Thomas Campbell oozes creativity, and one feels like he or she can pick up some sort of artistic ability just by being in his presence. A man of many talents -- sculptor, painter, filmmaker, photographer -- he's crafted some of the most intriguing surf and skateboard cinematography in the last decade and his creative achievements span multiple genres.
Campbell's latest project is a wonderfully curated collection of surf photographs from his archives, titled "Slide Your Brains Out" -- a selection of some of his favorite images from his many years traveling with some of surfing's most exciting figures. XGames.com spoke recently with Campbell to find out about his new book (now in its second printing), future projects and his ability to maneuver within many artistic realms.
XGames.com: What inspired this new book, my friend? Thomas Campbell: Well, I was a photographer long before I was a filmmaker; I worked for Transworld Skateboarding and Skateboarder [magazines] for about 12 years. I just kept taking pictures, even when I was working on my surf films. I'm always just interested in documenting people that I'm interested in, whether they're surfing or just in different moments of life; because of that, I have a rather large archive of images, and a lot of it has never really been seen.
I kind of came from working in magazines, and in a lot of ways I don't really like working for magazines, because a lot of the time you go halfway around the world and shoot these pictures, and you might have this one that is your favorite and that's the one that invariably gets run as a two by three [-inch spot photo] or doesn't get run [at all]. I just wanted to create a series of books using my photographs in ways that I wanted to see them.
Is it all shot on film?
Yeah, it's all film; I pretty much only shoot film. I love it and I think it honors the scenario. I just never felt very strongly about digital. It's not like I don't recognize its purpose; if you work for a magazine, where you need to be turning around things quickly, I think it's a really good platform. I look at my photos as art pieces, and I love film, so all the pictures I take are film. I'm waiting to get a big batch of negatives in the mail today.
What were the criteria for the photos in your archive to be included in this book?
The first [book] is just sort of a general idea -- kind of a crosscut of 15 years of surf photography. There are some greatest-hits photos in there that just sort of naturally wanted to be there, and then the rest of it I approached in a more rhythmic way, like what wanted to be there balance wise. It didn't have to necessarily be the best photos ever, but what worked best together. I was kind of loose about it.
It was fun to let it evolve and be what it wanted to be. There's a few kind of "breath" pages in it -- some white spreads that are littered throughout so you can have your moments to pause and be there with the images.
Were these photos taken all over the world?
A small percentage of them were shot on trips from my movies, but yeah, they're from all over. There is some from Sri Lanka, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Africa and everywhere else you could think to go surfing.
There's been a lot of travel time in the last 15 years. In general it's just photos of people I like; besides the more-abstract photos, the people in the book are people I like, and I like what they do regardless of whether or not they are well known.
It seems like there has been a bit of a renaissance in the surf world in the last few years and riding all types of boards is considered cool again. Do you ever think that your work might have played a part in that?
You know, I grew up in Dana Point [Calif.], and I was mainly skateboarding. When I was young I started riding longboards because there was this really amazing wave right by my house. People weren't really riding longboards then, but this wave is perfect for longboarding, and to me and my friends it was just normal. I never really thought about divisions, so when it came to making the movies I have made, I just wanted to show everything I like. I just wanted to document surfing.
What projects are you working on?
I'm working on a skateboard film with Javier Mendizabal and Madars Apse; it's for Quiksilver Europe. They have a cool, artistic viewpoint and they seem really supportive of making weird stuff. I have been filming with French Fred and it's been going really good and it should be done in April. It's going to be a strange film; I don't think there's been a film like it, and it will be tripped out and different.
I also have, like, 12 ideas as far as books; this year I'm going to work on doing some exhibitions around this book, and then in 2014 I will put out another book. I think that one will be about surfing in Morocco. The books after this will probably be more topic-orientated, and this one ["Slide Your Brains Out"] is kind of a general opener. They will all be the same size and format, though, so they can sit on a bookshelf as a series.
Will you be making more surf movies?
There could be something. I don't think I will ever do a really big surf movie like the ones I have done, because it's a lot of work and I think in general I have kind of documented what I'm interested in. There are some possibilities, though; Alex Knost, Dane Reynolds and I have been talking about some stuff. Nothing is going to happen right away, though, because I have to finish this skate movie first, so we will see where it goes.