Work and life. To many, it's become one in the same: a monotonous routine of trying to blend oil with water. Like being stuck on a carousel that won't stop spinning, you can't figure out how to hop off and look at the damn thing from the outside. A perpetual dizziness keeps you from being able to focus on anything but what's in front of you. So you just stay where you're at.
Life and work. To a lucky few, it's no routine at all, but a symbiotic relationship that one couldn't fathom separating. The two become so intertwined that one's passion in life feeds their creativity at work. There is no separation, and there doesn't need to be.
Enter Dane Peterson.Photo: Chris Thomas
Wanted to talk mostly about photography with you, it's obviously been your main form of art these days. Where did you start, when did you get into it?
I got into photography at about 2002, at that time I was surfing professionally. I was doing a lot of trips with photographers, mostly editorials for different publications around the world. At the time, I had a friend who was a fairly avid photographer herself and I was about to head out on a trip to Japan. She had never been and really wanted to see what it was like, and asked me to shoot some stuff, since I was so stubborn and always dealing with photographers in those days, I honestly had NO interest in taking photos myself, I was in the mindset of 'fuck this I can't deal' haha, but yeah, she ended up talking me into it, I took a couple rolls and that was virtually my first experience shooting anything. Just a simple point n shoot, with I think aperture control, it was a little Yashica 35mm, I don’t remember what exact model, but it was hers, so after the trip I just gave it back to her. She had it all processed and then randomly rang me up one day to share the photos I took. By this point I had already forgotten about it, but then just the excitement and the joy that it gave me once I got to flick through the little shitty 6x4 prints, or 5x7’s, or whatever they were, it kinda put a little fire under my ass.
I was really good friends with Thomas Campbell at the time and I had been working with him on a couple of film projects: The Seedling, Sprout, a couple other little things. I asked him his opinion as to what I could start out with. He recommended I find myself a Nikon FM2 with just your stock standard 50mm lens. So I found one on eBay, I actually still have and use that camera today; it's a little workhorse, bulletproof. Yeah, so the FM2 that’s kinda what really started it all.
Photo: Kayla Varley
Then Scott Hulet at Surfer's Journal saw some of my work somehow. He reached out and was like 'Hey, I saw this, or saw that, and heard you'd been shooting, I'd be interested to see some stuff that you dig, send me some photos'. So, I sent him a folder and he gave me a lot of really constructive criticism and just like a verbal pat on the back, like as if to say, 'You should nurture this, you've got a decent eye'. Fast forward a little over a year and he hit me up again so I sent him another batch of work and he was into it, then wanted to do a portfolio. I was like 'Whaat?! Alright, but you're fuckin crazy dude!' In my head I was hesitant, like, isn't this gonna bum people out, is he just trying to fill some pages? I was young, and still pretty green, so I had zero confidence at the time. Hahah.
It's pretty intimidating for sure.
Yeah! To say the least, haha. I wasn't a professional photographer, I was actually quite wary of it all still. But he thought the stuff was cool and knew I had been published at least a handful of times so he wanted to dedicate a few pages to it. He pretty much twisted my arm. But literally from that point on, people started hitting me up to do little gigs. Around that time, I got hired by ROXY and became really close friends with Sonny Miller. He was probably the only person that’s actually truly mentored me at all, but obviously, Sonny shot motion film so it was a bit different, he was just such a lovely, passionate guy, we were working together a lot, and was always extremely supportive. He just told me to keep doing what I was doing, just “fuck what all the old, salty surf photographer dogs that are all bitter and twisted are saying, and I know they're hating on you, but you're doing cool shit, don’t let it bother you”. To me that was such a huge inspiration and push, cuz most people don’t know this, but I got a lot of flak. Photographers of the day were not stoked that this longboard kid was now shooting and producing results, haha. They were not fuckin stoked at all... And it was really weird because I wasn't shooting all digital! I was still shooting a lot film and they were now shooting 100% digital and it was like, I can understand where you’re coming from, but this all just kinda happened organically haha. I wasn't trying to tread on anybody’s toes, ya know?
How has that transition been in this digital age now with social media and everything? Do you randomly find your photos on other accounts and -
All the time. Constantly.
Must be pretty difficult to keep that so tight, especially with your mentality of having that full control over where your stuff is...
