Bob Weeks is a legendary surf photographer who moved from Sydney to Woolgoolga in the early ’70s. His interest in photography was sparked as a young boy, then he took up surfing at Cronulla in his late teens and combined his passions and started taking photos of local surfers enjoying the beachside lifestyle.
He went on to work for many iconic surfing magazines, and his images have captured the evolution of surf culture over the years.
Hey Bob; can you introduce yourself and tell us how long you have been a local on the Coffs Coast?
My name is Bob Weeks, and I moved to Woolgoolga with my family in 1971.
Where did your photography journey begin?
I began taking photos at the age of eight years, after spotting a Box Brownie at a friend’s house and asking my dad to buy a roll of film, so I could take a few photos.
When I saw the photos I took, I was addicted. My family soon bought me a nice quality English camera and a developing and printing set. By about 1954, I was using our laundry as a darkroom and printing with an enlarger.
In 1958 my parents bought a house near Cronulla, and after a few visits to the beach watching the surfers having fun on Mals, I bought a board. I joined the passionate surfers and became mates with many of them, and it was not long before I wanted to capture on film my mates having fun on the waves, and that was the beginning of many years of passionate surfing photography.
Working as a photographer during the iconic sixties surf revolution, you didn’t have access to the cameras and accessories we now see today. What sort of modifications and improvisations did you have to make to capture those special moments in surfing?
Photographic equipment was fairly basic in the early sixties, although some lenses were superb but expensive. I purchased a second-hand Pentax SLR, which cost five times my weekly wage and added a 400 mm tele lens and a tripod; this was my main gear for some time, then I added a 200 mm lens. Manual focusing the action was a big learning curve and challenging, but kept your concentration full on.
What was it about surfing that was so revolutionary in the ‘60s?
Light-weight balsa Malibu boards were introduced into Australia by a group of American surfers around the late fifties, and this changed the scene dramatically. Soon there were many local Malibu board makers in Sydney, mainly on the Northern Beaches and this made light-weight boards, mostly around nine-foot, easily available.
Can you tell us a bit about what it was like carving out a career as a photographer during that time? What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the industry over the years?
My photography career began when I registered my business in 1989. Prior to that, I worked in retail at Waltons in Coffs Harbour, until they closed around the mid-‘80s and then worked as a casual on a stone fruit farm. Being a casual allowed me to have time off to take photos, but soon, I had to leave the farm to do photoshoots, and I registered my business in 1989.
The Coffs Harbour tourism manager spotted some of my work and told the resorts about my style, and my commercial work took a big hit after that.
How was the transition for you from film to digital, or do you still shoot film?
My transition to digital was a big learning curve, and I loved the control over the images on the computer – but I still shot weddings on film, because I did not have time to do the processing and printing, but eventually had to eliminate weddings altogether.
What drew you to shoot predominantly in black and white over colour?
My main photography in black and white in the sixties was for a number of reasons:
The cost of film, I often bought a 400 m roll and repacked into 36 exp. capsules.
Quick to see the results, after a session at the beach, I could process the film that night and print the next day. Printing in black and white gave you a lot of control over tonal range. Black and white film in the sixties was far superior to colour negative film.
From working for the government to shooting for some of the most iconic surf magazines in Australia, what would you say was a stand out in such a long-standing photography career?
The stand out by a long shot was being the photographer for a Coffs Harbour based magazine called Coast Living. The editor, Mellisa Coakes, is a graphic designer and very talented, and the magazine had four issues a year and covered the area from around Forster to the Queensland border. I got to meet many interesting and creative people and photograph them with their passions in life.
What are your preferred subjects or styles to shoot these days?
My main interest nowadays is producing more abstract arty images with a lot of mood in the lighting, and it is a big learning curve.
Where can we see more of your work?
On my website: bobweeksphotography.com.au