SURF TRIBE Stephan Vanfleteren at Kunsthal, Rotterdam

13th October – 13th January.

In the exhibition Surf Tribe the Belgian photographer Stephan Vanfleteren (Kortrijk, 1969) exposes a culture dominated by a deep respect for the ocean. Vanfleteren looks beyond the traditional surf spots of California and Hawaii and travels all over the world in search of people who live where the ocean meets the land. There he manages to capture the almost fluid community of ‘subjects of the mighty Surf Tribe’ whose only ruler is nature. They are not depicted in action shots while riding azure waves, but in serene black-and-white portraits shot in Vanfleteren’s own pure and gripping style.

Love of water and addiction to the wave

For eighteen months, Stephan Vanfleteren plunged deep into the world of the international surf community. During numerous encounters and adventures he managed to capture many surfers with his camera. With more than seventy distinctive black-and-white portraits, the exhibition ‘Surf Tribe’ is an ode to the people whose souls belong to the ocean. The photos reveal the real individuals behind the surfers, in all their strength and vulnerability. What unites them is their love of water and their addiction to the wave. That feeling of insignificance in the face of the forces of nature, the fights lost and won – with others, but above all with themselves.

Living legends

‘Surf Tribe’ shows competitive surfers, free surfers and surf hippies from around the globe: from young surf talents to surf icons and living legends. These include Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm to a shark at the age of thirteen. And Maori descendant Kehu Kehu Butler who wears a traditional moko tattoo as well as an eye patch, following a classic surf accident. And also Peter Cole who lost part of his right eye and is now in his eighties, although none of that prevents him from still riding the waves. Without embarrassment, they all pose for Vanfleteren’s camera.

Stephan Vanfleteren

Stephan Vanfleteren studied photography at the Sint Lukas School of Arts in Brussels between 1988 and 1992. Besides doing his own projects, he worked as a freelance photographer for the Belgian newspaper De Morgen and a number of international media outlets until 2009. Vanfleteren specializes in black and white portraits and long-running photo report projects at home and abroad. Vanfleteren’s autonomous work reveals an artist with a keen sense of observation and an ability to listen to, contemplate on and write about the world around him. He received numerous awards for his work, including the European Fuji Award, the Dutch National Portrait Award and the Cultural Prize of the province of West Flanders, which is awarded every five years. In 2013, Vanfleteren won his sixth World Press Photo Award for the series  ‘People of Mercy’ in the ‘Staged Portraits’ category.