Behind the lens
Zephyr Revolutions AKA Suzanna Anderson-Reed is a photographer from the North East coastline. Passionate, creative and has built an amazing portfolio using some equipment that you might not be expecting...coffee and natter time with the photographer's that capture our addiction continues...
Behind The Lens.
So Suzanne, when did this all happen? When did you start taking pics?
Hey, thanks for having me. Do you know I can't really pin point a moment in time where I thought 'I know, photography' it's just always simmered away in the soundtrack of my life. My earliest memories of photographs were that there actually weren't a lot cameras around and even if people had them the film and processing costs often made it so that they were reserved for special occasions but that meant I revered photographs; I was fascinated, I found them exciting and beautiful, these rare immortalised moments. As a kid I got a Kodak 110 point and shoot camera one birthday and I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed with it I felt like it was this little piece of magic, even then I wanted to be able to take photographs.
When my eldest daughter was born, 19 years ago I borrowed a friends Pentax slr thinking I'd suddenly be able to take the sort of photos I wanted - I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! I was the epitome of idiot novice thinking the answer was bigger and better! Still I wandered about trying, experimenting and it was a deeply therapeutic activity at what was ultimately quite a difficult time for me. As so often happens though - life pushed me in a different direction and I fell in to a very busy career so to be honest photography fell by the wayside a bit.
Then five years ago when my son was born I reverted to type, this time I bought a cheap second hand compact camera with manual control and I set about teaching myself. I took photos every day, terrible photos of everything & anything, loads more than the first 10000 Cartier Bresson said would be the worst! I read, read and re-read books with my sleep deprived brain, I looked at what I'd taken and tried to work out why it wasn't what I wanted to see. A year or so in I left my beloved camera on the top of my car whilst juggling kids and dogs (and coffee, probably) and drove away not realising until I was 50 miles up the road and the camera was gone for good It broke my heart, I couldn't believe I'd been so stupid but without my camera I felt like I'd lost a limb and I probably realised then that I'd finally started on quite a significant journey.
Lets talk kit, what are you using to get the shots and what's your go to camera?
Ha! I seem to have a camera for every occasion, I'm constantly telling myself 'no more' especially if I pull up to a boot sale! In my professional life I use a Nikon D750 most often with a good old nifty fifty as it suits my style. For surf photography I have my faithful, trusty but aging Nikon D300. I bought it second hand for a song a couple of years ago with a low shutter count but a broken pop up flash, as I don't think I've ever used a pop up flash a bit of gaffa tape and we've been inseparable ever since. With that I have a 1970's Nikkor 300mm F4.5 lens that was gifted to me; it's heavy, it's manual focus, it has no whistles and bells but it is an absolutely beautiful piece of glass that feels like part of me. It balances out the hefty d300 and it just feels good. 300mm is pretty short for a shore based photographer but as the d300 is a crop sensor it takes the actual focal distance to nearer 400mm and I don't mind wet knees! Sure there are some days I would love a fast 600mm with vibration reduction and lightning fast focus but the spare few grand is always a bit of a kick! Plus it would change the way I work and not in an altogether positive way, I think this is pretty important in building my skills. Thinking laterally with my kit also keeps me absorbed and photographing surf remains a pleasure so I don't have to worry about meeting billboard commercial standards.
Aside from that I really do have a constantly expanding collection of old prime lenses that I still use professionally and a whole shelf of film cameras that I still love to use. In fact in my car I keep a Nikomat ftn that I bought for pennies to mount a 1950's Nikkor 58mm lens that I was also given. I keep it loaded with agfa film I bought in bulk from one of the pound outlets last year and it's just a joy to use! Probably shouldn't advertise that I keep it in the car like!
What brought you to the sea/ocean and the surfers?
Erm Jealousy?! Haha! I'm literally a wannabe! I've always felt happiest in and around the water and when I was young it was torture if for any reason I couldn't go in to the sea, the pool, the river etc but with the sea there was always simultaneously and I can't really explain why, but there was a fear there. Maybe a sober respect would describe it but maybe equally a fatal attraction! When I moved to the coast I used to watch the surfers & it looked like the ultimate freedom, I desperately wanted to overcome this sense of fear and be out there. A few local surfers offered to teach me but in the cripplingly painful embarrassment of the outsider teenager I didn't have the confidence to take them up on the offer. Nonetheless over the years periodically I would go in on a weekend morning with friends somewhere between the dawn patrol dissipating and the crowds gathering and just have a go, I was always rubbish and not consistent enough!
