Written By: Emily Dammeyer
Gerard Yunker, a Calgary-based BLVDSelect member, has recently traveled to the Canadian coastal town of Tofino, BC to for a personal project aimed at capturing Canadian surfers in their natural environment. Although originally drawn to the area for the landscapes, Yunker realized that photographing the members of this little known but fiercely dedicated community of surfers with the dramatic landscapes would create a truly unique personal work series. He recalls thinking, “This is a place where these athletes live, its an interesting sport, and not as well known as it is in other parts of the world, and people don’t really understand it. This would be an interesting opportunity to do a personal body of work."
Through a friend, Yunker was able to stay in Tofino during the low season to truly immerse in the local surf culture. What compelled Gerard to create this project was the fact that Canadian surfers aren’t as well known around the world because of the chilly temperatures and with advances in wetsuit technology, athletes can now surf and train all year round, which as Yunker states, “is a more intense experience.” This in turn has allowed the surfing scene in Tofino to grow into a much larger and better-known sport. Many of the surfers that Yunker was able to photograph are sponsored professionals and who live in Tofino.
Yunker was able to capture the professionals in varying stages of their careers. He shot Pete Devries, currently the top surfer in Canada, and Mathea Dempfle-Olin, who is only 12 years old and has an exciting career ahead of her. There is currently a vote to include surfing in the 2020 Olympic games, which would be a first in history. If surfing is included, Dempfle-Olin is definitely on track to represent the Canadian Team. Shooting her was not originally part of the plan. “When I was there doing my research, she was never on my list when I left Calgary to go do it, but speaking to the locals they said, ‘you really need to shoot Mathea. She’s an amazing girl.’ When you immerse yourself in the environment you learn about more people, and she came to be on my list. I got to see her surf, and she really is amazing!”
Yunker's favorite aspect photographically of this personal series is the lighting element of the shoot. “There is a beauty in manipulation through lighting," he says. His challenge was to strike the delicate balance of maintaining a realistic element, while creating dramatic, epic and ‘superhero-esque’ imagery. The goal was to use environment and light the athletes within it to achieve this dramatic theme without the shots appearing over lit.
Finding these impressive landscapes came from asking the athletes themselves for their favorite spots. While finding the landscapes proved to be fairly simple, the weather and the landscape itself provided an extra obstacle. He particularly remembers shooting Hannah Scott because of the challenging weather element of the shoot. “I got hit by so many waves, I wasn’t prepared for how cold that water was. I really should’ve been wearing a wetsuit myself, to be perfectly honest. You do what you need to do to get the image.” This is endurance aspect of the series is one that will stay with Yunker for years to come. "It's very challenging to be hit by that cold water, but you invest so much into it that you move beyond the pain of it. Even so, it was fun!"