100%. And I'm very pedantic; maybe because the majority of the work that I do is with analog methods? I’m unsure, but I definitely hold it very close to my heart. Maybe more than others, which can sometimes be at a fault. It's interesting, you know, like the whole digital era has, on one aspect kinda killed certain rates for some people, I mean in the sense that these days EVERYONE and their mother is a self proclaimed photographer and working for poor rates to get “exposure”. But really if you look at it on another aspect, it has actually opened up all these different, weird, and bizarre avenues for photographers that never existed before… I dunno, there's so many ways, so many interesting ways of looking at it, I try not to let it bum me out too much and just stay focused on doing my own thing haha.
It's gotta be kinda tough to keep a nice outlook on it when you can constantly find yourself going down those rabbit holes.
It's trippy too cuz you know, you'll do something personal and be super fucking stoked on it, and then say you post it on INSTAHAM. But then people are so used to seeing these mundane, bright, white washed, or hyper saturated images, that they don’t understand it, it doesn't register to them, so it's hard to know if anyone gives a fuck based off your likes or followers, that is if you really care. But that’s totally fine with me; I try not to look into it too much, and just post stuff I'm stoked on and have been enjoying creating. I recently started processing all my own black and white and am starting to get really into that. Just going back to the whole control comment, there's something to be said about conceptualizing a shoot, having an idea, producing it, setting it all up, seeing it through, bringing it back home, processing your film, fucking with your chemicals and your developing times to achieve your desired look, cutting your negs, keeping em dust free, scanning them, and then putting them out into a digital platform, it's a lot of work, and takes a hell of a lot of time but... I love it. I fucking love it hahaha.
That actually kinda leads into my next question. Where did that all knowledge come from, just trial and error? I selfishly just want to know for myself haha.
Yep, mostly just trial and error. Shooting a lot of rolls in my yearly days on the FM2, and just fucking with things constantly, always testing new things. With the BW processing it’s a little different, I mean every once in a while, when I'm totally stumped, I can reach out to my buddy Ray, or I'll try and google some info, usually about what type of developers work best with what type of film stock, development times, things like that. Not necessarily photography techniques. I feel like there's so much copycat work being done these days that I try to stay in my own headspace and conceptualize my own ideas. I mean, it's always good to build mood boards or sorta give a model or a brand a presentation on a feeling, and stem ideas off that, but it's very rare, unless a client makes me copy something directly...and jeez, I fuckin hate that.
Are there any photographers that you look up to though or have drawn influence from?
Umm, yeah, Peter Lindbergh! Fucking amazing black and white photographer. I love his studio work it's absolutely stunning. He's definitely inspired me to work harder on my own black and whites. I saw some really beautiful stuff that he'd done with celebrities in the late 80s and 90’s and it was just all immersed in black, utilizing black seamless' and/or black backdrops. That was a huge inspiration to me, to mainly just push my own boundaries a bit and that's led me to producing some stuff that I'm fairly happy with and that's quite different. From that concept it stemmed new ideas for me, I was like, ah I want to do some multiple exposures like this, or I want to do some multiple exposures that also include some slow shutter techniques, and then add a little bit of this or a little bit of that. I’m not one to shoot self-portraits, but I had a job coming up with Playboy and I had a concept in my head based off that idea, the black backdrop with multiple exposures and motion all incorporated into one, I proposed the concept to them and I don’t think they quite grasped what I was saying, so I had to shoot some self-portraits. Haha. So I did, it worked, and I was super frothing on the results. So, then I shot the concept with Flea and Anthony Ruffo up in Santa Cruz for the PB job, but they didn’t end up using it haha! And I swear, it was seriously the best stuff I produced for them from the shoot. But of course they didn’t use it hahaha.
And that was for Playboy?!
Yeah! Yeah, I've done a couple little editorial things for them in the last 12 months. I shot Greg Long midway through last year, then Flea, Anthony Ruffo, and Vince Collier. They did a piece on big waves and crystal meth and had a pretty crazy interview with those boys telling their whole story. I then somehow got picked to be the guy to shoot all the portraiture and a little bit of surf stuff that coincided with the article, so that was cool. Yeah pretty heavy, but cool, it was like 8 pages or something. It's cool to be on their radar and get random hits of work haha.
How was the transition from, I mean it seems pretty seamless, but from living here, in Malibu, growing up surfing first point and then transplanting to Noosa for so long. What drove that move, was there some crazy catalyst?
