Photographer Jimmy Metyko has had a profound influence on the evolution of surf photography, with his unique perspective and distinctive visual style. His tightly cropped, action shots, combined with intimate lifestyle vignettes, reflect his immersion in the culture and showcase an insider point of view. Metyko puts the viewer on the waves with some of the most influential surfers of the last 50 years.
Metyko first picked up a camera while accompanying his parents on multiple trips and travels around the world, being taken out of school for months at a time from a young age. It was when he was about 9 that his father commissioned him with taking the family travel photographs, so he could focus on shooting film.
With his first SLRA camera in hand at 13, Metyko immersed himself in the kaleidoscope of exotic new cultures, sights, and experiences, his eye instinctively drawn to the compelling moment. Camera in hand, his aim was to capture those ephemeral moments at their peak, a style with which he would later photograph surfing as well.
A lifelong surfer, Metyko grew up in Houston, Texas and learned to surf on the coast in Galveston. An avid reader of what were considered the bibles of surf magazines, Surfer and Surfing, he was drawn to the photography of these publications from an early age. Though quite an accomplished surfer himself, he realized despite his aspirations he would never reach the top level, but could be a part of the sport as a photographer. And there he set his sights.
In the Fall of 1979, Metyko left his Texas Gulf shores and moved to Santa Barbara, California, to attend the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography. There he found himself perfectly situated to extensively chronicle one of the most influential epochs in surfing history. With his unique eye and images, he was embraced by a dynamic collection of young surfers who were determined to redefine progressive surfing. Under the tutelage of soon-to-be legendary surfboard designer Al Merrick, most notable of these surfers was future world champion Tommy Curren, with whom Metyko developed a close working relationship. The resulting images from that time are the primary subject of Shaping Surf History: Tom Curren and Al Merrick, California 1980-1983,recently published by Rizzoli Books.
A true testimony to the depth of Jimmy’s involvement, however, is in how after taking a few decades off to successfully pursue other commercial and creative endeavors, he recently stepped back into today’s surf scene and picked up right where he left off, still capable of distilling the entirety of the surfing experience into a single image. And to coin the term… he is as “stoked” to be doing so digitally at age 63, as he was at age 23 shooting actual film with Tommy Curren, Al Merrick, and the whole Channel Islands crew of that unforgettable era.
Yet far from resting on a singular portfolio, Jimmy’s aperture continues to expand, reflecting his continuing passion for travel, adventure, and deep connection with the world’s varied coastal environments. This continuing evolution of Metyko’s body of work testifies to the idea that a true photographer — the artist with a manual camera and an f-stop, and not merely a digital, point-and-shoot content provider — obviously perceives a continuity of essence in a broad variety of subjects, and that those compelling moments, when seen through his creative eyes, are timeless.