Ricky Lesser - Photographer and Cinematographer
Ricky Lesser is definitely one of a kind in the surf photography world. He has been awarded in many occasions for his amazing surf and underwater photography. Ricky creates iconic ocean images around the world, gathering some rad stories like the ones he tells us about:
Tell us a bit about you
I am a 32 year old tentative wanderer. I have 2 kids that rule my life and make it better every day. I have a spicy wife that keeps me in check and on my toes. I am completely content in a struggle that pulls at me daily. Family vs the Road. I am fortunate enough to have an understanding and supportive best friend.
What is it that you like about the surf and the ocean?
It is a relentless source of energy. Whether it is 10 foot or flat you can always feel it. Energy is always being transferred. It is a physiological and metal rehab. Ask anyone who spends anytime in it. It’s the refueling hub for all of us water folks.
When and how did you get started in photography?
When I was younger I was fortunate enough to have a maritime attorney for a father and traveling was his business. On one specific trip to the Caribbean we traveled to a remote island just off the coast of Venezuela. There was one beach on the lee side that was speckled with pink coral throughout the sand, thus the beach was essentially pink. It was called “Pink Beach”. As a young frothy bodyboarder I loved barrels. On one particular day we decided to visit this beach that was pink. Little did I know it was facing at the perfect angle on this tiny island that the trade winds were blowing straight offshore. One other fun bonus that graced me that day, there was a small swell from something or another. When we walked over a small pink sand dune I was greeted with perfect chest high peaks breaking in crystal clear Caribbean waters perfectly groomed by a slight offshore trade winds. This was, for how old I was, my dream as a barrel frother. After I spent an hour or so with a mask on bodysurfing those perfect little anomalies, to the likes of which a Californian had never seen. I asked my dad if I could borrow his 35mm Nikon (not waterproof). Yes, a very trusting father. Throughout the next hour I waited patiently for the smaller waves to come in and framed, then shot, then held up the camera so to avoid KILLING the camera. Again, my dad had faith. I ended up with four rolls (mostly out of focus and speed blurry images), but I had a handful of exposed gems that would have made even Clark Little drool even back then. Ever since, then the ocean has had its teeth in me and the addiction has only evolved. Oh, and the beach of Pinkness was completely wiped away in a hurricane the following year. Only the coral bed remains to this day. The chest high beauties have yet to return.
Who or what inspired you to do what you do?
I don’t think I have made a huge impact in the industry but I have evolved slightly. I am consistently inspired and drawn to the folks who produce great images year after year. Aichner to Noyle. Peter Coulson. Mike Prickett. Neave Bozorgi. Platon. Noah Schutz. Ryan Moss. Whether it be still or moving, the above names are a few that have shown me a slice of their genius, tenacity, creative process, or simply kindness.
In my opinion those who share all they know to those willing to learn are the ones that go furtherest.
Do you travel much because of work?
Yes. It takes me to very desirable and to the very undesirable. It’s always to get a good dose of humility which is healthy.
From the places you have surfed/visited, which one is your favorite so far?
Fiji hands down. If you leave the “Zone” you can find areas which encompass everything good; amazing waves of all types, incredible food (that’s also cheap) and the kindest people ever to smile upon strangers. I would have no problem living there.
What do you love most about your job?
As it is I have a few relevant traits; I am very empathic, I can make a decent image, but most importantly I have a pretty lousy memory. Luckily I have an internal scale that allows me to relive experiences in the exact way I saw them. I find that the images can bring me back like a smell. That and being able to capture something completely beyond what’s in front of the lens, something so visceral, it can encompass the essence of an entire trip in a single frame.
A moment in your career that you will always remember?
I think I can recall a number of amazing perfect days scattered across the globe with good friends and great talents but to mix the genre up a bit I think it would be appropriate to bring up a story of humility rather than conquest. In a cloud of awe and ignorance I swam out a pipe without giving it a proper (due diligent look). It was a proper 2nd reefing day on a building swell. I had about three hours under my belt before I got caught inside on a north set. It was right before the contest so everyone and their mom was shooting (and surfing). The 20+ water photographers were all in the impact zone. I was lugging around a proper 70-200 and that didn’t help my odds. After the collective made it under the first wave the next one was the one that got in my head. I don’t want to drop a height on it because it instantly gathers judgment. It was capping just slightly before it threw. I was just on the inside of the lip, the few shooters behind me caught it worse and got washed in. When I hit the bottom and saw most of the commotion pass I started kicking for the surface. I didn’t have a mask on but could tell I was deeper than I expected. The other guys were 15-20 feet above me. And when I saw that the were bolting when they hit the surface I knew I was in trouble. I finally reached the surface, regained my bearings, and took 3 more on the head. By the last wave I was craving up in both legs and modestly scared shitless. I knew if another northy came in I was fucked. Barley floating I made some small chat with Seth Stafford (amazing photographer and an even better human). I asked what was the best way to get in with this rising swell and shifting conditions. He could see that even though I kinda knew what I was doing I was grossly mentally unprepared. He took me by the arm, spoke into my eyes and told me what I needed to hear and how to handle my way in.
Anyone who has ever spent enough time in the ocean has experienced that intoxicating relief when the weightlessness of water falls away and normal gravity resumes with sand and rock are beneath you. It’s a complete study of humility. Punches a sense of fragility and scope into your bones. The Ocean is the House and the house always wins.
When I was smiling to myself face up on the sand I could only think of one thing. The shear force and immensity of the ocean, I was shown only a fraction of its power & possibility. The genuine and empathic camaraderie was vast in comparison. Good people make the biggest differences.
You also collaborate with The Inertia, is writing something that you enjoy doing on your spare time?
I never considered myself any sort of writer. I was never good at following any of those rules. I like stories, I think that is where the best content lives. Whatever it is. Since I am a bit lazy, being a photographer fits me quite right. I can get a lot said without as much typing.
Exciting plans for the future?
I have a few possible trips in the works but the one that has me most excited is a little exploration we have in the works to some eastern pacific coast that hasn’t been touched by surfers. It is quite the mission to get to but quite off the grid. As most surf trips go we won’t know till we go. I am excited about one other project that has been in the works and has nothing to do with surfing. I am about to launch a gallery of images very dear to my heart. I won’t give too much away but in a nutshell, it’s a collection of crazy colors, underwater off the coast of Catalina island with a few naked gals. It’s gonna be pretty fucking cool.
Where can we find you online?
Posted by: Marta Gallardo, on August 22, 2016
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Ricky Lesser - Photographer and Cinematographer
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