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In the Foamy Thick of It

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The greatest surfers have a high tolerance for shark-defying, killer-wave-courting risk. As did Ron Church, a deep-sea diver and underwater photographer who was, until now, best known for his stint on Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso team. But recently his shots of California surf contests from the mid-sixties were rediscovered by graphic designer Tom Adler, who’s transformed archival surf photography into stylish art books. (Several previously unshown images from Church’s work go on view at Danziger Projects gallery starting this week; Adler’s book on the photographer comes out in August.) Church died of a brain tumor in 1973, at age 39, and Adler found the pictures while visiting the photographer’s widow. Poring over the contact sheets, he was struck by the images’ elegant composition and unusual perspective. Unlike some surf photographers who used telephoto lenses to capture close-up action from the safety of shore, Church immersed himself—quite literally—in the competition. “Many of the shots he did were from the water—he would paddle out and take pictures,” says Adler. “There were other photographers doing that, but because of his background underwater, he had very good equipment.” The result is, indeed, much more like The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau than Endless Summer.


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