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The King’s Royal Hall Of Mirrors

Kelly Slater tours a glass castle in the South Pacific

For the filming of Taylor Steele’s Proximity, photographer Todd Glaser followed a team of iconic surfers around the world to locations that complemented their individual skills and styles. For Kelly Slater and John Florence, the set-up led to the duo trading barrels at a dreamy reef pass in the South Pacific without another soul in the lineup. We called up Glaser and asked for the backstory behind a shot that was three years in the making, which would later land on the cover of our new “Influencers” Issue: a pulled-back, underwater view of Kelly as he threads a crystal righthand tube above the surface.

The shot was taken at a place where Kelly and I had previously been before. He kept talking about how clear the water was, how it was the most beautiful underwater clarity he's ever seen. It got me thinking about all the different shots I've done in the past underwater, and I really wanted to do something a little different for the shot with him, so I started researching different types of lenses, and different types of housings. At the time, I had recently done an automotive shoot, and I was looking for a lens that was really wide-angle so I could fit the whole car in frame — but wouldn’t distort the car — while we were driving on a ridge. I came across this lens that's commonly used in architecture, a Rectilinear lens. It's extremely wide-angle. However, unlike a fisheye, it keeps all the lines straight. When I found this lens — and this was, like, three years ago — I remember calling Kelly and saying, 'The next time we go to this place, I'm going to build a special port so we can shoot underwater with this.’

Fast-forward to when we went on this trip for the filming of Proximity, and my original intention was to shoot the entire trip underwater. It later became a bit unrealistic to do, but on the first day, I was underwater for the entirety of the session. John and Kelly were the only two surfers out, and they surfed for about five hours. I remember getting back to the boat, and one of the filmers said, "Those guys were ripping out there!" In my mind, when someone says that John and Kelly are ripping, I'm thinking 720s and backflips. But he really meant that they were just getting really long tubes. And so I got really nervous, because I didn't see any maneuvers. All I saw was them passing me by in the tube. I kind of hid in the corner of the boat and thought, ‘Oh man, I just ruined the entire session.’ [Laughs] I got really bummed. I didn't download any photos for three days. But when I eventually pulled up the photo on my computer, I knew it was something special.

I feel like it's very much a collaborative image between Kelly and I, because he was equally involved in the creative and the creation of that image, knowing that I was going to miss some waves from above in order to capture something a little bit different below. Shooting underwater is my favorite way to shoot images. Typically, I try to shoot a little darker, a little under-exposed: I think it's more about the body language and the shape of the wave than it is about who is in the photo. Any time you get to collaborate on an idea with a guy like Kelly, the image is that much more special. It's one of the few images that I've shot where I feel like I wouldn't change much about it. Kelly told me it's one of his favorite images he's ever had shot of him, which means a lot.