In the surf world, Thomas Campbell is probably most known for his warm, sepia-tinted paeans to surfing’s retro-fun side in his films The Seedling, Sprout, and The Present. But Campbell’s been snapping shutters for far longer than he’s been making surf movies. He’s also been surf tripping to Morocco for the past 20 years, often with some of the most interesting surfers on the planet. Campbell has recently collected his Moroccan photography into a beautiful little book called Seeing Fatima’s Eyes. In celebration of the release of his book, Campbell will be at Mollusk in San Francisco, Friday night March 27th, from 7-10pm. He’ll be signing books and kicking off a gallery showing at Mollusk of some 60 photos from his North African adventures, along with a handful of photo etchings. I caught up with Campbell to ask him some questions about his new book as he was preparing to make the journey north to the City from his Santa Cruz County home.
What drew you to Morocco in the first place?
The first time I went there was kind of random. I was traveling in Europe and I had stayed in Spain for like a month, this was 1991, and then I went down to Portugal and camped out at Ericeira for another month. I noticed that the same people I surfed with at Mundaka were the same traveling surfers I was surfing with in Portugal. And then a bunch of them said that they were going to Morocco next, and that it was really inexpensive and the waves are good there. I was running out of money and I still wanted to surf, so I was like, "Well, how do you do it? Where do I go?" This was before the Internet. They just told me to take the bus to Agadir, and then I eventually made it up to Taghazout and camped out there for a month too.
Do you miss traveling in the days of the pre-Internet wilds?
I think then and now both have advantages. When I was first staying in Morocco I didn't really know what swell was coming. I'd just get up and walk down to the point and look and think, "Oh there are waves today, or oh, there are no waves today." And then maybe I'd take the bus up the coast a half an hour to see what's there. There was definitely something more mellow and languid about that type of life, and there's something about that that I like.“This was before the Internet. They just told me to take the bus to Agadir, and then I eventually made it up to Taghazout and camped out there for a month too.”
How much has changed in the 20 years you've been traveling to Morocco?
Quite a bit has changed. There are a lot more people, though they're usually in the places you'd expect them. There are still a lot of places where if you just get off the beaten path a little bit there are no people. And then are a lot of places south of the country that are totally unexplored (by surfers). People don't really go down there all that much.
In a place as visually striking as Morocco, are you more stoked for the surfing or the photos?
At this point in my life, it's kind of similar. I was just in Australia last week and I'd be getting ready to shoot photos, and my friends would say, "You should come surf." And I'd say, "You know, it's really kind of the same for me." I enjoy them both almost equally depending on the day. A place like Morocco is really inspiring. Plus when you bring four of your favorite surfers there on a trip it's hard to go surfing yourself. It's like, “I can't miss this.”
You seem to have a special relationship with Mollusk. What's the draw?
I just think that John McCambridge's (the owner) vision and sensibility about surfing and the parts of surf culture he enjoys are really unique. We've been doing stuff since the very beginning of Mollusk. That's one of the key points of any project I'm working on—just being involved with John.
A GALLERY OF STILLS FROM THE BOOK: