Through The Lens of Gabs Batallones
Over the quarantine, Gabs Batallones talked to Kudo Surf about how the pandemic has affected his outlook as a surf photographer. Clients may have canceled projects but Gabs has kept busy by pursuing the stories that he wants to share the most. He believes that it is the filmmaker and photographer’s task to “provide beautiful distractions” as we get through this difficult time.
Hi Gabs! How did you get into photography? How did you transition to surf photography?
I was always the designated family photographer during our vacations. I explicitly remember playing around with a 5MP Sony point-and-shoot. I experimented with the flash and deliberately tried to fool the autofocus. On our way home, my siblings and I would reminisce as we reviewed the pictures.
In my final year in college, I started going around Luzon to work on a coffee table book for my thesis. That’s when I found myself at a lesser-known surf spot one extraordinary North Swell season and I remember feeling humbled and empowered by what I witnessed. I then made my thesis about surfing and I really enjoyed practicing my shooting skills while also learning how to catch waves.
What are your favorite things to shoot and document?
Aside from surfing, I like shooting landscapes and telling people’s stories. Both captivate me.
Shooting surf spots is special to me. I like telling a spot’s story by looking at its features: the apex of a cove, the tip of a point, the edge of a reef bed, or the end of a pier. I look for the small details in these places like a missing brick on a wall. I like visually bringing things to order.
Surfing in itself is difficult to get good at so it brings out a tenacity in people that I also enjoy capturing. When surfers tell their stories, there is sacrifice, heroism, and breaking away from the norms of society. Travel is also a great teacher and surfers are travel’s willing students.
Surfing and traveling also open your eyes to the truth about how man treats the environment. I’m proud to have worked with Save Philippine Seas on a project about seagrass ecosystems. I’ve also given talks at environmental camps and helped organize the Liwa Earth Festival in Zambales. I was also a part of the Plastic Battle Project.
You are also part of the media team for the Philippine Surfing Championship Tour (PSCT). What’s life on tour like?
Life on tour is difficult but rewarding. You hop from buses to planes with all of your camera gear and your surfboard bag at ungodly hours. The long haul is not for everyone but I like staying seated for hours witnessing the landscape and the language change.
Being part of the PSCT’s media team requires a lot of knowledge, patience, and sunblock. You need to know about tides, how a certain wave breaks, how wind affects the spot, and at what angles the sunlight makes the subjects look sharpest. You have to know how to surf to capture the surf action.
You also have to know the surfers on tour: their styles, stances, and stories. What their killer tricks are. What their motivations are. You end up getting to know the surfers on a personal level. This part, I respect the most.
How did the pandemic affect you as a surf photographer and filmmaker?
This unprecedented pandemic really complicated a lot of aspects of my life but these complications are also interesting to me because they challenge me to effectively create imagery while being far away from my subjects. I’ve taken this as an opportunity to learn a different way of approaching things.
Like all struggles or challenges, this pandemic will be the foundation of many great stories that deserve to be talked about. Although a lot of my clients have withdrawn their projects, I’ve found a way to keep myself busy by looking at what relevant stories I can tell now. I believe our task as storytellers is to provide a beautiful distraction as we float by.
If you need a quick escape, visit Gabs’ page and feast on the now nostalgic footage of a once unbreakable tropical island dream. In every scene is a surfer navigating a wave, and like that surfer, we are navigating this new normal life. Exciting and terrifying. Such is the ultimate dance with life.