Fitzpatrick is the guy who captures Tres Palmas when it's 40 feet
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 2 October, 2016 - Despite jaunts to most countries on the globe with a surf-able coastline, Steve Fitzpatrick has seen almost every variety and type of surf during his twenty years on the island of Puerto Rico.
The island has been kind to Fitzpatrick and his photography career. His work has been shown in most major surf magazines and he’s also produced a book of his images: “Puerto Rico’s Surf Culture” a coffee table publication chronicling two decades of island surf. His work has been shown at Puerto Rico’s National Archive.
Q: Where are you from and what do you shoot with?
A: I was born and raised in New Jersey, spent 20 years living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and now live in Florida since 2013. These days I shoot with a 7D and have perpetually been way behind the technology curve. It’s forced me to sharpen my skills, be more resourceful than many around me, and to further develop my own particular vision. Due to this I have learned to subscribe to the motto that “It ain’t the arrow, it’s the archer”.
Jorge Iglesias © Steve Fitzpatrick
Q: How did surf photography start for you?
A: I got tired of my high school classmates calling bullshit on my claims of early morning solo sessions in perfect fall conditions. So I brought a camera and snapped a few pics before paddling out. It took a few weeks, but I eventually had the pleasure of serving them a freshly tossed salad of their own words.
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about surf photography
A: It’s way more about the preparation, both mental and physical, than it is about the act of tripping the shutter. And part of that preparation is the psychology of dealing with your subject and their expectations of your collaboration.
Q: Share with us your heaviest experience in the surf or while travelling.
A: Narrowly surviving getting caught inside by a set of 40’ faces while water shooting Tres Palmas during the Swell of the Century in March of 2008 only to be run over by a nitwit on a jet ski and suffering a traumatic brain injury and a wound needing 40 stitches to close.
Tres Palmas © Steve Fitzpatrick
Q: Name one photographic image you saw that changed the way you approach photography.
A: As I’ve always been a student of the genre there are too many to really mention. But to highlight three…
The first would be a long lens image shot from a California Pier circa late 80’s by Mike Moir of Donavon Frankenreiter. Donavon is tucked under the curl on a right riding towards the pier, and you can just see his right eye watching the lip line ahead of him. The image is tack sharp and has an optical quality a notch above what most others produced at the time. Mike has become an acquaintance during the last decade and when I mentioned to him how that image had impressed me he informed me it was shot through a Leica rangefinder with a 350mm lens and the inclination of my awe only steepened. The second, rather than a single image, would be the portraiture of Art Brewer. It forced me to understand that surf photography goes way beyond capturing images of people riding waves and that very often the most interesting characters in surf culture are those that exist far from the center. Everyone in surf culture knows how iconic Art’s photography is, but not everyone can fully appreciate the fact that his portraiture and lifestyle imagery is on par with the best photographic artists in the world. I’ve been fortunate to have a few of my own portraits published alongside Art’s, and more fortunate to call him a friend, colleague, and mentor.
Pablo Diaz © Steve Fitzpatrick
The third would be a wide-angle flash watershot of Dan Malloy shot by David Pu’u that was on the cover of one of SURFER’S “BIG” issues early in the millennium. Dan is bottom turning on a rather small wave, riding into a rising sun. David is tucked in the pocket behind Dan with the lip arching over the camera. Even without flash the image would be exceptional due to the magic hour quality of light, but throw in the flash to illuminate the surfer that would otherwise be in silhouette, and do it perfectly, and you have an instant classic. David is another artist who I am fortunate to count among my colleagues.
Q: What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
A: The release of my 2012 book entitled “Puerto Rico’s Surf Culture” which coincided with the opening of an individual exhibit I had at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, Puerto Rico’s National Archive.
You can view more of Steve’s work on his website where you can also purchase his book which he will personally sign and dedicate to you or anyone to whom you may give it as a gift. If you prefer, the book is also available on Amazon.