DARCY BROWN - PHOTOGRAPHER
Published 21st May 2018
Darcy Brown battled against the odds to capture this incredible image in the midst of a sea storm off the coast of Cape Town....
Picked by Nikon Ambassador David Yarrow as the winner of the Showcase Black & White photography competition, Darcy Brown's epic image entitled 'Storm Rider' has a suitably impressive backstory. Read on to find out how Darcy battled against tough conditions out at sea, and how this stunning photograph came to fruition.
I was living in Cape Town in a modest apartment with 180 degree sea views from where you could see whales breaching. Amazed by the natural beauty and diversity that is the Mother City, I was also able to indulge a passion of mine shooting surfing at some of the best breaks along the Garden Route from Cape Town to Jeffrey's Bay (J-Bay), the best right hand point break in the world, (at least until the South African government allows the building of a nuclear power plant nearby, destroying it completely). My passion for surf photography had taken me to the North Shore, Mavericks, Surfers, Indo, Oz, etc. but the wild Atlantic pounding the Cape is something special.
Cape Town has so much to offer, it can be hedonistic playground but it can be also dangerous, as I found on one journey into the Townships with local guide Charlie, when gang members took a dislike to our being there and a quick exit was necessary.
In August 2009, I was sat in a bar in Cape Town and chatting to Jw, talking about Big Wave surfing and the local break known as Dungeons at Hout Bay. A storm front was upon the Cape and kick-ass surf heading our way. Anyway, Jw had all the right connections and next thing, I was offered a place on a boat going out early doors, needless to say I snapped his hand off.
So on the cold morning of the 11th August with an Atlantic storm whipping the seas up we met at the harbour, in my bag I had my D300 with Nikon 70-200 f2.8 attached, plus spare body, wide angle, etc. and waterproof cover. Reports were coming in that monsters were being spotted from the headland and so we had to go move the rubber duck, (SAS type dinghy) to get it read. We were in process of pushing it when it became stuck and then with a shove suddenly it wasn't, unfortunately for me my hands were by the metal rod that supports the huge twin engines, which proceeded to slide and in an instant my finger was trapped beneath the weight, breaking it instantly. When the guys were able to move the rod my finger was already black and purple and I had no feeling in the top third at all. "Oh darn", I said, though I could be paraphrasing there a tad. The guys said 'hospital?' - but I looked down at my finger for a moment and only that, then suggested I hadn't come all this way to miss such an opportunity.
With everyone in the boat we started out of the harbour, the waves were already proving choppy and we hadn't made the ocean yet. Once out, we headed for what looked like tidal waves; they estimated that some were 30 -40 feet out there. Now, try and imagine sitting down and looking up at a wave 30 plus feet high, a quarter of a mile wide, travelling in sets of 10-15 seconds apart. The sound alone is like nothing else, bellowing, blowing, snarling beasts of waves that were like nothing I had ever seen before. It is not for the faint-hearted and suddenly faced with these it did cross my mind that I was not a good enough swimmer to find myself overboard in the middle of this. They reckon you need to be able to hold your breath for about 3-4 minutes should you end up in the spin cycle of a big wave and then have to make it to a rescue craft or else the next one will hit you and make you relive the nightmare all over again, which is how even big wave surfers die occasionally. I think I can manage a minute at a push but once you have seen this spectacle, up close and personal, you just know you have to go shoot it, that you will never forget it and you will want to return.
So Captain JJ parks the dinghy with a great view of the sets charging towards us, majestic, towering beasts ridden by the maddest, most wonderful kind of heroes dressed in black, mounted upon their elephant guns of choice, indulging their souls and carving their way towards the exit sign. Handy that, surfers being dressed like a seal, the favourite meal du jour of the Great White shark, in the body of water with the largest population of said beasties on the planet, but as they say in South Africa, "if it's your day Bru". So if I did go overboard then I might well disagree with something that ate me, or be thrown about like a rag doll until water replaces enough oxygen to make it all go quiet. Yet you think more of that afterwards, at length, God knows I did.