Ah that's a long story haha. But first off, I didn’t grow up in Malibu, I grew up kinda inland OC, and then East Los Angeles. My dad was an avid surfer growing up, and I started surfing when I was like 12, so it was always a commute. There were some family issues growing up, mom and pops were on again/off again my whole life and I kinda got the shits with it all when I was about 16. I fortunately knew some amazing people in Malibu who I would always spend weekends and holidays with surfing. They kinda took me in as they saw the situation at home and were like, hey if you ever need a spot we've got your back. So yeah they kinda just took me in as this quasi-adopted teenager at the time, and that really helped nurture my surfing in those years.
Photo: Chris Thomas
I went to AUS for the first time when I was, hmm, in March of 2000 or 2001, so I was either 20 or 21 and, obviously just being a right point hound, I was like, that's the place to go! I was best friends with Jimmy Gamboa at the time, who's obviously an amazing longboarder in his own right and I was hanging out a lot with him, Josh Farberow and Matt Howard, they were kinda like my mentors, best friends and big brothers. Jimmy had been to Aus a couple of times so he took me under his wing and we went on a trip there together, I just lost my shit. It was like, you know when you see those animated cartoons and their eyeballs are popping out of their heads and spinning? I was like that. We got soooo many tubes, not like big crazy tubes, but perfectly manicured, sand bottom point, dredging tubes, that were anywhere from chest high to a couple feet over head. Rama knows, I literally felt like my eyes were spinning in my head and I was happier than a fuckin pig in shit. My face was hurting every afternoon from laughing and just being so stoked haha. I was like, god, I just gotta stay here, I gotta make it happen…
Photo: Chris Thomas
Surfing in LA is just a whole 'nother beast, we have such a limited resource of good quality waves. People are so fuckin jacked up on coffee after sitting in traffic for two hours that by the time they get into the surf they're just ready to rip people’s heads off, even if the waves are like 2 feet and on shore. And you're just like 'Really dude?!' haha. This is not what surfing’s about. Maybe you should try some chill pills instead. Hahahaha
Have you ever messed around with filming, moving pictures and the like?
A little bit. Um, yeah when I first started out shooting stills, I did a couple little moving projects, shot some super 8 and mini dv stuff, and did a little piece for Patagonia in like 2004 I think, we called it Substituted by Blue, it was a little motion piece from this trip I did to Sri Lanka with Mick Hughes, Belinda Baggs, a young Harrison Roach. We came away with a fun little piece from there. But yeah, I dunno, I just have a deeper connection with stills. I do have thoughts and ideas that I play out in my head as motion pieces a lot, I just don’t really follow them through or see em out. Although tempting…
Yeah, I guess in a way your photographs still capture all that motion that you could have in a film, ya know.
I try, yeah, there always has to be some sort of emotional connection there for me otherwise I feel like I'm failing. It's gotta tell the viewer something. That's why a lot of my work that you'll see may be really contrasty, or there's an aspect of movement, or say there’s an interesting play on the use of depth of field. There's always some sort of a story there. To me if you look at one of my images and you don't feel anything then I'm failing. I'm actually pretty tough on myself in that regard. I'm always trying to better my work and make people sort of stop for a moment, especially now more than ever with how we’re so inundated with imagery all the time from every conceivable outlet, whether it be the news, fake news, tumblr, blogs, or Instagram you know, that way they can ease up on the arthritis in their thumbs or index fingers, maybe they can pause for a second and actually fuckin appreciate something hahaha. You know, just be able to actually think or feel something instead of mindlessly scrolling all the time...
Ha! Yeah, we live in a pretty damn weird world at the moment, that's for sure.
It's so strange.
Photo: Kayla Varley
What's your camera quiver like, what’s your daily driver for your camera, if you had one to choose?
Well today I shot with this model downtown named Laurel and I used a Nikon f100, a Polaroid 195 land camera, a Polaroid sx70, and I finished a roll on that original Nikon FM2 that I mentioned earlier…
You have any favorite subjects that you shoot?
Yeah, or anything in the past that sticks out that was like, damn that was a really fun or easy, surprising shoot?
There are definitely a few models and artists I’ve collaborated with here in LA that were fuckin awesome to work with. They’re all people outside of this “surfy” realm though… Uhhh lemme think... From a surfing standpoint, Alex Knost, Jared Mell, Kassia Meador and actually JJ Wessels, are always great! They're probably the 4 people in longboarding that I'm still at any given point happy to point a lens at. Um, not too many others get me as stoked as they do though…
They've all got pretty distinct, individual style.
Yeah, exactly, and this element of panache, is that how you pronounce it? Like this elevated level of elegance to their style? For example Jared and Al both have this real abstract flair. Yeah, so they definitely inspire me to shoot a fair bit. Then with shortboarding I really like Rob. Yeah, Machado's great haha. Wade Goodall, too. And I have a couple of other friends that maybe, not so much their level of surfing, but they're just rad humans that I think it's just fun to shoot em. With portraiture and lifestyle stuff, my fiancé Kayla, she's always great and she's a fuckin crazy talented photographer as well. Anytime I have some weird idea, or concept in my brain, she's always supportive, happy to help me see it through and pushes me, which is rad.
Favorite boards right now? What’s your quiver like these days?
Haha man, my quiver is all over the fuckin place haha. There's a few in the backyard there. I've got a couple dud logs that I shaped haha. Umm...
Wait didn't you used to have your own model back in the day, was that on Anderson?
Yeah I had a board model with Anderson in my late teens/early twenties. It went really well. The last few years I lived in AUS and when I moved back here (CA) I had started shaping my own logs. I made one, one really good one, with this dude Takuya Yoshikawa in Japan who kinda showed me the ropes. My dad was a shaper, so I learned bit a from him to start with, and then when this guy from Japan and I started this little company he taught me a lot and we worked on a bunch of boards together, but one that worked amazing.
Is that that purple one I see back there?
That's the last one Takuya and I did together, and then there’s this green one but that one is in fucking storage in Australia... I've got a bunch of boards in Aus that I just cannot get rid of, I sold off most everything before I moved back to California. I had like 40 boards. And I sold a lot of them. The 22 remaining I just cannot get rid of, there's way too much sentimental value. It's weird I look at them and there's this interesting visual timeline of my surfing life, like where it spawned and where they’ve been and trips I have done. I've got my Skip Frye fish, and Rich Pavel twin fins. I've got boards that Barry McGee's painted, boards that Thomas (Campbell) has painted, one that Knost painted when he was really heavily into his art, my original #1 model by Scott Anderson, just RAD shit that I'm like, I just can't, I can't.
But my California quiver at the moment mostly consists of a couple longboards I've shaped myself, and a lot of Manny Caro from Mandala Surfboards. I've got this 5'4" that he calls the Asymmetrical Quad, it's like a super deep-squared off swallow tail and I swear it's the best all-around everyday shortboard for typical grovelly Southern California surf, ya know. It produces so much speed, it’s extremely maneuverable, there's tons of drive and you can still let the tail loose. He made me a lil 5'6" single fin edge board out there that's based off of some of the Greenough stuff that's been happening with this high aspect single fin in it. He actually made me that one for my birthday, a total random gift, sooo stoked on that haha. I helped create this other model/design with him too, The Oracle, the one I have is a 5'8" sorta 2+1 double ender egg. So yeah at the moment that's kinda the extent of my California quiver, but like I said I've got some boards in AUS that I've just gotta get back over here!
Is there any one surf in your life that stands out more than any other, one that brings out your best surf memory?
Yeah man, just one session.
I could say there was one season...It was one of those seasons in Byron where Rama and I were seeing each other all the time. Like between 2001, and I dunno maybe ’03, we had a lot of great memories, waves, and epic sandbars. I feel like after that, Byron kinda, well at least for me personally, it kind of lost its allure, it got so overly crowded that it felt like the original soul that made Byron so special was just sort of being sucked out of the place. It became this over-glorified, over populated, trendy, hipster chic fuckin surf zone. The true locals wont disagree with me there either. Don’t get me wrong its still a magical place, its just a lot fuckin harder to have much of it to yourself.
But um yeah, I think it was in 2001/2002 that I had a couple months in and around Byron where the sandbars were good everywhere, like all the points had epic fucking sand. It was like clockwork: wake up in the morning and you knew you were going to be getting tubed off your fucking head. It was on. From my vague surf and stoned out memory, it must've been like one big cycle of storms or cyclones as it was just so consistent. There was like 42 days straight of waves. To the point where you're getting empty, good, draining tubes daily because everyone was so surfed out. That's when I was surfing really avidly, I was super fit so I could handle it. Like if that were to happen now my arms would be falling off, and I'd be the guy taking the backseat and be going 'fuuuuck I'm pooped, or fuuuuck my back hurts!' But yeah that was definitely a season where I just had tunnel vision constantly, that's all I could think about. Getting tubed. Haha you know, I actually got into kneeboarding that year?
