We welcome back our series Beyond the Frame, where photographers from last year's Sony World Photography Awards share the stories behind their successful images. First up is Jonathan Taylor, who made the trip from Portland to Los Angeles to try out his new camera on the picturesque Venice Beach. Here he shares what draws him to photographing the ocean and those that are brave enough to ride it.
‘Although we know a lot about the ocean, it’s still such a mystery. It’s waves toss and turn in a beautiful display of fury and strength. It shapes and molds all that it touches, it welcomes all yet obeys none, it is beautiful chaos.’
There is something about being in Venice Beach, California, that will always hold a special place in my memory. Maybe it’s the colours painted by the rising sun, the conversations with the locals who’ve been going to that same pier for decades, or perhaps it’s the swirls of teal and blue as the waves break on the shore.
I always make sure I’m fully present when I’m on that pier, to breathe in and experience all that’s happening in front of me. Although we know a lot about the ocean, it’s still such a mystery. It’s waves toss and turn in a beautiful display of fury and strength, it shapes and molds all that it touches, it welcomes all yet obeys none, it is beautiful chaos.
On one October day the conditions were overcast which, having traveled from Portland with my camera, wasn’t what I was hoping for. I had set out to break in my new Sony a7r Mark IV and three prime lenses (a 35mm, 50mm and 85mm). I wanted to see what photographs I could achieve in some of my favorite places. I gave myself one morning to do it all, to try and capture a beautiful meeting of surfer, wave and my shutter.
This photograph symbolises so much for me. On the surface it’s a female surfer breaking through the backside of a wave. It’s routine, it’s part of the path to surf, it’s simply just one of the steps before standing on the waves. But just underneath the surface of this image, symbolism breaks out. Throughout history we’re all too aware that women have been sidelined – this is the case in surfing culture too. That day the surfer showed me something different. I saw her conquering every wave she set out on, I saw her outshining all the men she was surrounded by, I saw a champion of pursuit, a conqueror. Her breaking through the backside of the wave, was a sign that anyone can break through what might break them. The ocean and surfer taught me something so important that day, they taught me that in order to stand on the waves of this life, we must first travel and go through them. That is why I called this image The Birth of a Surfer.
I submitted this image to the Sony World Photography Awards because I feel it’s the top competition out there. If you look through previous years of contests you’ll learn fast that this competition is where the great photographers come to play. You’ll see so much inspiration from all the corners of the world, plus stories and voices that otherwise might not be heard. I was so honored when I learned of the shortlist because it’s such an esteemed competition to me. I’ve watched those who came before me and have admired so many of their images and stories. To stand alongside the others meant that my voice suddenly had a place. I know that every year, for years to come, I will continue to share my voice and stories.