Daniel Fuller, Pro Surfer and Photographer, Sees the Ocean Differently

Daniel Fuller

 “We’re surrounded by endless forms of energy visible and invisible to the naked eye,” says pro surfer and artist Daniel Fuller from his studio in Venice Beach. Through his photography, he hopes to make some of that invisible energy visible — or at least emotionally felt.

For the last 10 years, Fuller has been photographing the ocean. It’s an environment with which he is intimately familiar: he’s been surfing for over three decades, and has been a big wave specialist for over 16 years. Now 39, Fuller has spent more time than most interacting with and observing the water, whether from within a wave or from the shore at night with his camera.

“I’ve had — I wouldn’t say two separate lives — as a professional surfer and as an artist. For me, they go hand in hand. A reoccurring theme for me is this dance that I do with the ocean as a surfer; the essence of that life force that I want to bring to the viewer through my practice as an artist,” says Fuller, who was born and raised in Hawaii. (He’s also had a third career, as a model; he was the face of Chanel Allure Homme Sport Eau Extrême.) “You’re doing this dance with nature where time almost stands still.”

Fuller, typically on the go, has spent the majority of the past year in Los Angeles. “Luckily we have the Pacific here,” he says. “But when you add a few kids to the equation, it adds a few more layers to your COVID-19 experience.” (His children are four and seven years old.)

This week, Fuller has released a collection of his seascape photography, “Liquid Horizon: Meditations on the Surf and Sea,” with Rizzoli. The book, which Fuller began working on in 2019, includes 132 photographs taken over the past decade. The photographs were captured at night, using film and long exposures. Working alone, he captures the photos between midnight and 5 a.m., using the moon as his only light source.

“This nocturnal landscape is illuminated by the full moon, and I allow the natural elements — primarily the waves — to do this painterly performance, with the objective of bringing the essence of this infinite life force to the viewer,” says Fuller. “I have some control, but a lot of it is really up to nature and its endless spaces and textures and tones that it reveals.”

The process renders his subject — the ocean — as an abstract composition reminiscent of color field paintings. In many of the photographs, the subject is unrecognizable, distilled down to color and geometric forms. The distinction between land, water and horizon is blurred; the viewer is left with an emotional documentation rather than literal depiction.

“If you look at that space of where the sky meets the sea, it’s this infinite space of wonder and possibility,” he says. “A serene, meditative, tranquil state that we can find ourselves with.”

The book includes a forward by artist Julian Schnabel. The painter has encouraged Fuller’s artistic practice since their chance meeting over 16 years ago, when Schnabel was on the north shore of Oahu with Herbie Fletcher. “He’s been a dear friend and somebody who’s really pushed and encouraged me to, like, further my practice and understanding of creative arts,” says Fuller of Schnabel.

The book also features an essay by Adam Lindemann and afterword from surf legend Gerry Lopez. “Danny has captured still life to create a kind of wave for us to ride with our feelings and imaginations in order to find whatever and wherever those senses take us,” Lopez writes. “Look at the pictures long enough and you’ll find they can become a mirror into some deep places within ourselves.”

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