The Surf Culture Photography of Art Brewer

In the five decades since he picked up a camera, the Dana Point lensman has become the sport’s foremost documentarian
Surfer Cover Art Bewer
2008 Several of the world’s most popular surfers made the pilgrimage to Brewer’s studio for a composite photo that would appear on Surfer magazine’s December 2008 cover. From left: Mick Fanning, Bruce Irons, the late Andy Irons, Sofia Mulanovich, Dane Reynolds, and Kelly Slater.

Unlike most surf photographers, Art Brewer finds himself drawn more to the subculture’s subversive artistry than its sea‑dance aesthetics. Throughout his legendary 50-year career, Brewer has steadfastly resisted the siren call of cute sea turtles, maritime rainbows, and couples kissing at sunset as soft‑focus wavelets swirl at their feet.

As he once put it, “I never wanted to be the guy who shoots postcards.”

Born and raised in Laguna Beach, Brewer was 17 when, in 1968, he landed his first Surfer magazine cover, which almost certainly makes him the youngest photographer ever to score the cover of a major surf publication. Over the ensuing decades, he has chronicled every cultural shift in a sport that never stands still.

“Others may have been at it as long, but none at Art’s level,” says Matt Warshaw, author of “The Encyclopedia of Surfing” and the sport’s preeminent historian. “He just keeps creating.”

In the pursuit of fresh perspectives, Brewer has traveled to the shores of Sumatra, South Africa, Antarctica, and beyond. And while his career has led him to realms outside of surfing—shooting for such titles as Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, and Playboy—he always, inevitably, returns to Orange County and its shores. All but one of these images were taken within a short drive of his home in Dana Point.

Writer Steve Hawk was the editor of Surfer from 1991 to 1998.



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