In the mid-sixties Ron Stoner was the best surf photographer in the world. Every month, he would photograph what would become the classic archetypes of what we would come to know as the golden age of Southern California surfing. Then, at the height of his fame, he disappeared forever.
It’s easy to see the byline: Photo/Stoner and chuckle that there was a surf photographer named Stoner and of course he ended up as a casualty of the counter culture of the sixties. But, life isn’t quite that easy to pigeonhole. Stoner’s story arc is less about someone “turning on”, it’s more about trying to find a place where you fit and holding on to it. In Stoner’s case he found it, and then the world changed.
When you think about “surfers” you gravitate towards a certain archetype, Stoner seems to be the complete opposite of that. What becomes apparent in the story is that the work of the surf photographer is a curious thing – it’s near, but not part of the event. It’s present and without, it would barely exist, but it’s not surfing. Stoner was not a surfer in that iconic sense. His ability to tell the story and showcase the honesty of the session transcends that.
Matt Warshaw’s text is poignant and feels honest. It stays away from trying to build a myth, while at the same time it doesn’t tear him down. Its balancing act is finding that place in the middle and it does that superbly. Obviously, the stars of the book are the photographs, and they do not disappoint.
Photo/Stoner is available in better bookstores and surf shops. I got mine here.