Indiana Jones of surfing photography
Friday 04 November 2005
Larry Moore was a front-line hero in the "Ing/Er" wars, the feud that split the two magazines dedicated to disseminating surf culture in the United States, Surfing and Surfer. He was an innovative and prolific photographer who rose to become the highly influential photo editor at Surfing, with some 43 cover shots to his credit.
Surfer was founded in 1960 by John Severson and liked to call itself the "bible" of surfing. For a while it was the only player on the field. When Surfing appeared in 1964, it represented not so much a new religion as a schism in the old. Moore was to become one of its most ardent believers and defenders. Ultimately there developed a grudging camaraderie between the two camps. But Moore retained a combative cold-war mentality and refused to fraternise.
The son of a Los Angeles fireman, Moore learned to surf at Huntingdon Beach. He might have followed a career as a teacher if not for a draft-dodging friend who gave him a Pentax K1000 camera in exchange for $100 to hightail it to the Canadian border.
Moore began taking photos of locals surfing in 1970, at the age of 22, while living in a trailer at Santa Ana Jetties in Orange County. He made his name with a style - that would come to define a new standard - of sharp, tight, perfectly lit, explosive water shots, published under his alias, Flame (alluding to his head of striking red hair).
Moore was once described (by the current editor-in-chief of Surfing, Evan Slater) as "the Oxford English Dictionary of surf imagery" and "peerless in his technical knowledge of surf photos". On the beach and in the water, Moore in action was never less than a highly committed, well-drilled, superbly equipped professional. He was inseparable from his massive (1,000m+) lens, which he carried around like a bazooka. Bill Sharp, then editor of Surfing, who now masterminds the Billabong Odyssey big-wave quest, described him as "the ultimate team player". If you were on his side, he was a benevolent father-figure; to his adversaries, he was a monster.
Larry Moore bullied and nurtured a generation of young, emerging photographers like John S. Callahan and Aaron Chang. In the 1980s, at the peak of the rivalry between the two magazines, beating "Er" had become his consuming obsession. Moore was always the first to test out new equipment, new film stocks, new angles, experimenting with waterhousings, pole-cams, follow-cams, blimp-cams. And he was one of the first to make systematic use of the meteorological breakthroughs that enabled surfers to make more reliable long-distance predictions about wave activity.
In the winter of 1985-86, his photographs of Todos Santos in Mexico revealed waves on a scale that hitherto had been widely thought to be exclusive to Hawaii. When rival "Er" photographers got wind of what he was doing and shot over his shoulder, Moore had the feeling that they were poaching his waves and his surfers and contemplated clandestine Watergate-style schemes for stealing the images back again. He hated to get scooped.
Bill Sharp depicted him in a cartoon as a photographic Indiana Jones, with a whip in his hand, pursued by imitators, with the caption, "Some Lead, Others Will Follow". Moore had the cartoon pinned up over his light-table for some 20 years.
In the Nineties, Moore scored over his adversaries by pioneering expeditions by plane and boat (under the code-name "Project Neptune") to the Cortes Bank, the underwater mountain 100 miles off San Diego. "Twenty miles from Cortes Bank we could see it breaking," Moore eventually recalled. "As we got closer and closer, we were screaming louder and louder. It was something I will never ever forget." His picture of Mike Parsons carving down the face of a 66ft wave in January 2001 sent shock waves around the surfing world and became the jewel in the crown of the documentary Step into Liquid (2003).
Surfing recently published a collection of Moore's work under the title Flame: California's legendary surf photographer. "Flame" only publicly came out as Moore in 1997 in a typically militant Surfing photo feature entitled "Larry's Army". In 2001 Surfing and Surfer were both acquired by the media company Primedia, which has led to a mood of détente and rapprochement. Moore belonged to a more epic and confrontational age.
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