American photographer, LeRoy Grannis documented the evolution of surfing from its humble
beginnings that grew into a global sport and lifestyle, witnessing first-hand its epochal development in the history of American surf culture. Cult to Culture: Photographs by LeRoy Grannis is the first West Coast museum presentation of the artist’s work. Organized by the Long Beach Museum of Art, the exhibition explores Grannis’s mastery in the medium and his ability to capture iconic images that played a profound role in shaping the world of surfing during its golden age of the 1960s and the ‘70s.
A native of Southern California, Grannis or “Granny” as he would later be called, was born in Hermosa Beach in 1917 – right before the end of World War I. Learning to surf at the age of 14, Grannis was well immersed in the subculture of an era overshadowed by the Great Depression, having virtually nothing but easy access to ideal coastal spots, such as Bluff Cove in Palos Verdes Estates. Alongside a small community of surfers, Grannis became a member of the Palos Verdes Surf Club, founded by one of his ‘crew’ and influencer, John “Doc” Ball in the early 1930s. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, California witnessed a steep decline in surfing as key players, including Grannis and Ball enlisted to join the military. It was not until after the War at the age of 42 when Grannis first began exploring the medium of photography, initially as a way to relieve stress from his day job at Pacific Bell Telephone Company. Schooled under his friend “Doc” Ball, who had been photographing surf life since before the war, Grannis drew influence from the world he was most familiar with, photographing his son who had picked up the sport and local surfers at the 22nd Street break in Hermosa Beach and other coastal beaches throughout Southern California.
The 1960s mark a pivotal time for Grannis who had begun to document a migration of Californian surfers venturing across the Pacific to take on giant waves as surfing entered into mainstream culture. Grannis’s groundbreaking images defined by their striking compositions, close angle of the action with water shooting up, as depicted in the image, Dewey Weber, 22nd Street, Hermosa Beach (1966) for example, immediately brought attention to the
photographer as one of the most important documentarians of the sport. In 1966, Grannis was voted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame as the number one cameraman. The exhibition at LBMA showcases a time capsule selection of surf photography captured through the lens of the famed veteran, from the artist’s gelatin silver prints of the early ‘60s to the sun drenched blue ocean captured in the chromogenic prints well into the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Shooting images from San Diego to Malibu, California, to Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii, the
exhibition reveals the innovator within as Grannis frequently traveled and pushed technological boundaries to capture the free-spirited essence of the evolving sport.
LeRoy Grannis (b. 1917 – 2011) has been featured in numerous publications, most notably, LeRoy Grannis: Birth of a Culture (2008) and LeRoy Grannis: Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s (2013), two monographs published by TASCHEN. The artist has shown in institutions throughout the world, including the Brooklyn Museum, NY; M+B, Los Angeles, CA; Fifty One Fine Art Photography, Antwerp, Belgium; Le musée Nicéphore-Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, France; New Orleans Museum of Art, LA; Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne, Switzerland; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; and the Laguna Art Museum, CA. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; National Portrait Gallery, D.C.; and TASCHEN, Germany, among others.
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