As is true of so many artists and photographers, John Eldridge’s creative output reflects his lifestyle.
Based on the west-facing coast of Cornwall, his is a surfer’s life driven along by the constant flow of Atlantic winds that both fill him with contempt for the cold and energy to travel. An intrepid spirit, for John the horizon is a line he must stand on. Having recently undertaken an extensive junket through Europe, Morocco and the Western Sahara, he brings it all home again with photographs engrained with vivid experiences and the soul of a devoted surfer.
He often reclaims elements from the past, perhaps in his searching for a more authentic, less synthetic future; looking for substance in the imprint of a typewriter, the emulsion of an old polaroid, or simplicity in an ancient surfboard fashioned from wood. To this end, his photographs are as much about his hand as his eye; their beauty as much in the making — more a journey than a destination point.
In paradox, and with the help of modern technology, I pinged some questions to John via email. Though we have travelled and surfed together many times over the year, we weren’t able to meet in person on this occasion. The watchword: fun.
By Jim Newitt
How did your driving to the Western Sahara come about?
I’d been dreaming of living in a van and extended road trips for many years, the wanderlust in me was creeping back yet I’d been somewhat constrained with a mortgage and steady work. That is steady work to pay the mortgage, a closed cycle. I became frustrated and needed to break out so I decided to sell the house and leave the job for good. Which gave me the freedom of space and time to really hit the road, this was in September 2010. So I secured a van, converted it for living and headed south through Spain, Portugal, Morocco and on to Western Sahara.
Tells us about your transport?
It’s a Mercedes 508d. On a previous trip to Morocco I’d seen a few of these vehicles around. I thought they looked like the perfect live-in travelers vehicle. They also have a certain style and look which is solid and rugged, not like anything you see these days. I’m a sucker for classic vehicle design and I think the Mercedes van range through the 70’s and early 80’s is just right on! As far as rugged, well-built, live-in vehicles go anyway. So I’d been keeping my eye out for one for a while. All that seemed to be cropping up were rusted, high mileage worn out vehicles running in at fairly high prices for the age and mileage. I imagined that if I were ever to own one I’d be putting in a lot of work to get one up to scratch. As I came close to completing on the sale of the house I found an ex-military vehicle sell-on business up country and discovered they had a hoard of these vehicles all with extremely low mileages. So of course, I nabbed one and it became my home. I plan on keeping it for a long time and hope to pass it on to future generations when I’m done — if I’m done.
What the biggest draw in traveling for you?
I guess the biggest draw is the chance to surf much better waves than we have here in Cornwall. As far as I’m concerned we have one of the worst coastlines on the planet for good waves! Sure we receive more than enough swell but generally when it hits, we get skunked! We lack points, reefs and defined beach breaks as well as power in the waves. And so for me, traveling is a chance to really surf. Although, Cornwall obviously has a massive draw to me. It has a stunning coastline and there is magic here. Aside from that, I’m interested in new sights, meeting other traveling folk, discovering new cultures and seeing how people live in different parts of the world.
Photo by Greg Martin
Whats interesting you most in your surfing right now?
As far as my own surfing goes, what concerns me most right now is just staying on top of my fitness. I’m 35 now and feel like I’m (prematurely maybe) rolling over the top of the hill as far as my physical surfing ability goes! Having said that, I recently found the most thrill and enjoyment in surfing that I have ever felt last spring in Indonesia. But it is fairly easy to do that in board-shorts and some of the best waves on the planet! Another thing interesting me right now is the uprising of a younger generation of loggers and openminded surfers locally here in Cornwall. I am involved at present in documenting this movement and look forward to watching it grow.
What interests you about analogue photography?
I have a great love of film photography, or at least of its unpredictability and the nuances. I know that digital photography has it’s place. It works wonders in certain situations and has an instant accessibility factor to it but there is something about the color and depth in film that will never be replicated and is untouchable. The advent of ‘Instagram’ and other instant digital photographic imaging has me feeling somewhat dismayed — mostly because at low resolution it actually looks fairly good! But when push comes to shove, the enlargements of film photographs of the original style and format of which they try to emulate really shine and hopefully connoisseurs of such images can understand the difference.
How has growing up surfing in Cornwall, England shaped your artistic and or world view do you think?
I think that the Cornish way of life is fairly laid back and spontaneous, I am sure that this has shaped the way that I take photographs. And perhaps the weather here being so unpredictable has also given my photography and poetry a somewhat unpredictable feel. I know that living in Cornwall has given me a great respect for the sea and outdoor life, it has also taught me that time is more important to me than money and so I strive to create a lifestyle where I can work a little less than the average man and have more time to enjoy everything else. I know that living here I have had a privileged upbringing and thank my lucky stars on a regular basis.
Where or in whom do you find inspiration?
I enjoy discovering what is going on in other countries as far as surfboard design, surf film making and the general surf subculture goes. The UK is a couple of years behind as far as all of that goes and I enjoy garnering a fresh out look on a frequent basis. I also try to find inspiration in other avenues away from surfing — I have recently found a new passion in motorcycles and have been tinkering with a motorcycle throughout the winter months waiting for summer to arrive to break it out. As far as inspiration for my photography goes, this will be taken from all of the elements surrounding the actual time of the photograph being taken. Very rarely with is anything preconceived.
Do you have any future projects planned or in progress?
Right now I feel like I have lots of ideas and I’m waiting for the right time and the opportunity to push forward with some major projects. Some of the ideas involve surfing and some do not. I plan to start an interesting business with my wife-to-be, Mathilda, so that we can create a work environment, which offers various different elements of creativity. We both find it hard to focus on one single line of work for too long and so the plan is to create a small epicenter or hub with various outputs so as to add variety to our daily work, and keep the dream alive! I am also currently filming here in the UK with a crew of interesting surfers and will release this material at some point. What the medium will be is as yet undecided but will become clear to me as the filming process rolls on. Right now, it feels like I have a some new doors opening up and am looking forward to what the future brings.
Photo by John Isaac