Chronicling Town with Eric Wehner
With a bevy of world-class backdrops at their fingertips, a community of esteemed Hawaii-based photographers are reshaping the way the world views paradise. Whether it’s a misty, grainy moment in Manoa captured on film or a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the Koʻolaus, thanks to their perspective—and a little help from Instagram—these talented crop of lens men and women are sharing a mesmerizing perspective of life in Hawaiʻi—to millions of people worldwide. Recently, we caught up with Eric Wehner, a photographer whose unique body of work includes some of the most magical moments of authentic Honolulu surf culture we’ve ever seen, to learn more about his perspective on chronicling Town.
How’d you find yourself behind the lens?
I actually grew up in the Northeast and snowboarding was something I was very passionate about. In high school I realized that my dream of becoming a professional snowboarder was not going to come true so I started taking up an old camera to the mountain and photographing my friends hitting jumps in the park and riding the half pipe. I remember when I got my first roll of film back I was immediately hooked. I figured out how to combine two of my passions and turn it into something. Long story short, I wound up becoming friends with some pros and magazine editors who thankfully liked my work and the next two years after high school I traveled the US shooting snowboarding for companies and the mags. It was a pretty amazing time and I owe a lot to the people that supported me.
Where do you look for inspiration?
My living room. I have a rather large stack of coffee table books in there that I have been collecting since I was 19 of all my favorite photographers. They inspire me to love and care about how I approach creating an image so that it may be something that will stand the test of time.
As someone who documents Hawaiʻi, if you could go back in time and shoot anything here in the islands, what would it be and why?
I would go back and photograph the nightlife and music scene of the 50s, 60s, and 70s in Waikiki. I love photographing concerts and people entertaining. So much raw emotion and the chemistry is unreal. There were so many talented musicians filtering through Hawaiʻi at that time and performing in Waikiki and at the Waikiki Shell. Not to mention all the Amazing Hawaiian musicians we had who would perform with all these visitors. Definitely sounds like a good time.
Do you have a favorite camera?
My Hasselblad 500CM with 50, 80 and 150mm lenses. I love this camera! It’s so sharp. My wife bought it for me for our anniversary about 5 years ago. I have always wanted one so I have to thank her for making one of my dreams come true.
What is it about the lineups of Waikiki that speaks to you so much?
There is definitely an energy in the water there that I have never felt anywhere else. I can’t help but look at Diamond Head while I am swimming around and think to myself this is the same site the ancient Hawaiians saw when they were surfing there. I think what stands out the most are the locals that grew up surfing there. It’s not uncommon to see three generations of family all out there surfing and sharing waves. It’s really quite amazing.
Your photos, especially of Toots at Queens, have this very nostalgic feel to them. Were you at all influenced by Bruce Brown and the early surf cinema photogs who first shot that lineup in detail?
I think The Endless Summer will always be a huge influence for me. It was all I knew of Waikiki and surfing before I moved here 20 years ago. Also Clarence Maki was a huge influence. When I started shooting Toots about 5 years ago I remember thinking to myself these are going to be images that transport me back in time. He has a style that speaks for itself and he is just such a rad guy to photograph, that combined with me still shooting all my personal work on film and we created this small body of work. I have to thank Toots for giving me the opportunity. He shed a lot of light on my process.
Let’s talk about Bowls. What is it about that hallowed wave that appeals to you?
Bowls has a special place in my heart because I learned to surf there. I think it’s a sentimental place for a lot of people to surf which makes it such a fun place to photograph. There’s no other wave quite like it in Hawaiʻi. It’s authentic, it’s real, and it’s a ton of fun to surf and shoot.
We’re living in a new golden age in Honolulu. Not necessarily for surfing, although that’s always a part of it, but for creativity in general. It really feels like there’s a buzz. How does it feel to be a part of that movement?
Oh, I agree one hundred percent. Photographers, designers, artists, sculptors, writers, shop owners, chefs, athletes. I’m blown away by what I am seeing daily and very proud because a lot of these talents are all friends. They have this amazing platform now through social media to showcase their hard work. I’m proud to be part of this community of forward thinkers and doers and I can’t wait to see what they all do next.
Salvage Public showcases a lot of your photography within their South Shore Market storefront. As a brand, they’re doing a lot of great things and are bringing a really authentic perspective to the fashion market. What’s it been like working with those guys?
It’s been amazing. Joe, Noah and Napali are awesome and have just been so supportive. They really helped me get my work out there and have been so encouraging. They gave me the opportunity to have my first photography show at their store at South Shore Market. Noah built all my frames for the show. It was such a great experience. The best part is they treat me and my family like family. I am very grateful for all that they have done and all of their aloha.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ten years is a scary thought with all that is going on in the world right now. If I am thinking happy thoughts we will be right here still living in Kaimuki. I will still be surfing Gravies and eating poke bowls at Ruger Market, and most importantly watching my friends and family grow as we all work to create a better world.
Where can people go to see more of your work?
Probably the best place would be my Instagram @ericwehner or @ericwehnerphotography. Salvage Public still has my work up for a little while longer, so swing by and check it out.