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An Eclectic Eye

Tom Adler’s new book and website offer a unique view of the disparate worlds of surf, adventure, and art

Paging through Tom Adler's An Uncommon Archive, you're struck by the breezy beauty contained in the eclectic volume, ripe with delicious scraps from a career spent collecting photographs, illustrations, and paintings from a sprawling and celebrated list of contributors.

For the project, Adler dove into this expansive archive, which he accrued working on hardbound photography books with the likes of Ron Church, Don James, and Jeff Divine, as well as designing titles like Dora Lives: The Authorized Story of Miki Dora, 180° South, The Eighties at Echo Beach, and The Stone Masters: California Rock Climbers in the Seventies. Adler selected from literally thousands of images found on hard drives, in scrapbooks, and elsewhere. The resulting collection is all dust and divinity, starlets and surfers, hardened adventurers and weathered, weary Americana.

There's no lofty explanation as to why he chose one photo or another, Adler told me. There was no "art school critique." It's simply a book of images that, for Adler, come alive on the page. An Uncommon Archive, perhaps more than any of his previous books, comprises what images Adler himself finds beautiful.

From the first page to the last, you're confronted with an organic momentum, a nerve-level inter-connectivity between, say, a portrait of John Muir and a Craig Stecyk photograph; of a golden, pre-war shot of San Onofre by Don James, and a gritty Glen Denny shot of the '60s rock climbing pioneers at Yosemite. The collection's esprit de la beauté is both bright and dreamy, yet gritty and sincere.


Many of the images found in the book are also available as beautifully-framed prints, from Adler's recently launched Where previously Adler would only have prints available at gallery shows, often accompanying the release of an artist's new book, he wanted to offer more affordable non-edition framed prints of the same quality to anyone who'd appreciate them.

The site is remarkable in its vast offerings: an A. R. Gurrey black-and-white of a high-diving Duke Kahanomoku, floating mid-air, toes pointing skyward, arms outstretched like wings; a Cecil Stoughton photograph of JFK unselfconsciously enjoying an ice cream cone on his sailboat; or a photo by Kanoa Zimmerman of an anonymous surfer trimming cooly along a right point, the wave's misty plume sparkling in the morning's light.

While continuing to produce books with a wide and varied roster of artists and photographers, Adler will be regularly adding to Archiv-e, bringing in new imagery and sifting through his collection for our viewing pleasure.

Starting on Friday, April 22nd, Adler will showcase a collaborative exhibit in San Francisco’s Chandran Gallery based on the works from his vast collection.

For more information, visit

For more information about the exhibition, click here.