I had witnessed the longest flat spell of my surfing life, a wave drought of Biblical proportions extending from late December into the month of February. When the ocean hits the down cycle, I often look for something to ease me off my aquatic addictions. This time it came in the form of some beautiful photos and a reunion with a man I am stoked to count among my friends.
I watched the rise of surf photographer Aaron Chang with great interest in the mid-1970s, when I was at my meager surfing peak and he, still in his teens, was rising in the ranks at Surfing Magazine. His work, like that of few others in the surf genre, could be spotted without even seeing a photo credit. There was, and is, a hard-fought intensity coupled with a high level of technical savvy and artistic integrity permeating his best shots. Internally, Chang’s work creates a sense of wonder that has sent countless of us to regions previously unknown, seeking a paradise that will be interpreted one wave at a time.
From the mid-1970s until now, Chang has, by his own account, taken literally millions of photographs, many of them of waves and their riders, others of people both famous and obscure. Beyond sending surfers out to remote corners of the world, Chang has said, “To bring hope and joy through your art is amazingly satisfying. I feel like my job is to show people how beautiful things are.”
A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with Aaron when he volunteered his lens to aid our then infant project, Risen Magazine. Four sessions stand out to me from that time: skate star Bucky Lasek, holocaust survivor Edith Egger, Dogtown rebel Jay Adams, and a series of haunting portraits of horror movie director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”). Each time Chang brought his A-game, working to capture the essence of those who had risen above their peers.
Still, I always associate Aaron Chang with the ocean. It is a part of him, a place where he replenishes the fuel needed for other projects. “For a lot of my career at Surfing Magazine, I was focused on the person riding the wave, trying to get into the pit with the best surfers in the world, to get tight action shots,” Chang said. “I find, however, that the empty wave shots have a longer lifespan, and now I focus more on them.” I asked Chang if his conversion to Christianity a few years back had influenced his turn toward capturing the raw aspects of creation. “I remember my first experience in big surf, being overwhelmed with the energy of the creation,” he said. “I was completely naïve as to what created the beauty of that spectacular force, but even then I had the sense that something was behind it all.”
After a brief interview, I kept verbal conversation to a minimum and let Chang’s work talk to me: the beautiful beast known as Waimea Bay, a beautiful woman paddling out into a savage ocean, a lined up wave at a local river mouth, identity disguised to protect the innocent, waterfalls and jungles, a close up of a lion ready to devour the photographer, lens and all. A lifetime of skill, dedication and risk have been brought safely home. Aaron Chang has something to tell you, and you won’t hear it with your ears.
Aaron Chang’s Photo Gallery is located at the corner of Cedros Avenue and Cliff Street in Solana Beach. His Web site is Aaronchanggallery.com.
Filed Under: Sea Notes