Photographer documents determination, love of Texas surfing in coffee table book
The Texas Coast is never going to measure up to Australia, California or Hawaii when it comes to towering waves. But to hard-core surfers here, that’s never mattered.
Texas surfers are devoted to the sport — and the lifestyle that comes with it — as much as surfers anywhere else. And that’s something photographer Kenny Braun captured in his coffee table book “Surf Texas,” published in 2014 by the University of Texas Press.
In “Surf Texas,” Braun documents the surfer life from Galveston to South Padre in black-and-white photo essays.
“Perfect sets of waves are few and far between on the Texas Coast, but Texas surfers know that and have made the necessary psychic adjustments,” novelist Stephen Harrigan wrote in the book’s foreword. “And, in observing them, Kenny Braun has the advantage of being one of them. He knows what they’re looking for, he knows what they’ll settle for, and he knows what they dream about.”
Harrigan also noted the rarity of perfectly formed waves might have had a liberating effect on Braun’s work, “allowing him to forgo the spectacular nature shots we’ve come to expect from surf photography and introduce us to something altogether different, a somewhat journalistic black-and-white chronicle that presents surfing not as high adventure but as dogged pastime.”
“Surf Texas” was inspired by Braun’s desire to reconnect with the place he loved so much growing up, he said. Born and raised in Houston, Braun received his first camera along with a set of drums and surfboard — all when he was 16 — and was immediately fascinated by all three pursuits, he said. He still plays music a few times a month in LL Cooper, a band in Austin, where he lives, while also working as a freelance photographer. But it was after moving to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 1986, that Braun began to miss the Gulf Coast. By about 1996, he was working more heavily in photography and wanted a project he could thoroughly engage in and began work on what would eventually become the surf book and exhibition, he said.
Shooting in black and white wasn’t Braun’s first thought and he wrestled with the idea of working in color, he said.
“I think there’s a timeless quality to black-and-white photography,” Braun said. “It works well to capture the timeless quality of surfing.”
Images in the book represent more than 20 years of photographing Texas Gulf Coast beaches and surfing. Seaside towns, beach characters, stormy skies, desert-like dunes, and, of course, salty surfers fill the large, hardcover book printed on rich, heavy paper. Braun used film and digital cameras in both 35 mm and medium format (2½-inch) and chose 87 images in the final edit.
“The book isn’t just about surfing, it’s about a sense of place,” Braun said. “For me, it’s a reconnection with a place I love and miss.”
Braun’s “Surf Texas” exhibition featured selected prints from his book and was presented by the Galveston Arts Center in March and April this year and will be on display until July 2 at the Catherine Couturier Gallery in Houston.
Editor Laura Elder contributed to this article.
“Surf Texas” can be purchased at the Galveston Arts Center, 2127 Strand, Ohana Surf & Skate, 2814 Ave. R½, and Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialities, 3702 Ave. R — all in Galveston. Signed copies of “Surf Texas” can be purchased by contacting Braun directly at www.KennyBraun.com.