A couple weeks ago, surf and fashion photographer Will Adler found himself in the Big Apple on a work trip when the swell from Winter Storm Riley hit the shores of New York. He was faced with a huge dilemma: should he paddle out into Rockaway Beach closeouts on a rented fun-board or seize this historical moment and take photos of the bombing swell? Adler chose the latter and grabbed his camera.
While outside the water Adler works on high-fashion, Conde Nast-calibre photo shoots, his surf-related work is imbued with a feeling of tranquility. In the series of images above, Adler makes a freezing cold day in New York look pastoral and inviting. We asked Adler a few questions about his trip to NY.
How did these photos come about?
I had flown to NYC for some potential work, and also to visit my cousin who moved to NY a couple years back. I had no intentions of surfing or even making it out to the beach while I was there. After being in the city a few days, Riley started to turn up as the reports had stated. My cousin happened to have a day off work on Saturday (the first day the swell cleaned up and really started to hit NY), so we drove out. Initially, I planned on surfing but once I saw his extra wetsuit I decided to bring along my camera just in case I didn’t want to jump in.
When we got to the beach, I figured I’d shoot some photos first and see how it looked before renting an 8-foot funboard and putting on an old, ripped-up 5mm suit. It was really cold with the hard offshore wind. I actually wore my cousin’s extra 2mm wetsuit gloves while I was shooting because my hands got so numb. I spent about 2 hours walking between a couple jetties shooting photos while my cousin surfed. I surprisingly wasn’t too bothered by not surfing. It was one of the rare times I was more content taking photos of surf than actually surfing.
While lots of photographers told the WS Riley story by focusing on the surfers, why did you choose this pulled back approach?
While I wouldn’t say I chose to shoot line up shots over action shots, it was what immediately interested me. The two lenses I had forced me to choose between either something very tight and focused, or pulled back and scenic. As for the waves themselves, it looked challenging to really be in the right spot. I only saw a handful of barrels made the whole day. I think the beaches to the north had the cleaner surf for the swell direction, there were only a handful of people out where we were.
You work with some pretty talented photographers outside of the surf world-what influence have they had on your work, both in and out of the water?
I have worked for quite a few different photographers in the past, trying to learn tricks from them while they shot fashion and commercial jobs. While I was in NYC I had the chance to go the MOMA where they currently have a Stephen Shore installation on display. He has been a major influence on me. His work has evolved from intimate b/w photographs of Warhol and the factory crowd to the color snapshots of “American Surfaces,” all the way to his use of digital cameras and social media. Whether he’s using a small, simple point-and-shoot camera or a large format field camera on a tripod, he doesn’t let the tools he’s using to change the way he looks at things.