You couldn’t ask for a better afternoon to launch a book about surf-rowing. The sun was out, a refreshing sea breeze blew from the Indian Ocean into the Scarboro Surf Club Function Room, the bar was open and the beer was cold.
Gun’s Up! is a book which I am very proud to have produced. It boasts more than 250 pages dedicated to photographs of surf rowing in Western Australia, the first of its kind (to my knowledge) in this State, if not in Australia. The title comes from the signal that the starter pistol has been raised in the air – an indication that rowers should be ready to leap into their boat and haul oar.
Gun’s Up! is a book about boaties, for boaties. I’ve been photographing surf rowing events over the last three seasons, with the previous and this season as official photographer for the WA branch of the Australian Surf Rowers League (ASRL). It’s a book that shows the faces of surf rowing in WA in the early part of this century.
The book was formally launched by Ian Hughes, President of the WA ASRL, with speeches by myself and book sponsor, Dave Mitton owner of local publisher and printer, eCPrint. Dave is himself a boatie, one of the driving forces behind the boat section of the Secret Harbour SLSC. It’s one of those things where everything comes together in the end: a book about boaties, published by a boatie, and launched at a surf club known for its boat section.
Here are some photographs from the launch, courtesy of Perth photographers Johannes Reinhart and David Savage, who were kind enough to document the night for me. Following the photographs is a copy of the speech I gave that night (please feel free to ignore ).
In giving my speech about the book, I wanted to put two things into words:
- Firstly, what photographing surf rowing events meant for me as a photographer;
- And secondly, why I felt that the images were significant enough to deserve publication in a dedicated photography book.
Here’s the speech, from the launch of Gun’s Up!
People sometimes ask me what it’s like to photograph-surf rowing events.
I tell them it’s a lot like photographing newborn babies – because you end up taking photos of bare bottoms!
It’s one of those things that I learned fairly early on in the surf rowing photography experience – you can’t avoid photographing wedgies. They’re everywhere! But once you get past the unusual fact that rowers pull their bathers up their bums (or in the case of Darren Mills, down their bums), it’s really one of the more spectacular sports to photograph.
Photographers often talk about getting into “the zone” – which is a headspace where you stop thinking about the equipment and about the technicalities of photography, where you begin to observe and photograph instinctively, watching for moments that are laden with emotion, drama or action, and being able to capture these moments.
Surf-rowing provides plenty of these moments.
I enjoy photographing the action in the sport – for me, it’s all about timing it right, so that I get the shot of your boat crew breaking through waves, or trailing oars.
But, more than just the action, it’s the emotion and drama in the sport that draws me to it time and time again. For me, what makes any event interesting is its human face. Your faces.
The anticipation and readiness of the crew at Gun’s Up! – you can see it in your expressions, in your postures, as you prepare to leap into the boat and haul oars.
The elation on your faces when your boat is first over the line.
The exhaustion and relief that shows after you’ve battled a harsh ocean and difficult conditions.
The mateship andcamaraderie that is evident in the way you all come together to help get a boat ready, or recover the vessel after a bad spill.
The quiet moments of concentration and expectation as you size up the conditions prior to rowing.
Moments of humour and larrikinism on the beach, when you realise there’s a camera lens pointing at you.
This is what the Gun’s Up! book is about. These are all in the book.
You’re all participants in the great action adventure that plays out on WA beaches each summer, and it’s an absolute privilege to be able to photograph and record this sport that you are so passionate about.
In many respects, photographing surf-rowing events has shown me the benefits and rewards of putting one’s photography in the service of a community – in this case, the community of boaties in WA.
It has allowed me to gain an insight into a sport that very few people know about.
It has allowed me to connect with the passion that you show for the sport.
It has made me realise that no sport and no event is greater than the sum total of people who dedicate their efforts and energies to it.
Gun’s Up! is a book about surf rowing. But more importantly, it is a book about surf rowers, about the boaties and officials who live and breathe the sport.
It is for this reason that Gun’s Up! is more than just a book of surf rowing photographs.
In it, you will find writing by boaties and officials, reflecting on what surf rowing means to them.
You will find a wonderful poem written by Jeff Burling at the beginning of the book that describes the feelings of exhilaration and liberation that comes in ocean rowing.
You’ll find a beautifully personal piece by Jessica Rafferty at the end of the book that encapsulates the powerful emotions and bonds of friendship that can grow from participation in this sport.
In Gun’s Up! you’ll find portraits of boaties from several clubs taken at my studio in Fremantle – because I felt that the book should honour the people who drive the sport: the mums and dads, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, partners and best mates who row together.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some individuals who have made very significant contributions to the development of the book (and I have some gifts to present as a token of my thanks):
Shane Bowler – who has always supported my surf rowing photography since 2007 when I started photographing surf life saving events. It was Shane’s invitation to photograph boat events back then that got me started down this road.
Dave Mitton and eCPrint Rockingham – for his support in publishing the book at ePrint. Publishing Gun’s Up! with eCPrint has meant that the book could be published locally, and by a publisher who is also a devout boatie.
And Melissa Burling – who has been instrumental in putting me in touch with so many boaties out there, particularly for the studio portrait shoots.
I’d also like to thank the WA Surf Boat Panel (particularly Ian Hughes and Amanda Rukuwai) for my continued association with surf rowing in WA and the generosity of Scarboro Surf Club for hosting the book launch tonight.
Finally, I’d like to thank all of you for making me feel welcome down at the beach during surf rowing carnivals. Thank you for the opportunity to photography your passion in the sport. It has been a privilege and an honour, and I look forward to documenting your endeavours and achievements this season.