I am trying to stand in the duck which was rocking on both axis at once, trying to hold a dslr with 70-200 and a broken finger to boot and that takes some practice, which I didn't have, whilst you race against the clock. Time is precious, you have limited time to shoot the surfer across the face of the wave and your Captain has to then 'gun' the engines to get you over the shoulder of the wave before you become better acquainted with the bottom of the wave than you might like. This means teamwork, the captain watches you take the shot and shouts when he needs to go, you then have to cling to your Nikon necklace, whilst he races for the lip of the wave, which you fly over landing some ten to fifteen feet down over and realise that someone has suddenly swapped water for concrete, the impact is that hard and leaves you feeling like your spine was somehow removed whilst you were trying to ensure your camera bag and all your gear remains in the dinghy. Oh and you might want to think about the refreshing Atlantic spray washing over you and all around you, good old salty sea water, your camera's best friend. Not.
So over the next few hours we saw some of the world's best Big Wave chargers including Frank Solomon, Jason Ribbink and Maya Gabeira, showing it's not just fun for the boys. By the time we had called it a day my hands were numb from the cold, everything was soaked, I had seen tidal waves or the nearest thing to them, changed my definitions of bravery and madness , felt like I had bungeed repeatedly onto concrete and captured some images I would be proud of for a lifetime. Not bad for a day's work and it was only lunchtime, now seasickness to one side, where's the chippy ?
I bought my first camera back in 1984 to go on holiday with and began reading everything I could about photography. After trying out a few different systems, I bought a Nikon D200, and it's been Nikons all the way since then. If it ain't broke etc .... and when you have invested in something you love, why change? If a camera comes to live with me it should know what it is getting into, every one I have owned has survived knocks, dings and more falls than Lee Majors in certain 70's TV show. They have seen deserts, bathed in salt-water and worse, changed colour with dust and yet to a man, my Nikon's have never let me down, though I feel I may have let them down upon occasion.
For me, I choose Nikon for three reasons; form, function and durability. I remember being out with Mark Littlejohn, (UK Landscape photographer of the Year 2014) being treated to his encyclopedic knowledge of his specialist subject, the Lake District. We were wellies deep in a waterfall, as we looked with horror as the camera plate holding my camera and 70-200 f2.8, sheared off its mount and took a dive Tom Daley would be proud of, into the pool of water at the tripods feet. Neither of us could get there to save it, and akin to Tom Cruise' flooded Porsche 928, I could see me going to Nikon and being asked who the U-Boat commander was! One long stay in a bag of rice and silica gels later and no explanation was to be necessary - as both camera and lens returned to being fully functional ! - Now that counts for something doesn't it?!
My kit bag usually contains 2 D-SLR's, Nikon D7100 (but I'm hoping to replace one with a D810 ASAP). Lenses: All NIKKOR; 70-200mm f2.8, 17-55mm f 2.8, 10mm fisheye, 50mm 1.8. Lee Big Stopper, Grads, ND's. Nikon flash SB-910's, Pocket Wizards, Nikon Remotes, Cam ranger, Gitzo tripod. Post processing: Camera RAW, Photoshop CC, Nik filters amongst others - though I cannot emphasize enough, learn core skills, how to apply your own style and finish and adapt what others provide accordingly.
I have qualifications and have awards from the SWPP and BPPA. I am a Fellow of the Spider Awards, having 30 Black and White images recognised in categories including Fine Art, Architecture, Abstract, People, Nature, Nude, Photojournalism, Silhouette, Sport. This image that won for October was the 3rd placed Professional Sports photo in the 6th Annual Awards receiving an Honour of Distinction merit. I had 11 images chosen a week ago for nominee status at this years Spider's, across a range of subjects. Great international recognition and continues to motivate me to grow as an artist.
I have also had the honour of having an image selected by the curator of the John Paul Getty collection and displayed in the Art of Photography exhibition in San Diego.
Surfing: Teahupoo, Tahiti at World Pro event to see the coolest, thickest wave on the planet being tamed by those that can.
Other: Any city with great architecture/history and culture.
Passion is the key, immerse yourself in your art. Keep striving to grow, invest in learning and in yourself, as well as your equipment.