Then, about ten years ago I was at Watergate Bay in Cornwall, been in the sea most of the day messing about with friends, swapping boards, just about at the 'stand up/fall off' stage but I couldn't read the ocean and I was on the wrong board, with waves I underestimated. I took a pretty spectacular tumble and somehow the board, along with my leg got dragged, twisted violently up behind me. Being in water I didn't realise I'd done anything too bad past an initial partial drowning and a nasty jolt but actually I'd damaged my back quite badly. I ended up lying face down on the sofa for the best part of six months, eventually needing surgery to repair the damage. That pretty much smashed any confidence I'd managed to build (though I did get a pretty gnarly scar) and that sense of the sea as my lover and my nemesis was solidified.
Years later on those wanders with my camera I found myself constantly on these northern shores photographing waves, light on the water, trying to develop skill and get a new perspective. One early golden winter morning I saw a woman out in the water catching probably the last of that days waves; the harmony between her, the light, the waves just completely mesmerised me and instinctively I raised my camera and took a shot. That was it, that was a pinpoint moment. (1)
When I photograph surfers I find myself completely immersed; I wait, I watch, I see the wave coming, I steady my breath and I lift my camera. Is it vicarious? Yes, very probably but its me trying to capture that moment of Chronos and Kairos coming together and the sea lending herself graciously. I don't really look for the 'perfect waves' or the 'technique angle' more the connection and of course the camaraderie, the fun - I don't feel I've quite got it yet though.
What do you know about the forecast and the spots to check?
Honestly? Not enough! I spent last year driving up and down the local coastline just looking and checking out some of the online forecasts. People have been kind enough to let me in to some local secrets and I've picked bits up over the years but it's nowhere near enough & as my kids get less compliant and more eager to be in the sea themselves the driving up and down isn't as easy so yes I need to be able to grasp the forecast better no question. That's the downside.
I have often thought I was surfing alone to then find you have caught me sneaking in for a couple of slides. Do you disappear so surfers aren't aware you are there?
Ah yes! I am the queen of sneak, especially at dawn haha! Earlier on I would ask people as they pulled up whether they'd mind me photographing them & no one ever did but it seems to suit me to remain largely 'unseen'. It's a bit of a balancing act, I don't want to disturb people or worse freak them out, it could feel quite invasive and if I photograph someone who isn't happy to be or for me to post them I'll happily take them down or delete them.
Last year in Cornwall I hired a board and got back in the sea again, almost instantly I took a good lungful of ocean floor & emerged to a lens right in my face; I'm definitely on some 'middle aged, disgraceful, kook of the day' website somewhere haha! I don't want to do that to people, everyone has been exceptionally gracious so far and I don't want to jeopardise that plus the moments are truly candid when people don't know I'm there, no matter what seeing a camera changes peoples behaviour, perhaps almost imperceptibly but it does.
Sometimes on a busy day or with certain people I'll come out in to plain view often to get a good soaking myself but still I wouldn't presume to be blatant every time. Surfing is an interesting blend of community and solitary and I have to respect that. There are times I see a great shot but don't take it because the moment is one between that surfer and that wave and it wouldn't be right, I can't really explain that, you just get a sense. Indeed when I first started there are a couple of shots I think I shouldn't have taken for that reason.
How many times have you been told 'this is a secret spot', don't give the location away?
Ah man, so many and even as a non-surfer I knew this one from the get go. I tend to generalise in a photo I publish 'Northumberland' 'northeast' etc but I totally get it, some of these spots are hard won, they've been protected for years so I respect and hugely appreciate being let in on those , I've no intention of breaching that. I have been chastised for naming some of the obvious ones though and to be honest if you can google it I don't think it quite reaches the level of sanctity for protection. So my rule of thumb now is, unless it's Longsands or King Eddies, don't name it!
What have you been up to during the summer flat spells?
Well I have driven about 3000 miles around the UK in the last few weeks Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, Yorkshire haha! It's summer holidays and I have two kids aged 5 and 2 plus my eldest is home from Uni in Cornwall and I've only just started trading as a business so between my kids and the bits of work starting to come in I've actually been pretty jam packed. It's been great fun not being bound to timetables and we've probably been on a beach almost every day rain, hail or shine but I am desperately eager to get back to waves! I also had an idea to do a pop up exhibition with some other surfer artists. Just sea/surf shots on one of the local beaches, I guess a from our perspective it seemed it would be fun so hopefully that'll go ahead but slightly later in the year than I'd hoped.
