Born in Toulon, the sunniest town in France, on the Mediterranean coast, photograher Benjamin Thouard has explored his passion for the ocean and surfing, since he was a child. Settled in French Polynesia for 11 years now, it is here that he has made his name and discovered his artistic expression. His first book of photographs, Surface, released on May 15th, is a declaration of love to the Fenua’s beauty, its sea and waves.
Surfing made a dramatic entry into the photographer, Ben Thouard’s life, when he was barely 8 years old. Born under the blazing sunlight of the French Riviera, on the French Mediterranean coast, the young boy grew up near the sea and waves. A calling that came to be like a drug, an obsessive addiction shared with his older brothers, while the rest of the family were never far from the water, the father a surgeon owned a yacht, that was often used for family sailing holidays to Corsica … Then, when Ben found his father’s old camera in the loft, he started very naturally to take pictures of his friends surfing. The young man, who also dabbled in painting during his adolescence, could spend hours, without reading a word, just staring at magazine pictures, particularly surf magazines.
A journey that leads « to the end of the road »…
Encouraged by his early successes, the young photographer quickly organizes his life between Hawaii, where he stays for two three-month long stays a year, with travel assignments all over the four corners of the globe, following athletes and taking photos for magazines. While he keeps a base in Paris, Ben Thouard has resolutely set sail to live his dream. Another important element falls into place when he becomes friends with Baptiste Gossein, a « big wave surfer » (a professional surfer who earns his living by photographing monster waves, NDLR) settled in Maui for 10 years, but who had a soft spot for Tahiti and the mythic spot, Teahupoo, Ben, who had family based in Tahiti, but had never had an opportunity to visit, let himself be tempted: « why return to Hawaii, where it was crawling with people, when you could live in front of the best waves in the world, in peace and tranquility, far from the crowds and everything that goes with it ? ».
Ben then chose to bury himself in his work, developing his skills as a surf photographer. If he managed to make a living and a name for himself in this circle, it’s thanks in a large part to the friendships he managed to forge with the stars of surf, including the Tahitian champion Michel Bourez, but it would not be long before the photographer started to suffer the consequences of a new problem: the economic crisis. Which would impact the economy worldwide, and combine in a loss of interest in surfing, but also cause a crisis in the press and magazine world, at the same time that social networks devalued certain skills. His career in the world of watersports started to look less secure; Ben chose to take heed and to go in search of his artistic side, something that had always appealed to him, calling for him to express his emotions through his work.
Fascinated by the images, some of which have stayed etched into his memory over the years, Ben, who was still looking for his career path, managed to convince his parents, after getting a high school diploma in science, to allow him to go to Paris in 2004, to follow a three-year course at a famous photography school (Icart Photo). However, at the end of a « wonderful » first year, the young man, through sheer willpower, got a training position that would change the direction of his life. He was welcomed into the editing team of the magazine Wind, where he made a long-lasting friendship with the photographer Bernard Biancotto, who warmly encouraged him « if he wanted to photograph windsurfing » to settle in Hawaii. Ben, for whom life in Paris was not ideal, didn’t need to be told twice : he decided to leave school, building his own waterproof camera casing and flying to Hawaii in January 2006, where he stayed at first for three months, long enough to take his first shots, and get his first photos published.
After a first visit in 2007, the two friends sell up, one a house in Hawaii, the other his apartment in Paris, in order to live the Polynesian dream. In early 2008, things are ready, Baptiste and Ben settle into their new life at the end of the road on Tahiti iti. However, in 2009, the dream turns sour : Baptiste is severely injured in Teahupoo (today he is a paraplegic, but the surfer has returned to Tahiti, after years of treatment on mainlaind France, and has created Are Va’a, a company that makes canoes for an international market …and is extremely successful!). Ben, who was in the water when his friend had his accident, was profoundly affected, to the point of giving up surfing on Tahiti iti for several years. But this was also a hard blow on the professional front, as the event put an end to their fruitful collaboration.
Magnifying Tahitian waves
From 2010, he started to photograph « that which fascinates him most » while at the same time pushing himself to enjoy himself to the maximum. Waves have always been his favourite subject. Ben reconnects, photographing them over and over again, with a passion for « capturing the moment, seeking to make all that we need to know to appear in one unique image. A photo can stand by itself and signify so much ». The photographer, who accumulated shots without showing them at first, was preparing to develop this artistic side, in order to exhibit and sell his prints.
« It’s totally gratifying to know that one of my photos is chosen by somebody to be a picture hanging in their living space, because it echoes something in them.» To get started in the business, Ben relied on the « good side of social networks and Internet » at the same time adding to his skills : a diver’s license for underwater and aquatic photos, an ultra-light pilot’s license, buying a paramotor … But this time, it was the arrival of drones that threw a spanner in the works, in some areas.
« Deeply enamored of the sea and waves for their timelessness », Ben Thouard thus chose to dedicate himself almost exclusively to aquatic photography, shooting only in the water. Aside from the shoots that he still really enjoys with the surfers, his other work started to take on his own personal touch, entirely coming from his passion for the ocean. Life had almost certainly brought him to this place, to his paradise, for a reason : to bare his artist’s soul, to use his photos to show the incredible beauty of the ocean. The artist reveals himself in his shots that magnify French Polynesia, seen from a watery continent. Shots that he has brought together in Surface, a book in French and English, 184 pages long, printed at the author’s expense. An unequalled book of exclusive photos, 50 % of which were taken entirely underwater, almost all in Teahupoo (an odd few are from the Tuamotus, notably), even if it’s hard to believe it, given the limpidity of the medium. However, for the artist there is absolutely no doubt : nowhere else in the world would have « allowed such photos to be taken, in such clear water, without particles, without algae, such deep waves, really tubular, breaking on the reef, in a spot that is also protected from the wind and cross currents, with surreal lighting that the weather gives you just a couple of times a year, during short periods of a few tens’ of minutes ». A book that is in the format of an ode, that the author would like to think, « even if he is not an environmental activist, that it contributes to an increase in awareness » for the protection of this beautiful yet fragile world. « A photo often says more than words, and if my work does that, than I will be very satisfied …» An amazing work.
Ben Thouard, A « Tahiti Nui Explorer »
The photographer, who also actively works in the promotion of French Polynesia’s local and international air companies, since 2013, and is also a « Tahiti Nui Explorer », a personality that spreads the image, the mark and participates in promoting the Air Tahiti Nui company and, in this way, also that of the destination, Tahiti and her islands, through his travels. This partnership, created with the company three years earlier, allowed the photographer to approach overseas clients, offering them the opportunity to shoot their publicity campaigns in French Polynesia.
Thus, when he started to develop his book project, he naturally turned towards the company, which in turn helped him with the logistics, and without which Surface would not have been the same book. The partnership also assisted him in approaching publishing houses in Paris, to organize the printing of the book and as well as a large promotional tour during 2018. A beautiful showcase of our destination.