Church, Ron

Pioneering surf and diving photographer from San Diego, California; best known for his elegantly composed black and white shots of  Southern California and Hawaiian surf scenes in the early 1960s.

Church was born (1934) in Denver, moved to Los Angeles with his family at age 11, and briefly studied photography at the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena after high school. He dropped out of art school at 19 and found work taking pictures from inside the cockpit of flight-testing jet aircraft. By the mid 1950s he had discovered diving, spearfishing, and surfing, and turned his considerable photographic attention to the sea. Church snapped his first surf photo in 1960 at La Jolla Cove, had his first picture published in Surfer magazine in 1961, and three years later his name was listed on the magazine’s masthead as a staff photographer.

Church had a masterful eye for framing and balance, producing artful action and lifestyle shots that looked “almost staged” according to photographer Brad Barrett. “Other surf photographers of the era were just aiming their shore bound telephotos at whatever moved,” Barrett further explained, “while Ron was thoughtfully composing photographs as he floated around in the impact zone.”

Church left Surfer in 1963, and began focusing on underwater dive photography. He soon began piloting deepwater submersibles and in 1967 he paired with Jacques Cousteau and spent several years shooting still and motion picture footage all over the world.

In 1973, at the age of 39, Church passed away after battling a brain tumor.

Church won the 1963 Underwater Photographer of the Year award, ran the Ron Church School of Underwater Photography, and founded SEACOR, a manufacturer of specialty aerospace and underwater camera housings. His diving photography was featured in National Geographic, Time, Life, and Popular Mechanics magazines, among others. Ron Church: California to Hawaii 1960-1965 was published by the Surfer’s Journal in 2007, and Surf Contest: Ron Church was put out by Tom Adler Books in 2009.