Frames: Tommy Pearsall
Slab city.
Frames 2d

Tommy Pearson somehow makes the ocean feel different with each shot he takes…

At least, that’s what we reckon. Looking over his portfolio that features some of the world’s most powerful waves, the surfers who surf them, and the people he meets while in transit, it’s the way he brings something new to each wave that makes his work so immersive. It’s hard not to get that tingly feeling checking out some of the slabs he’s brought to life, as if you were right there with him.

You might think there’s a lifetime of dedication to surf photography behind the 32-year-old’s snaps, but in reality, he only picked up a camera a few years back – talk about a quick learner. “I got into it late, around 26-years-old. I’d never had any training or even that much interest in photography,” he says. “I was running bars and restaurants and went on a trip to the Mentawais where I met resident Pitstop Hill photographer Johnny “jungle” Barton. I thought that looked like fun so next year I was fortunate to come back as a guide, brought my first camera with a kit lens and annoyed the shit out of him for a few months. I guess that’s where it all began.”

“As I progressed I quickly realised how saturated the industry was and decided my point of difference was to shoot from water, in heavy waves and conditions. This is where my path crossed Joe Knight, of One Ocean International, a Watermanship training organisation. Without this specific and targeted training I wouldn’t have attempted half the pursuits I have, and if I did it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as comfortable as I am.”

Having spent the best part of the last half-decade shooting around the world, there’s still one thing about his job that does occasionally worry him. “I do think of sharks every session. I think most people do down here,” he says. “When you are floating in dark, inky water, by yourself in a deep channel, it’s hard not to. If it is pumping and consistent you’re so engaged with what’s happening it’s not a worry. You’re usually more scared of the waves than what’s under them! If there are long lulls however, or if your floating in certain notorious areas of the coast, your imagination can definitely get a little wild.”

In spite of the dangers, there’s nothing he enjoys more than his job and the rush he gets from it, which undeniably carries through into his shots. “Remote and intimidating waves,” he says when asked about his favourite thing to shoot. “There’s nothing better to make you feel alive. I also love to photograph mundane things others might walk past as well as interesting humans. I’m always fascinated by the unspoken stories walking past us day in day out. We all have the same needs, wants, and worries…”

Check out some of Tommy’s finest snaps below and follow him on Instagram here to see more of his amazing work:

Words by Jack Bennett November 20, 2020
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