Showcase: Kenny Hurtado

The Southern California photographer trains his lens on surfing's fringes

[This feature originally appeared in the 58.5 Issue of SURFER, “Community”]

Few young artists avoid the anxiety of influence. Southern California photographer Kenny Hurtado—who picked up a camera while taking photography classes at a junior college in Orange County—was no exception. At 18, Hurtado found himself taken under the wing of some of surfing's most influential lensmen, landing an internship at Surfing magazine in the final year of the late, great Larry "Flame" Moore's 30-year tenure, and as Steve Sherman picked up Flame's torch.

"I met Pat Stacy, who was on staff with Surfing, when I was at OCC [Orange Coast College]," Hurtado says. "He was shooting with Flame in the mornings, and he'd bring the slides to school and I'd just trip out on them. Eventually, he gave me a contact at Surfing to get an internship, and I went and met Flame, bought a housing, and started meeting him at Salt Creek at six in the morning to shoot Chris Ward, doing fisheye stuff."

Hurtado would absorb all he could from Flame in those early days, adopting Flame's signature crisp, high-action, wide-angle, brilliantly front-lit style that graced 432 Surfing covers and earned Flame his very own time of day: "Larry Light."

In 2004, when Flame left Surfing amid a battle with brain cancer, Sherman—whose off-moment, often moody, mostly black-and-white film images couldn't have been further from Flame's style—stepped in to fill the massive void left in his absence.

"I'm so thankful I got that little sliver of Flame," Hurtado says. "Then, when Steve Sherman came on as photo editor, he pushed me to get a Hasselblad, shoot film negatives, and learn how to print photos. At that point, I started to figure out the kind of images I wanted to make. I'd spent a year at Surfing, and I'd seen all the work coming in from their photographers. I knew how they were shooting, and I realized how I wanted to shoot. Pat Stacy, Jeff Flindt, Pete Frieden—those guys were nailing high action and water. If I was going to have any place, I was going to have to do something different—more abstract, environmental, a little more focused on landscape rather than tight surf."

For the last decade, Hurtado has continued to develop and expand his approach behind the lens. After a five-year stint on staff at Surfing, a San Francisco residency studying fine art and landscape photography, and a rambling few years bouncing around the country, Hurtado now calls Los Angeles home. Those wandering years gave new perspective to his photography, with Hurtado's most recent work taking on a grittier narrative direction.

"I want more poetry in my photos," Hurtado says. "It's a subject-matter thing. I'm interested in surfers and the environment they're in. I wasn't going to be the guy on a tripod all day, nailing guys doing turns. I'm drawn to surfing's subcultural aspects, and how the environment, the landscape, and light shape that. I want to really capture the feeling of being somewhere, capture the personalities and the substance. I want my photos to tell a story."

British Columbia, 2016

Derrick Disney, San Francisco, CA, 2017

January Storm, 2016

Samoa Beach, Humboldt, CA, 2016

Maui, 2014

Topanga Canyon, CA, 2014

Untitled, 2017