The Photographer Series: Damea Dorsey
Damea Dorsey’s stellar surf imagery from around the world
Damea Dorsey started taking photos as a business decision. While working in the marketing department of a surf wear brand, Dorsey took up photography to "get the images he needed"—but once he started pulling the trigger behind the lens, passion replaced necessity, and Dorsey quickly turned his side job in to his full time pursuit. Starting with the basics in the time of film and quickly adapting to today's digital realm. Since stepping out of the office and in to the world of photography, Damea has become one of the most well-rounded and most-published photographers in the surf world. His background as a lifeguard helping him get in and out of hairy situations in the lineup, while his love of good times, positive outlook, and charming personality has helped him gain access to the inner circles of the world's top surfers. Simply put, Damea shoots with 'em all day, and parties with 'em all night, and in both cases rarely misses a photographic moment. "I learned a long time ago never to leave the house without my camera," says Damea. "There's a fine line between being 'the guy jamming the camera in your face' and 'the guy capturing a moment in time'—I like to think that I'm capturing moments whether I'm swimming at Backdoor or enjoying a bit of nightlife with the boys—both can be rewarding, and both have their respective dangers," laughs Damea.
Trust is huge when it comes to letting a photographer join in on some of the debauchery that happens when surfers exit the water and enter the night. Damea knows what photos to show and what photos to file in the "secret" vault. "When you swim out with a surfer in crazy waves, and put your life on the line along with them, a bond and trust is going to form," says Damea. "The surfer trusts that you won't miss a shot in the water and won't blow them up when you get an image of them engaging is something sketchy—when you travel and work with your friends you start to have each other's backs." Case and point—while on location in Portugal with John John Florence, Damea followed a solo John John out to a ledging death slab three hundred yards off the beach where after manhandling a few psycho pits, John John took a terrifying wipeout nearly breaking his back and getting raked over a shallow reef. Damea made the switch from photographer to lifeguard in a split second and took control of a scary situation, making sure that one of the world's best surfers made it back to the beach unscathed.
Some photographers have a very specific "look"—an unmistakable style that when you see one of their images, you know right away that it's theirs. With Dorsey, he strives to make an all-encompassing wide array of photographer his specialty. "I want to do it all and do it all well," says Dorsey. "I work hard and try to put everything in to every shot. It doesn't matter if I'm shooting a model or a surfer getting barreled—I put the same passion and energy in to everything I do."
TransWorld SURF: How long have you been shooting surf photos?
Damea Dorsey: Got my first professional camera and waterhousing back in 2001. Larry “Flame” Moore and I talked for a while and decided the best bet was for me to get a Canon A2E (film) with a 15mm and a Dale Kobitech water housing. I got some really good photos with that setup.
Favorite wave to shoot?
I don’t really have a favorite wave to shoot. More of a favorite type of wave. Favorite type of waves to shoot would be ones with a sick backdrop, clear water, epic light, and it either breaks in the same spot every time or perfect peaks all over the place.
Favorite subjects to shoot?
I love shooting with guys like Chippa Wilson, Josh Kerr, John John Florence, Mitch Coleborn, Jack Freestone, etc. Guys that are fun to travel with, go super big, love to surf, and have a good time wherever they are.
What kind of fins do you use when swimming?
I’ve tried so many and ended up with Da Fin. Perfect balance of sprinting speed and longer distance swimming. They’re light for travel and are great for bodysurfing and anything you need to do in the water.
Current go-to camera?
Currently using the Canon 1D Mark III and the 5D Mark II.
Gnarliest experience while shooting in the water?
I’ve been in quite a few but the one where JJF and I paddled out at this heavy slab in Portugal by ourselves is the freshest in my mind. I really should of had my longer lens water housing but only had my fisheye port. The sets were big and there was a lot of water moving around. It was really hard to stay in a good position. Whenever I would go in really deep a huge set would come and I would get caught by the second or third set wave. I got pushed in over the reef and was so close to getting slammed on the reef by the barrel but squeaked through by the skin of my teeth more than once. Then JJF hit some of the reef while bottom turning and that threw him off balance and he ended up slamming face first on the reef. It knocked him out and when he came up he was pretty spun. I swam over to him and there was blood on his head, face, and chin. Neither of us had been out there before and we were a little concerned on how to get in. We just went for it and everything worked out. On the beach JJF and I reassessed the damage to him and there were a lot more cuts and bruises. We took him to the hospital and he got a few stitches. He had to surf a WCT event the next day. He’s a pretty tough kid.
What photographer's work do you admire?
Until recently I hadn’t really thought about the other photographers work much. I’ve taken some time and opened my eyes and I’d have to say I’m pretty impressed with what Zak Noyle and Chris Burkard have done and are doing.
Best advice you could give an up and coming photographer?
Do what you love because life is way too short to spend it doing things you don’t love.