To write about strangers is easy. You list what you’ve read, what you’ve heard and what they tell you. With no personal connection on either side it becomes a straight forward transaction.
To write about someone you know seems like something that should be easier than easy. There’s an advantage to knowing someone, your only job is to let people see what you see. The difficulty is separating what they want to be seen, and having them trust you enough to do a good job.
Roger Sharp, Sharpy, @surf_photo, I don’t call him any of those names, I call him Dodge. There is no reason why we should be friends and we have absolutely nothing in common beyond both liking the colour blue. It’s an odd friendship, but for some strange reason, it works just fine. I have wanted to write about Sharpy and his work for a while, and he has wanted to take a photo of me for a while, the second is unlikely to happen and I wasn’t quite sure how to go about writing about him, he isn’t the easiest of people to get stuff out of. Of course when I asked him what sort of piece he wanted me to write about him, a standard interview, a personal piece about who he is as opposed to what he does, his response was completely unhelpful
“whatever you want to write, you’re the writer”
Sharpy, editor of Carve, the largest surf magazine in the land and one of the finest surf photographers on and off shore. It might seem like a bold statement, but when you consider his achievements in an industry that so many fail to maintain a career in, it’s a statement that upholds itself with very little effort. As an editor he was the first to put a woman, Robyn Davies, on the cover of a major surf magazine, Surf Europe back in 2003, and as a photographer his pictures have graced every national newspaper and a host of mainstream television channels.
Sharpy’s favourite picture, Andy Irons (RIP), France
Self-effacing and modest it’s rare you would ever hear him talk about his work in those terms, proud of what he does but protective of it, he remains meticulous about the photos he takes and when he takes them, having travelled the world and back shooting the very best surf in the world, you can kinda see why he’s fussy.
Oli Adams in Ireland
Tassy under the sea
Naïve to the world of surf photography, I’d have thought anyone that had double page spreads in Surfer magazine, and shot ads for O’Neill, Billabong, Quiksilver, Gravis, Animal, C-Skins…the list goes on, would surely be sleeping on a bed of fifties and sipping Crystal. But apparently, it makes you rich in memories.
“This becoming a job was a happy accident, no one should ever set out to be a surf photographer for the money, it has to be for the love”
Having shot the most well-recongised surfers in the world you’d expect some sort of ego, or at the very least some self-assurance, but there is none. Growing up with his adoptive family in Bath and a quiet childhood, the understated side to him hasn’t ever really gone away, and only recently has his passion for a good cause surfaced
“I hate unfairness, but can’t be arsed to campaign for stuff”
He absolutely hates being wrong, which is why I enjoy poking him like a bear with the proverbial big stick. He cannot stand criticism which he describes as “a bit of a pickle in this online age” and I have yet to see him get angry or even slightly agitated about anything, he reckons he just doesn’t have it in him, I reckon I just haven’t poked that big stick hard enough.
You really have to dig to get him to show you how skilled he is at what he does, and how impressive his photography archives are, Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, and shots of Oli Adams and Micah Lester in Thurso are just some of his favourites.
A successful career spanning 20+ years can only be achieved in such a challenging industry through sheer love for his craft and a passion for being in the water. Purely self-taught he doesn’t do badly for someone who forgot to go back to do their PhD, and who bought his first camera for £20, a Russian DLR from a junk shop below his student house.
If you ask him why he’s a surf photographer he’ll say that taking photos in the surf is the most fun thing in the world. It’s as simple as that.
Happier behind the camera, few people would recognize Sharpy walking down the street, and that isn’t unintentional. He doesn’t surf on crowded beaches and likes the privacy of being in the waves with close friends and the solace of being behind the camera. Finding it difficult to feel like he belonged somewhere for a lot of his life I wonder how much of what he does is about the water and the lens being a residence for him, somewhere he feels at home, where he belongs.
Surf photographer and musician Mickey Smith
It’s difficult to get the real truth from someone outwardly confident and inwardly so private, I wanted to know why he really does what he does, but I think I got as close to an answer as I’m ever going to get
“I am simultaneously amazed and horrified by the modern world, I do just likes being in water tunnels. Looking inward is just confusing. I took photos for fun before I got paid, and I’ll do it for fun after”
When asked about Sharpy I always say the same thing, you would have no idea what he does for a living at first, but spend time in his company and you will always get the feeling he is really looking at things, it might be because his glasses need a wipe but it’s more likely to be that even when he’s in familiar spots, he is always looking for potential.
“Good photos come from an understanding, understanding the whole environment, the light, the weather, the season, the subject”
Always aspiring to be better he’s keen to start shooting full length films, web clips for him no longer seem enough, and when I asked him what his 2015 ambitions were his answers were straight forward, “get more shots of John John and Dane in the water, get better at what I do, and take a portrait of you“. The first 2 I can see happening.
He did once have a dream to discover all of the gravys of the world…so also, there’s that.
5 Millimetre from Roger Sharp on Vimeo.
I tease him that his choice of profession behind the camera was a subconscious decision to avoid spotlight, but he insists editing a magazine with half a million followers is the opposite of diverting attention.
And, on the surface I make him right, he hardly shuns interest, it’s actually quite clever, by having a presence like that it means the private life he actually leads remains happily unobserved.