seen in relation to and in the context of current surf brand imagery/industry. I’m not sure of the exact format the project will take, in terms of the final output of the project. But I would like the work to be seen by non-professional female surfers, and non-surfers. Throughout the project so far some of the most frequent comments made by the women I have photographed surround the images of female surfers used in advertising/magazines. How the women used in the photographs are very much of the surfer-model format (although many are also surfers), and advertising doesn’t include women that don’t fit that “look”.  Many have spoken about how surf brands and magazines aimed at them can be hard to identify with. The women shown are so far removed from their reality, and their lifestyle, via the dominance of images of tropical locales and young pretty skinny women in bikinis – in comparison to the cold UK weather and wetsuits. I would like to find a way for my project to be seen in this context; to show “normal” female surfers that they are not alone, and there are other “normal” female surfers. Perhaps through looking into contacting surf publications or perhaps even some surf brands. I would also like to find a way to show non-surfers that they don’t need to look a certain way in order to surf, so I would like the project to be seen in the context of sports photography but also as an example of what ordinary women can do – in a similar vein to the “This Girl Can”[ii] campaign.  


[i] SZARKOWSKI, J. 1980. The Photographer’s Eye. Secker And Warburg: London

[ii] http://www.thisgirlcan.co.uk