"As a photographer, I want to be remembered for taking that ‘one’ photo, not because of the surfers name or reputation, but because of the position I put myself in to capture the moment in time. An amazing view of the ocean that cannot be captured without an element of risk. It’s taken me years to actually find my niche within my photography and now I have, it’s such a great place to be in.”
A key documenter of waves of serious consequence. The “niche” in which Russell Ord refers to (in the About section of his website) is deep in the helm of the most intimidating waves the earth has on offer. And he’s not there by chance.
I received an absolute bomb on the head out there during the last swell due to some poor decision making on my behalf”
He’s developed a mysterious and romantic affair with a particular right hander Western Australia, a wave that gives anyone in their right mind a serious case of the shudders. But not Russ, he’s out there swimming with his fish-eye lens on a regular basis. The Right is a tough mistress – capable of inflicting some of the most horrific beat downs in surfing, but by spending more time out there than anyone else, he’s certainly paid his dues.
It threw me over the falls on to basically dry reef, receiving cuts all over my body. I spent the next two days in hospital with an infection, hallucinating vividly”
"It’s not the best angle, but when your life has to revolve around getting that one shot, in your head you know it’s certainly worth it,” explains Russell. “I received an absolute bomb on the head out there during the last swell due to some poor decision making on my behalf.”
To most people, bobbing around in the firing line of one of the worlds heaviest waves for hours on end, is about as appealing as playing leap-frog with a unicorn, yet Russ continues to spend far more time at The Right than would be advised by his doctor. You might therefore be surprised to learn that it isn’t responsible for his worst beating. He owes that please to a small day at his local reef.
“It threw me over the falls onto basically dry reef. With cuts all over my body, I spent the next two days in hospital with an infection, hallucinating vividly,” he recalls. “Time was going so slow, stopping completely at some point,” he recalls. “A very long two days by memory.”
Moving full-time into a photography career may not be the most financially sound idea – It’s a competitive industry requiring outrageously expensive equipment, and considering the variables that need to align and the damage that waves of this caliber can cause, surf photography certainly isn’t the most stable pay-cheque – but his initial move into the industry, away from a ‘normal’ and secure job, Russell holds as his proudest achievement (in photography) to date.
“At times it’s tough, especially with a wife and three kids to support, though the freedom and extra time at home with the kids has certainly been worth it,” he says. “It’s tougher than it sounds. Growing up I learned that hard work leads to security, which is very true, but taking that step throws all those thought patterns out of the window, which was a hard decision in the end.”
It would be nice to reduce the number of weddings I shoot through the season, so I could concentrate on certain waves of consequence from around the globe”
Despite producing some of the most impressive images of waves one could hope to see, surf photography doesn’t always ensure the bills get paid, and everybody’s got to pay the bills. For Russell, making ends meet means reaching out to more stable, albeit less exciting work. A strange concept for one of the most talented lensmen in a multi-million dollar industry.
“It would be nice to reduce the number of weddings I shoot through the season, so I could concentrate on certain waves of consequence from around the globe. During those times, I can’t just drop everything and run for a swell.”
Russell has always been around cameras, and as much as bobbing around as tonnes of water breaks across shallow rock ledges, it’s still his passion. “When I was younger and living in the city, I would just sit in the middle of town and watch people go by. All sorts, for no doubt all different reasons. I could do it for hours, at some stage I would love to do a few more courses or hold the bags of a great portrait photographer, hopefully few skills will rub off in my direction.”
I remember swimming for hours not even pressing the trigger. I didn’t want to waste film and risk not making the swim back out"
Unlike many others within the surf industry, and perhaps as a result of other commitments, Russell has chosen to almost exclusively focus on the fear his doorstep has to offer – and who’s blaming him? Western Australia boasts more waves of consequence than probably anywhere on the planet.
His love of the local heavy stuff was as much a part of his career when it all began, as it is now. His first image ever published was an image of Tom Innes at massive North Point. “I remember swimming for hours not even pressing the trigger. I didn’t want to waste film and risk not making the swim back out,” he says. “Then finally we had a good link up. That shot really kick started the real beginning for me. Tracks magazine had it mocked up as a page one, but it was bumped for something else on deadline, usual story. A double page had to suffice. Still to this day I cant find that slide, the only thing left is a terrible scan.”
By now, it goes without saying that by spending hours working the angles in the worlds heaviest waves, Russell has effectively repositioned the boundaries of what is possible in the realms of shooting fish-eye.
I’ve got visions of the photos I would love to take at these waves, before I am too far gone from trying. No point in name-dropping the waves in question because I may have second thoughts once I’m there"That being said, he has no intention of slowing his progression.
“I’ve got visions of the photos I would love to take at these waves, before I am too far gone from trying. No point in name-dropping the waves in question because I may have second thoughts once I’m there,” he explains. “I have been working on my breathing or more to the point holding my breath with Joe Knight from Ocean International, and I am teaming up with him for a workshop in Byron Bay. I would like to think I could go down the workshop path and articulate my experiences/stories well. If this one goes to plan and not too many tomatoes come my way I will look at doing a few more down the track.”
For more information and images check out RussellOrd.com.