Who inspires you?
Ah, such a huge question. With surf photography I might be clich but Don James. The thought of paddling out with a folding, fixed distance camera in a homemade waterproof-ish box to photograph the surf and being able to capture the depth, the feeling seen in those early shots which are just unrivalled to this day; ah man, they're thrilling. Latterly Doc Ball, John Whitzig similarly, the depth of feeling in those grainy images - awesome! Currently Mark CJ Nelson, Brent Bielmann, Woody Gooch, Nathan Oldfield, Canadian Bryanna Bradley and an insanely talented UK based photographers Katie Rae and Kernow dweller Sam Lewis
You know though I have to say that inspiration comes closer to home too. Instagram is fantastic for discovering photography, actually for being immersed in it and alongside some great local pros posting there are those who would say they're amateurs but the photographs they're shooting from their boards are absolutely breath taking! I can regularly be heard muttering 'ah man that's so good' with only the slightest tinge of envy haha! So I'm constantly driven to do better by those people & hugely appreciative of the beautiful and unique perspective they so freely give.
In photography in general I'm fortunate to have a few friends who are incredible photographers which makes show and tell a little anxiety ridden for me! Currently however I'm enthralled by the work of Australian birth photographer Lacey Barrett and American family documentary photographer Kirstin Lewis. Again though I could trawl Instagram forever finding incredible images which I guess works both ways really, as a huge inspiration and a challenge that could really easily cause me to retreat if it wasn't for my camera as a limb thing haha!
What's the goal?
I guess I have to divide it up, in my daily life to photograph every day and to be able to sustain a living with that in major part, creating images my clients love. With surf photography though it's a passion not a money maker. There are people from all walks of life & all abilities out there in the North Sea in any weather surfing whatever; from the mini peelers to the storm surges so i just hope to carry on documenting that. I absolutely love that I can pull in to the local spots and see a line of dirtbag campers, the brews on, the suits out, locally made boards particular parts feel like a community untouched by vast commercialism, perhaps one of the last bastions against consumer culture. I think connectedness can seem to be is in short supply in the world but it's out there in abundance in the sea. I watch people and it's written on them that being in the sea is essential, it's the force that drives them and I love that, I guess I'm trying to chronicle that.
Can you show us your favourite photo you've ever taken?
Crumbs, now you're asking! Some days I could tell you straight off, other days everything is just all wrong but there are a couple I always come back to and would spring to mind first so I can show you those. I think this (black and white Cal) is an image I return to again and again; the light on the water, the relaxed stance, the prominence of the board, it just comes together for me. It is cropped, the original had a sup in the background but it suited the pose and feel to just focus on the one figure and it's that connectedness between person, board, wave it's that sense of peace. The second it's just the hardiness of the north sea surfer: cold, bright winter swell, singular focus and a good old seagull it's good north east surf. The third is a hit and run shot of the storm surge earlier in the year. There were photographers everywhere, people everywhere, the light was beginning to fade but I managed to pull over in Tynemouth, promise my kids I'd only be two minutes, just squeeze in at the barrier and shoot a few of these. It did only take two minutes but I was pretty pleased with the outcome.
Who would you want to work with in the surfing world?
Dave Rastovich, any day with no hesitation I love his attitude, 20 years in the business and he's still in it for the surfing. I could watch him all day too, his style is mesmerising. That said, you know I've developed such a fondness for the north east surf scene and it is different from elsewhere in the UK, I've been able to photograph some really fantastic moments from the come and have a go fearless young things, the endless winter swells that have people emitting stoke by the bucketful despite freezing temperatures, the easy ways of devoted longboarders dancing out there and I'm never bored. The dynamics, the way people respond to each other and to the sea is fascinating. I just hope that as I carry on shooting people continue to enjoy the little slice of northern surf life that I portray.
Learn to surf! Aside from that I'm always looking for the next one, it's always the next set, I have to put a physical limit on myself, a smaller card, only one battery etc or I'd be there forever. I've had a bit of time out and when I look back at my catalogue sure there's some images there I'm proud of but so many that just missed the mark, so many I've not quite got what I wanted. So yeah, keep going, keep developing, get in the sea! Keep looking for that nikonos and take film back out in the waves. I don't know whether there's a surf photography nirvana, I think I'll know if I get there but I've still got a lot of work to do.
Thanks to Suzanne for taking the time to chat and all the lovely photos, take a spy of her Instagram page zephyr_revolutions and give a wave next time your surfing the North East UK... IF you ever spot her.