BEN THOUARD

BEN THOUARD PHOTO FEATURE
interview / nick kalionzes

Being raised by a sailor lends opportunity for a clear path to share in your father’s passion for the sea and turn it into your own. Frenchman Ben Thouard was fascinated by the ocean since day one, and with the help of his parents and siblings he was given enough knowledge to pave a career of his own. This photographic career, which began when he was only 15, saw Ben relocate to French Polynesia and collect worldwide recognition. Ben captures images that a normal photographer can’t, and even in a picturesque place like Tahiti he has proved time and time again that he can re-invent the wheel of photography with his own style and stamp.

Couldn’t help but notice from your Instagram that you were in our neck of the woods a little while back, what goes on over here for you?
Oh yeah, good eye. LA was on my route as I was on my way to France for a job and decided to stop over for a few days. I had a few people to see in Cali and wanted to enjoy a few days here with my family as well. Always cool to stop by and show my work to some people and work on projects. Tahiti is a beautiful place but very isolated from the rest of the world.

You currently live in Tahiti right? Where did you grow up and how did you land in Tahiti?
Yes correct, I’ve been living in Teahupoo, Tahiti for the last ten years but I was born in the South of France originally. I’ve been a surfer since a young age, discovered photography as a teenager and traveled to Maui, Hi for the first time at the age of 19 to start shooting windsurfing photos. This is where everything started for me. Following that, I traveled the world alongside the best windsurfers to shoot travel stories for magazines. At that time I had a flat in Paris because it was close to the airport but I would spend ten months a year travelling. This is how I discovered Tahiti in 2007 and somehow I never came back and it became home.

How did you get into photography?
I picked up an old camera from my father at home, just for fun, somehow got attracted by it and bought a few rolls and started shooting my friends surfing.
I’ve always been amazed and inspired by the photos I was seeing in surfing magazines and wanted to capture some of my friend’s greatest moments. Photography quickly became a big passion and very soon became my whole life. I did a photography school in Paris but did not go all the way to the end. I built my own water housing and flew to Hawaii instead. That was it for me, I was hooked.

Whose photography inspired you growing up? And whose photography inspires you now?
There are many names in photography of course, but talking about surf photography I was really inspired by the work of guys like Jeff Divine, Aaron Chang and more. When I was younger, seeing photos of the waves from Hawaii or from far away destinations would make me dream. Later, when I started getting interested in photography, guys like Scott Aichner would just blow my mind. Like many, I was speechless looking at his crazy angles. Today, I really enjoy the work of guys like Chris Burkard for the adventure and Paul Nicklen for his engagement into environmental preservation and of course my friend Ray Collins, whose work inspires me everyday.

What really gets the juices flowing for you when it comes to shooting these days?
I’m really into ocean photography more than ever. Shooting water from the water basically. Spending time in the ocean to get new images is where I get my inspiration. Just being alone out there and shooting what I want is my thing. I’m currently busy on a personal project that I’ve been working on for the last two years and should hopefully be released in 2018. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Who’s your favorite subject to shoot at Teahupoo?
Huh, tough question. There are a couple really good surfers out there, but I love shooting with my friend Michel Bourez and we always try to score good conditions together. Working with him is really easy and I love it. There are some younger and killer locals such as Matahi Drollet and Tikanui Smith that are really pushing the limits. But when it comes to Teahupoo, I mean there are so many good and stylish surfers who come over every year that in the end my favorite subject is just Teahupoo and its amazing shape.

Who are five of your favorite surfers that you’ve had the opportunity to shoot during your career?
Definitely Michel Bourez but also John Florence, Kelly Slater, Dane Gudauskas and Raimana Van Bastolaer when it’s big.

Looks like most of your shooting is done in the water, do you shoot from land much?
Yeah, I love shooting in the water and this is where I spend the most of my time. Shooting in the water is like really sharing the session with your mates. I love feeling the water moving around me and positioning myself in the right spot to get the shot. It’s a challenge for every wave and it’s endless. Shooting from land or from the boat is different, you don’t have the same connection with the surfers and the ocean but it can give you a different and pulled back perspective that you can’t get from the water. I shoot from land for that kind of angle. I like both but I would just rather jump in the water with my camera, and shooting from land in Tahiti is rarely an option.

Do you have a favorite all-time photo you’ve shot?
Probably my underwater photo of Landon McNamara, that I’ve named The Silver Surfer.

What’s your camera quiver look like? Are you trying out new gear often?
I have a main camera body, Canon EOS 1DXmII, and a second one for different shooting or as a back up camera, Canon EOS 5DSR. I mostly use prime lenses. In the end, shooting in Tahiti often requires the same lenses or maybe it’s because of my choices and me. I mainly use a fish eye, a 24mm, a 50mm, and a 70/200mm for 90% of all my photos. All this gear locked in an Aquatech Delphin and Elite housing with all kind of different front ports. I don’t really buy new gear very often. I like the gear that I know and own. It just depends on what comes out and what I need to shoot but nothing would ever beat a good old prime 50 lens.

Where’s your favorite place on earth to travel?
The Tuamotu Archipelago I think. I mean, there would be many unreal places but because it’s close to home and such an unreal destination and trip every time I go there. I’m always amazed by these islands and the lifestyle there, it’s so unique.

Any books or shows in the work for you?
Yeah, it’s still a little early to say much about it but there should be something interesting coming out in 2018. So stay tuned.

Be sure to check out his website, www.benthouard.com, Facebook (@Ben.Thouard.Photography) and/or Instagram, @benthouard.