Yeah, just on those smaller days that I got bored with logging or tired of my Frye or Pavel, you could still get really long barrels that were like waist high... on your knees haha.
Photo: Matt Cuddihy
So, you just stopped standing up haha.
Yeah! Well, I didn’t stop! But if it was too small for a shortboard and I was over logging, I could just ride a kneeboard at The Pass or Clarks or Main Beach and just get fricken drained. I had a Morning Mist, it was made in Ballina and it had this super chunky 70s single fin. Two volan patches on the deck for your knees that looked like a butterfly. I was riding that and got a bunch of waves and surprised myself, thinking this is actually way too much fun! I hit up my shaper at the time and he laughed, but I somehow convinced him to make me a custom kneeboard haha. Once I did that I was like, OK, I'm overthinking this too much. Just go back to having fun and stop tripping on it all, haha. That was an interesting period for me haha. A lot of tubes. I mean a lot of tubes hahah.
I can't wait to quote you on that haha…
(Rama) With surfing such a wide variety of boards throughout your life is there any particular shape that you have the most fun on or feel the most fulfilled on?
That's a really good question! Ahhh I don’t want to say yes to any one particular board. I think one of my biggest goals when I was surfing professionally and when I was super dialed into it was, I wanted to be able to ride anything and ride it well. So, it was like this personal challenge I took upon myself to ride everything from your standard, well for me, it's like a 5'7" thruster, most people would say 6'0" but I'm a little short fucker haha. But from that to your quirky little 70s single fin to a twinny to a quad to a log to even, cuz I longboarded professionally, I would even ride a 2+1 or a thruster longboard, even though I didn't like em, as it didn't suit my style, I still wanted to know that I could do it. Plus, I was travelling so much at the time, you never knew what was going to happen, boards got smashed on flights, broken mid trip, and if I didn't have something in particular, I wanted to be confident that I was capable of navigating any type of vessel so to speak. Yeah, I mean, I'm always going to have a certain affinity to my wide hipped out 9'4" singlefin logs and that's basically just a really low volume, knifey-railed kind of refined but performancey heavy pig. But like I said I'm pretty open minded when it comes to shapes.
(Rama) Yeah, it's quite an achievement for folks like yourself that can surf such a wide variety of boards, it's pretty rare out there I find. So yeah, it's been impressive from a very young age to watch you ride all different boards...
Aww Rama that's such a sweet thing to say hahaha.To be honest, I mean yeah, that's rad, I wish life afforded me to still be able to surf like that every day. I mean I'm still in that headspace but yeah, you know I'm fortunate enough to be one of those people that has multiple passions and extremely fortunate to be a very rare person who's been able to make a living from my two main passions so Im not surfing as consistently anymore.
Photo: Matt Cuddihy
I'm just trying to stay stoked, even if I'm not surfing as much I'd like. To be honest though, when I do, I appreciate it a lot more, ya know? When you're surfing full time, even though, like look at Jared and Al, they're shredding their fucking faces off... it's amazing. Like I used to be an inspiration to those kids and now they're an inspiration to me! They'll head up this way and text or call me up 'Let's go for a surfff!' and we're all pumped to get in the water together and I'm over here like 'I'm going to fricken NY tomorrow, or I'm shooting a 3-day campaign, or I’m doing this...' and all I get from the boys is 'Do you even surf anymore dude?' Ah man, like Jared, Jared just gives me shit non-stoppp haha. But it's all good you know, hahaha. Then the flip side of that is, I appreciate the fact that they know and respect how passionate I am about photography, they see the work that I'm doing, and they think it's cool too, so it's rad to have my foot in two completely different worlds or realms and you know just being able to really enjoy both. A lot of people don’t enjoy their work... and some hate their jobs. I make my living shooting and I fucking love it, and I'm thankful for it every day. Ya know?
That's a good note to end it on, yeah?
Haha yeah, cool. I was getting so nervous, we we're getting deep, like tapping my feet on the ground n’ shit haha.
Nah that was good. Thanks Dane haha.
Photo: Kayla Varley