The North Shore of Oahu—quite likely the most photographed surfing destination in the world—is the go-to reference point for big wave-riding for both surfers and non-surfers. It is home to world-class breaks, sees some of the cleanest swells and hosts top international contests. Behind the corporate sponsors, product tosses, glossy magazine shots and tourist brochures lies a local culture with a deep respect for nature, the ocean and preserving the integrity of their community. With this in mind, Brooklyn-based photographer Cole Barash (known for his action sports and lifestyle photography) turned his lens away from noise of the crowd and hype. The result, is his 92-page book “Talk Story” anchored around John John Florence, a North Shore local who at 21 years old has the professional surfing world on his shoulders.
Shooting the project entirely on film, Barash took the risk of waiting months for his film to be developed before piecing together the narrative. The results are stunning, appealing to lovers of the sport as well as those with little to no attachment to it. In a sense, “Talk Story” is more of a documentary bordering on ethnography than pure surf photography.
There are boards, waves and the beach is always a few pages away, however there is also vulnerability, family life and emotion. Through this approach, a community emerges. It’s one that Florence—described by Barash as soft-spoken and humble—despite his world ranking, appears to know his place in. Few photographers capture contemporary Hawaiian surfing culture with such deft attention to the social forces at play in the local communities. It doesn’t hurt that Barash is highly skilled in managing light conditions and bringing forth rich textures in both landscapes and subjects.
Images courtesy of Cole Barash, gallery images courtesy of Matt Catalano