Everybody loves a good barrel shot, and Clark Little without doubt does it better than the rest of 'em. Spending more time in the shorebreak than anyone you know, Clark has shaped a career for himself revolving almost solely around documenting the final seconds of a wave's journey. The majority of his work is captured, away from the hectic crowds of the North Shore, alone in the palm of nature’s hand. It's not about wave riding, it's about getting your head around the weird and wonderful beauty of water displacement.
It’s a fleeting moment, these barrels are only here for a few seconds. Each one is unique in its own way. These pulses of energy have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles. We are witnessing the very last second they exist.
It must be like wine tasting or looking at contemporary art or listening to Bob Marley for the first time.
The more you see the more you look at the detail and notice the subtle differences. It must be like wine tasting or looking at contemporary art or listening to Bob Marley for the first time. The first time you see a wave, you probably don’t get it. It moves too fast and happens too quickly. There is too much going on to see all of it. Then you stack on all of the waves you see in a lifetime when you hang out at the beach or surf or look at pictures on the web and magazines, and you build up a database in your head. You become a wave connoisseur and probably really get into the details.
These waves create a shape full of texture, colour, movement, and even sound and touch. It a full sensory thing. And then mysteriously it's gone. Within a minute there is no evidence that it even existed. Unless, of course, you capture it with a photograph or have an unusually sharp photographic memory. It really feels special to me.
My wife brought home a picture of a wave taken from shore which she purchased in an art store for their bedroom wall. I looked at the photograph and said I could get a better shot, and from inside the ocean and up close.
My camera is my surfboard, bodyboard, handgun, etc... I traded in all of my wave riding tools for the camera.
Growing up on the North Shore, I'm very comfortable being in large surf and pushing my limits. I figured I could get a shot of a big juicy barrel pounding on shore.
I told my wife I could get better shots of waves, I had to act on my words. I went out and bought a cheap waterproof housing through Amazon for a cheap point and shoot camera and immediately started taking pictures of the waves from the shorebreak.
The results of these photo shoots surprised me and amazed some of my family and friends, which provided positive reinforcement to continue shooting. Within a few months, after getting hooked and seeing the potential to get even better shots, I upgraded to a professional setup with the purchase of a Nikon D200, fish-eye lens and waterproof housing.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time at Keiki can break a bone, paralyse you or worse. On the bigger days, or even smaller days, the danger is real. I have not had it too much happen in the injury department. Lucky.
Growing up on the North Shore, I'm very comfortable being in large surf and pushing my limits.
A few years ago I was held under by a series of very big waves, and couldn’t get up for air. About 8 big waves came in a row. Some I got under, others I was held under, some for two waves. Things start fading out and I was thinking of my family, wife and kids. I thought it could be the end. Luckily, I was able to get back up in time and fight the rest of the waves. When I got into shore I was shaken and have been more careful since.
In other cases, I have separated my shoulder when I got picked up by a wave and thrown into the dry sand. There was a loud crunch and my shoulder hurt. I had a hard time moving it for a few weeks, but was back photographing about 3 weeks later. It still has a big bump at the top. Other times I have been hit in my head by my camera. That is probably the most dangerous part. The camera weights about 10 pounds. I have a leash that connects it to my wrist in case it slips out of my hand. A few times it has hit me in the head and given me some gashes with blood coming down. A bad hit could lead to drowning, so I have to be careful with the housing.
Things start fading out and I was thinking of my family, wife and kids. I thought it could be the end.
I think it was Surfer Magazine, which published a few shots. Can’t remember which ones, but probably Sand Monster and some of my early Waimea shorebreak shots. But what really took off was 6 months later when I sent a UK press agency a collection of my best shots. A few days later everything took off like wildfire. I woke up in the morning with 700 emails in my inbox. The top UK newspapers published shots, then it spread to the USA, with television shows calling me to get on the next flight to New York to do live TV. Two days later I was on Good Morning America which is a top rated morning show filmed in New York. It’s been a wild ride since.
The top UK newspapers published shots, then it spread to the USA, with television shows calling me to get on the next flight to New York to do live TV
My aspiration is taking pictures in the shorebreak – the same as when I first started. I still love it like a kid. My goal is to have fun. As long as this continues with wave photography, I will keep going. I will push myself to get some better shots, bigger waves, new angles, new ideas. I have been venturing into swimming with sharks without a cage and capturing those animals in the wild. That is a rush too.
I don’t like crowds, so I don’t go to the famous north shore breaks. Of surfers, I shoot a lot of Flynn Novak in the shorebreak. He really charges the sand pit barrels. I think he is one of the best in shorebreak.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time at Keiki can break a bone, paralyse you or worse.
You're obviously well known for your photography, but do you also ride waves yourself? What's your chosen craft?
I really don’t surf much anymore. Once a year? I used to surf the shorebreak a lot back in the early / mid 90’s. Even bodyboarded and bodysurfed. I just loved shorebreak and getting in the barrel, so my craft evolved and changed over time. The surfboard was what really gave me a rush since it added an extra layer of adrenaline with the danger factor. But everything then evolved to the camera now. My camera is my surfboard, bodyboard, handgun, etc... I traded in all of my wave riding tools for the camera.
Sharks, turtles, rainbows, the family. Love getting shots of my kids playing their sports, baseball, soccer, etc.
Proudest achievement in photography?
A few things: I was presented with the Ocean Photography Award at the Smithsonian Museum a few years back, along with having two large photos on exhibit for 6 months at the Smithsonian Museum. I had a two page spread published in National Geographic right at the beginning of the magazine, and more recently, a Nikon ad campaign and documentary video launched a couple of weeks ago.
I really like Ansel Adams work. But too many favourites to narrow it down.
What's next for Clark Little?
I am doing a big advertising campaign for Nikon which launched a couple of weeks back. TV commercials, ads, billboards, videos. We have been working on it since this summer. I have a winter book signing tour that will go through California with 6-8 stops. There's more on the burner, but can’t talk about it quite yet.