28 February 2014
Black Sand, Anderson & Low’s groundbreaking new project, is an exploration of a new sporting culture: Taiwanese surfing culture, which is barely into its second decade. These are images that completely redefine the surfing portrait, and surfing imagery as a whole.
The Black Sand project focuses on the character and identity of surfers in a stunning series of portraits. Anderson & Low have deliberately chosen a particularly dramatic setting for these images, the volcanic sand beaches of Yilan, where the sand is black. The images are mainly taken during the typhoon season (best for surfing) and hence the backgrounds are almost totally devoid of colour: grey skies, lead-coloured seas, and black sand. The backdrop is more redolent of a Lowry seascape than a surfing beach, and the truly diverse character of the protagonists that is captured and focus on their personae eschews the typical images of surfers, who more usually are seen down the barrel of a wave.
The results are striking and intriguing. If one thinks of the archetypal surfing image – dark blue sky, azure ocean, golden-white sand, sun-bleached blond hair – then the images here are its antithesis. Virtually the only colour in the images comes from the skin, costumes and surfboards: often the exuberant colours of costumes and surfboards become truly shocking against this austere background. The diverse character of the surfers, both the boys and girls, is intriguing and fascinating. Their faces are open yet also portray a sense of mystery.
The growth of surfing in Asia and on this island in particular also reflects a changing attitude in the local youths, increasingly confident in asserting their identity and in taking up activities that were previously thought of as “western”. As Asian attitudes change, so does the character and diversity of the youth culture and sporting culture.
The Black Sand project is part of the global surf culture, yet is also inherently local: The diverse characters photographed shine through, and the beaches of Yilan provided a perfect and unique setting. The nature of their interactions with Anderson & Low is typical of both the island and also of these artists’ ability to engage and create a bond of trust with their subjects. This has led to a series of candid, honest and visually arresting portraits. It is the latest landmark in Anderson & Low’s ongoing exploration with all those who pursue sport.
Black Sand. Surfers in Taiwan
by Anderson & Low
Lucky Panda Press
ISBN 978 0955899744
88 p, ills colour, 26 x 34 cm, hb, English, £35
Images: © Anderson & Low