Versatile filmmaker and artist, best known to surfers for his soulful, well-produced films, including The Seedling (1999), Sprout (2004), and The Present (2009). Quiet, trend-setting, and ineffably cool, Campbell “looks like a cross between Slingblade-era Billy Bob Thornton and Morrissey from the Smiths,” according to surf writer Scott Hulet.
Campbell was born (1969) in Dana Point, California, began skateboarding at age five, surfing at 10, and shooting photographs at 11. Six years later his photos were being published in skate magazines, and over the next 11 years Campbell contributed to TransWorld Skateboarding and Big Brother, among other titles. From 1997 to 1999, while living in Manhattan, New York, he was the photo editor at Skateboarder. During that time, Campbell produced his first movie, a 17-minute black-and-white skate short filmed in New York City and set to John Coltrane’s "Love Supreme."
After Campbell moved back to California (First Leucadia, than Santa Cruz), longboard revivalist Joel Tudor helped convince him to make a movie focusing on the retro movement taking shape along the West Coast, and in 1999 Campbell released The Seedling, a beautifully-composed work shot entirely on 16mm film. In a praiseful review, Surfer noted that The Seedling was a nod to surf filmmaking legend Bruce Brown," and that it reminded its audience "that surfing, above all else, is fun."
Five years later Campbell released Sprout, an equally stylish film that brought together surfers as diverse as alt-culture hero and aerial wizard Ozzie Wright and bodysurfing stalwart Mark Cunningham. 2009‘s The Present continued in the same eclectic vein. The well-curated soundtracks for all three films featured jazz, folk, and beach pop.
Campbell has also found success as a studio artist, with paintings and installation pieces shown in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Sydney, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, and Paris. In 2011, Campbell founded Um Yeah Arts, a multi-platform production company for books, film, and music. From 1993 to 2014 he was creative director and co-owner of Galaxia Records in Santa Cruz.
Slide Your Brains Out: Surfing in General 1997-2012, a collection of Campbell's photography, was published in 2013. Seeing Fatima's Eyes: Surf, Life, Stuff, Morocco, North Africa, followed in 2015. Campbell was featured in Beautiful Losers, a 2008 documentary about American DIY artists.
Tiffany Campbell, Thomas' wife, made Dear and Yonder (2009) a well-received all-woman surf movie.