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It all began on the shores of the Gulf Coast. When I was ten years old, I surfed my first wave in Seaside, Florida while on vacation with my family. This experience single handedly changed my life because it taught me the transformative power of water. From this day onward, I became obsessed with flowing water.
Yet, I did not grow up near the coastline. I was raised in the suburbs of Atlanta Georgia – 6 hours from the nearest ocean. The distance kept me from surfing, so I began photographing water instead. Thankfully, my family returned to the Gulf annually. While staying for extended periods of time, I spent countless hours in the emerald sea, mesmerized by the energy within it. With the camera, I could capture those fleeting moments and take them back to Georgia as memories. But, this created a division within myself: I lived in Atlanta, but my true home was near the beach. The division lasted 15 years until I finally decided it was time to leave Georgia.
Instead of moving immediately to the Gulf, I capitalized on an opportunity of a lifetime. Because my Dad worked for the airlines, I could fly at a shockingly low fare to almost anywhere in the world until I turned 24. So, I saved up for a year, selling photographic artwork and T-shirts at craft fairs in between university classes. With nothing but a surfboard and backpack full of clothes, a tent, a sleeping bag, and camera gear, I set out on a yearlong journey to surf the earth and document the waters along the way.
How could one embark on a surf pilgrimage without visiting the birthplace of surfing? With the thought in mind, I began in Hawaii – Oahu, The Big Island, and Kauai. These islands are situated in an uninterrupted expanse of sea, thereby receiving the Pacific’s massive open ocean swells. Like many Hawaiians, I fell into the rhythm of the elements: rising with the sun and syncing into the pace of nature. But one day, I rolled out of my tent and paddled out into massive breakers. Paddling for a set wave, I misjudged my position as a 15-foot wave broke straight above me. White wash engulfed me below the surface, pushing me into the abyss. I was thrashed around like a ragdoll, as the force of a two-story building of water dumped on my back. It was in this moment that I learned to respect the ocean like the Hawaiians. In the time spent there, I learned this respect transfers to all types of water. The significance of water for the Hawaiians runs much deeper than how the western world views it today. They treat it with reverence, protecting precious sources and practicing conservation. This would later influence the artwork I began to make on the Gulf Coast.
Next, I headed to Chile in South America, where I camped near the fabled wave “Punta de Lobos.” This wave is one of the most iconic point breaks in the entire world. While surfing in the frigid waters, I discovered that the place is home to generations of artisanal fishermen who hand harvest kelp, shellfish, and local fish species. I’d be out in the water, with the fisherman diving below me catching their food for the week. Through them, I learned firsthand how the ocean gives life to us humans and the rest of the food chain. The ocean is the resource that we will be infinitely in debt to, yet it’s a place that gives finitely.
Following Chile, I wandered halfway around the world to Bali, Indonesia. By the time I reached it, I’d already spent half-a-year surfing and documenting my journey. Many themes surrounding water usage kept remerging every place I went. I surfed nearly every day, but I became fascinated with the ancient water management system, known as the “subak.” This irrigation system for rice paddy fields was developed in the 9th century and is still in place today. For the Balinese, irrigation is not simply providing water for the plant's roots, but water is used to construct a complex ecosystem which all Balinese people rely on.
After Indonesia, I visited part of Europe before heading to Peru. Out of all the places I’d dreamed of surfing, Peru was at the top. Here I surfed waves for over a kilometer, which is like a fairy tale for a surfer. Prior to my arrival, Peru experienced record devastating floods. I experienced the remnants firsthand: collapsed bridges, washed away homes, and closed roads, all of which reminded me of the potential danger water has.
After I spent a year around the world, and surfed some of the best waves on the earth, I finally moved back to the place that first inspired my love for water: the gulf coast. Reflecting on the whole year abroad, I really saw how water connects us all no matter where we are on the planet. I gained many different perspectives on water, from the respect of the Hawaiians, the vitality of the ocean in Chile, the agricultural use in Indonesia, and the consequences of climate change in Peru. Yet something that emerged was the duality of water: it provides life just as easily as it can endanger it, and our usage influences this. All around the world, people are sustainably using and misusing water. This got me thinking: What is happening to the water of Walton County and the Gulf of Mexico? So I’ve been creating artwork around this idea, raising other questions. How are all the watercourses of the Gulf being influenced? What does water mean to the people around the Gulf? What draws people to the Gulf waters?
Using aerial photography, I am able to explore different perspectives and challenge the viewer to look at water in a new way. On the surface, my collections are based on the allure of water. Yet, on a deeper level, the images aim to inspire a deep respect for the Earth’s waterways. Ultimately, water is all we have; it facilitates our very existence. It is why we are here on this tiny blue planet. While trying to accommodate the needs of our rapidly expanding civilizations, we are inherently reshaping the Earth and its water. Thus, it is my hope that my artwork will inspire people to not only appreciate our watercourses, but also think about how we can make them last for future generations.
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