Stab Magazine | Chippa Wilson By Ted Grambeau

Season finale of How Surfers Get Paid drops Thursday, 5pm PT


Chippa Wilson By Ted Grambeau

Chippa Wilson, By Ted Grambeau   Western Australia   Ted Grambeau isn’t just a surf photographer, he’s a player who defined it. Back in the nineties Grambeau was swimming at big Pipe with one of the first medium-format flash camera rigs. There’s one shot that ran of Johnny-Boy Gomes in 1990 that made the cover […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Chippa Wilson, By Ted Grambeau


Western Australia


Ted Grambeau isn’t just a surf photographer, he’s a player who defined it. Back in the nineties Grambeau was swimming at big Pipe with one of the first medium-format flash camera rigs. There’s one shot that ran of Johnny-Boy Gomes in 1990 that made the cover of Australia’s Surfing Life. Johnny-Boy is jamming his tail on an eight-footer at late-afternoon Pipe and Ted’s captures it with just the right amount of flash.

But, wait, what’s different about it? Yeah, it ain’t a silhouette like every other late-afternoon Pipe shot. You can see Johnny Boy’s face (Grrrr!) and there’s detail in the shadows.

“It wasn’t about the larger format,” says Grambeau, “but it was about the ability to synch a flash at high-shutter speeds. I wanted to light the scene but I didn’t want it to look like it’d been flashed. I wanted a scene filled with beautiful light.”

These days Grambeau is such a brand even companies like Apple and Nikon want their piece of him. He is an ambassador for Aperture, Apple’s photo management application, Apple have bought shots of his to run as stock photos on their computers (Dorian at monstrous P-Pass) and Nikon chose him to run their photographic workshops.

His expertise isn’t by chance. Grambeau studied at RMIT in Melbourne and, later, worked for Burt Glinn the famous Magnum photographer in New York City. “I wanted to see what was at the top of the mountain,” says Grambeau. “I had to unlearn everything I’d learned. It taught me what great photo-journalism is. That it’s not so much about building a photo but stealing real moments, honest moments of life and not trying to control everything by lighting everything. About anticipating moments that are significant.”

And so we arrive at Ted Grambeau and Chippa Wilson in the south-west of Australia. On a film-only trip. No chance in hell of telling the story of one of Chippa’s intricate manoeuvres but maybe a shot at capturing significant moments. And all in a medium described by Grambeau as “feminine. Film is such a delicate medium. There are so many things that can go wrong with film. Shoot in slide film, with its half-a-stop latitude, and if you miss your exposures the roll is useless. Every stage of the process is critical. It has to be stored correctly. If it goes through an x-ray there’s the issue of fogging. You have to really treat it right or it’s not going to hang around. But it’s enduring. It’s beautiful. It’s very feminine.”

Grambeau, who isn’t anti-digital by any stretch, appreciates the artisanal nature of film as well as its unique properties. “Film has a texture that is very difficult to get with any other medium. We spend all our lives mimicking a texture that’s hard to mimic because it’s a physical process whereas digital is effectively computer numbers. Software attempts to recapture that feeling but it’s never the same because it’s too controlled. Film is a much more laborious and artistic process. You have to have an understanding of light. You can’t make mistakes in the metering because you have no latitude. You have to understand what you’re doing, whether you’re exposing for the shadows, the highlights, whether you’re shooting into the sun. It’s a much more complex medium.”

Complex and occasionally terrifying. “On a professional level, to be operating blindly on a whole photo shoot is the scariest thing you can imagine. Kids can’t appreciate the gravity of going on away a trip and not knowing the result. They want to see it on an Instagram 30 seconds later and be disposed of it 40 seconds after that. It’ll never pop up in a filing cabinet years after. Digital is the slut of photography.”

Grambeau used a range of cameras on this shoot including a Mamiya 7 medium-format camera for the black-and-white portraits (shot using a black-and-white film that can go through the regular C-41 process at one-hour labs), a 35mm Nikon FM2 and F100 as well as a Hasselblad X-Pan, also used for portraits. The beauty of the 35mm Nikons for shooting action, says Grambeau, was being able to use a brand new 80-400mm lens on the old bodies.

Chippa appreciated the effort that Grambeau went to ’cause he’ll always dig on a little reverse into the past. “Old cameras,
motorbikes, cars, I feel like they all worked better. They were nice and easy and simple. I can get my hands into my old motorbike and fix it. I learn from old things.”

About this spread, Grambeau, who ain’t that dissimilar from Augustus Bulleit who in 1830 cooked up his Bulleit Bourbon recipe in his home still using methods that’d been around for years, says: “I have a love of documenting the journey. It’s not a manoeuvre. I want to take the audience on the whole ride, capturing the personality and being true to the purpose.”


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent


Fancy An Ale, Some Good Music, And A Bunch Of Tubes?

Ballet's minimalist full-length will satiate your needs.

Mar 22, 2023

João Chianca Spent Seven Years On The QS Without A Sponsor

And look where he is now.

Mar 22, 2023

Take Stab’s 2023 Audience Survey, Win A 3-Board Quiver

Stab towels and Premium subscriptions also up or grabs.

Mar 21, 2023

Jessi Miley Dyer On The New Challenger Series Schedule And More

Did you know that you could miss the mid-year cut and still theoretically win the…

Mar 20, 2023


Don’t Miss The Last Wave Of The First 2023 SEOTY Entry

Jacob Willcox's ‘Into Dust’ demands your pupils.

Mar 20, 2023

Warren Smith on New Welcome Rivers Range and Buying Jaguars on Facebook Marketplace  

Now available in the Antipodes...

Mar 20, 2023


Wavegarden Spills How The Sausage Is Made

BTS of their global air wave rollout ft. Yago Dora, Dion Agius, Reef Heazlewood and…

Mar 18, 2023

Minds, Machines, And The Magic Of Hands

How modern shapers split their time between designing files and hand-finishing boards.

Mar 18, 2023


Are Hectic Lefts The Final Finless Frontier?

William Aliotti is on the right-foot-forward fringes.

Mar 17, 2023

Watch: Luke + Eddie

A mostly unknown, on-duty lifeguard won the most prestigious big-wave event in history. How Luke…

Mar 17, 2023


A Pipe Master, Ryan Burch, And Some Pickle Forks On The Eastern Seaboard

This one ticks a lot of boxes

Mar 16, 2023

Brazil Has A Talent Problem

And three other things we learned from the Rip Curl Pro Portugal.

Mar 16, 2023


Mick Fanning On A Unicorn, Bags Of Dicks, And A Shocking Script Read By Surfing’s Biggest Stars

Vaughan Blakey and Nick Pollet on their outrageous film, 'The Greatest Surf Movie In The…

Mar 15, 2023

Italo Ferreira Caught 63 Waves In An Hour

And other stats from our Stab in the Dark production.

Mar 15, 2023


Can A Freesurfer Go The Other Way? A Dakoda Walters Case Study

The 57-kilo Aussie has taken a Stab High approach to traditional contest surfing.

Mar 15, 2023

Caity Simmers And João Chianca Fulfill Respective Prophecies Under Gaze Of Portuguese President

A very good day of competitive surfing.

Mar 14, 2023

Kelly And Steph Are In Trouble

What's a GOAT gotta do to make the cut around here?

Mar 14, 2023


“I Used To Only Surf Here With One Guy…His Name’s Henry, And He’s A Seal”

A contemplation on the frigid desolation of Iceland.

Mar 14, 2023