Almost five months have passed since the world premiere of Taylor Steele’s Proximity in New York City, but the pairings in the film — Rasta and Steph in Baja; Dorian and Albee in Scotland; Rob and Ando in Chile; and Kelly and JJF in the South Pacific — seem plucked from time, a team of surfing’s generational elites sharing the same screen. The movie is now available on iTunes (You can buy it here), as is photographer Todd Glaser’s gorgeously designed hardcover book, featuring 288 pages of his striking color shots and black-and-white film from the movie. We sat down with Glaser and asked him to tell us the stories behind his ten favorite frames from the film, many of which are featured in his print collection. Read Glaser’s inside account of Proximity, then head to his website to purchase his book.
“Taylor and I had decided to book each group in a season: spring, summer, fall, and winter. We had Dave and Steph as summer, and we were trying to think of places where they could wear trunks, a swimsuit, or bikini, and where they would feel comfortable surfing, to give those warm tones. For that, we thought Baja was a great location. This was the look at the very top of the point, where they were jumping in to paddle out. For us, from both a photographic and cinematography point of view, this is actually a very special moment. The swell had arrived, and it enabled both Dave and Steph to open up the way that they do, which is essentially like a dance. What’s ironic about this photo is that Dave lives about an hour south of Steph, but they had never done a trip together. A big part of the project for us is not only documenting them surfing but imagining their dialogue. I wonder what’s going through their minds? That’s something that we hoped to capture. For me, this photo is a special, anticipatory moment.”
“This photo is of Steph and Dave essentially dancing on the wave. In my opinion, this is one of the most memorable waves in the film. The photo captures a moment, but in the film, they cross paths about eight different times. Any time we have the opportunity to show both of the surfers in one frame, it makes for a very special image. This was shot late in the evening. They rode about six or seven of these waves. They had actually come in, and I said, ‘Guys, go back out. I have an idea.’ I slowed the shutter down to quarter of a second. You can see Steph’s pretty sharp, but there’s quite a bit of motion around them. I wanted to give it a more ethereal feel.”
“The wave that we went to for the film was this very long point break. When Rasta came in, it was late afternoon as he was walking up the cliff, so I pulled back. I love the way that the light just hits him in the face but everything else is a silhouette. It kind of has that prehistoric feel. For me as a photographer, I’m always looking at shapes, textures, lines, and light. This one kind of fits all of those qualities with the splash of light just on his face.”
“This image was done on the trip with Shane Dorian and Albee Layer, the first trip that we did for the project. We had been driving around and a friend of ours had given us notes on this location that we went to, far in the North Atlantic. Again, none of us had been to any of these locations before, so we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants. Just getting there was a mission, with long flights and a long drive. We showed up, and the first two days were supposed to be the two biggest days, but it was totally flat. We were driving around with this map on a napkin that my friend had given me over coffee. He’s like, ‘You’ve got to go here. If the wind is like this, go here. If the swell is like this, go here.’ We were trying to find this one spot, but we couldn’t, so we parked in the middle of this field and we looked down. and this wave was doing this. We didn’t even know this wave existed.
“It was really neat to watch the chemistry and the relationship between Shane and Albee. They would push each other deeper and deeper to figure out a wave that they had never surfed before. Not only were they wearing 6-mil suits, but they were surfing over this very shallow reef that was only a couple of feet deep. This was kind of one of those ‘a-ha’ moments where everything had worked out. They surfed this wave by themselves for two days. With a bit of luck and persistence, we were able to capture this image. I wasn’t only trying to shoot images in the tube, but I also wanted to pull back to show how shallow the wave is.”
“So this is the celebration, the night after we surfed this wave. Albee has looked up to Shane for a long time, but they hadn’t really spent much time out of the water together. This was a time that Albee got to ask Shane all the questions he wanted. Shane got to dive into the mind of Albee, like, ‘What’s it like to be 25 and be on the forefront of big-wave surfing, from your perspective?’ What we gathered was that the important variable was time. It’s not just about catching the biggest wave of the day. It’s about longevity. I think that’s something that Shane instilled in Albee. He’s done it for 30 years and he has a lot of knowledge that can be passed on with Proximity. That’s something we wanted to share, both in the film and in the book.”
“This was on our trip with Rob and Craig. The first four days, we got totally skunked. Eventually, we reached out to a friend of ours who put us in touch with a wave that we had actually driven by quite a few times and didn’t even know existed. We went through a couple of farmers’ ranches, lifted the gates, hiked a little bit, and we were able to come across this wave. This was early in the morning, and suddenly, we had two of the best goofy footers in the world and an empty left-hand point with nobody around. I had a 35-mm film camera with a 35mm lens, a rangefinder that I just kept around my neck. I shot this on that little camera, and when I got the film back, I thought, Oh, this is a special one.”
“This was Rob’s first wave of the day. We were trying to get a lineup shot of the two of them running out. As soon as they got in the water, the current was strong, Rob swung around and got this one. I wasn’t able to get down to the beach in time, so I shot it from up on the cliff where Rob and Craig were checking the surf. Something I was thinking about with the photography is that I was trying to add layers and build upon the story — shooting tight images, pulling back, and giving a sense of place.”
“So this photo was actually inspired by one of my favorite photographers named Walter Iooss, who shot an image of the golfers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in 1965 during a golf tournament. To me, it’s one of those images that makes you wonder: 1) What access and trust do they have in the photographer to capture that image? and 2) What were they talking about? I used that shot of Arnold and Jack as inspiration for this image of John and Kelly playing chess. Both photos are shot with a 28mm lens, and they’re both shot with natural light. I feel that the competitiveness of this chess match really helped in the conversation. You can see John’s confidence, and Kelly’s heavy consideration into what the next move is going to be. You can take that in a number of different ways, but anytime as a photographer you can pay homage to some of the greats, it’s fun for me to do.”
“This is the cover shot that ran on SURFER. I had actually been to this location once before with Kelly, and we had tried underwater there quite a bit, but we hadn’t nailed the photo yet. This image had been a work in progress for a long time. I came across this lens, called a recti-linear lens, that’s a very wide angle but doesn’t distort like a fisheye. When this trip came about, we built a new port for the lens and went down there. Because of the water clarity, we were able to be about 15 feet away. No silt. No murkiness. Kelly got this wave and passed by me. If you look at this shot, everything is very linear, everything is very straight, which is not common with most wide-angle lenses. We both looked at it like, ‘This is kind of a neat one.’ To be able to collaborate with someone like Kelly makes the image that much more special because he knew what I was trying to do, and we had wanted to do this for five years. In order to make an image like this happen, it really feels like an image we made together. It’s one of his favorite photos, and it’s definitely one of my favorite photos, too.”
“The previous image was a wave that Kelly had caught, so as he was paddling back out John was in the tube. Kelly was paddling out, and he told me, ‘I’m going to duck dive in front of you!’ I’m underwater as John is in the barrel and as Kelly duck-dives, and I was worried that the moment happened so fast that we might’ve missed it. Kelly came up to me afterward and said, ‘That was the one.’
“I sat in the corner of the boat looking at the photos, thinking that we did okay. I was starting from the backend of the session, and then I came across this photo and said, ‘This is kind of neat.’ John came up and asked me what I meant, so I showed him. John was stoked. ‘No way!’ he said. And Kelly said, ‘That was the one. I told you.’ Both conceptually and in quality, we knew right away that this was going to be the poster image for the project because it had Kelly and John together. There’s a lot of history and a high level of respect between the two of them.”