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Owen Tozer: A Life in Pictures

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Owen Tozer has been a busy boy of late. While the rest of us spent lockdown completing Netflix or getting in Twitter spats about whether not wearing PPE in the surf made you Gammon, Karen or cancelled, the South Devon local instead got productive. He recently released Looking Sideways Vol. 1 with Matt Barr, a coffee table book celebrating Californian ride culture from a road trip the pair made up and down the Pacific coast. Closer to home, Owen and three friends conceived and launched Goodrays CBD seltzer, a drink celebrating their shared love for the super natural plant, cannabis.

We tasked him with whittling decades of his photography down to dozen or so images that help tell his story, from hippy Totnes to the hip Big Smoke and several exotic points between. Here’s what he came up with.

Bantham

The coastline of South Devon is where I think of as home and Bantham is the centre point for me. It’s where I learned to surf, where my many of best mates live and hang out. It’s a beautiful spot with a classic scene centred around the carpark. I used to get lifts from the Paignton surf crew as they passed through my town on their way to Bantham and always loved the banter and chat on the way and in the car park. Characters like Kev Gregory, Rob Bealing and Ray Owen were generous to us as younger kids growing up and learning, there were local kids like Richie Kenyon, Jim Newitt and Joe Owen who surfed so well setting the level and loads of characters like Swanny and Deny Tolley to have a laugh with or be slightly scared of. More recently it’s gone a bit upmarket and there’s a van called the Gastrobus selling good food & coffee, and Goodrays – our first stockist. On a good surf day there’s loads of chat and buzz in the carpark and you can spend all day chatting and surfing. It’s a hard place to tear yourself away from when the sun and moon are setting over Burgh island like in this photo. Often there’s a little crew of surfers sat in the dunes drinking and watching the show – you can just make them out here on the left if you look closely.

Paignton Pier

Paignton is affectionally known by many in the south Devon surf community as The Glory Bay. It only works on a gale force onshore, which is easterly so usually happens in winter and is bitterly cold. The beach is made of reddish sand so the water is always a strange greyish brown hue, and the waves are generally small and choppy. Despite all of this there is a great surf scene and Paignton has produced some great surfers. As a kid there was nothing quite like the buzz around a good Paignton forecast! You knew you’d see loads of people, you could have a go at shooting the pier or hit up one of the little reefs around. Eugene Tollemarche would magically appear from wherever he was in the world and put on a show when The Glory Bay was on. We’d surf for hours and get our mates to chuck Mars bars off the pier so we could keep going. I remember taking this picture for a school project. I had an old Pentax 35mm camera and took 3 or 4 shots. I was pretty sure I’d timed it right and got a good one but had to wait a week to get the film back before I could check. 

Les Landes, France

After a couple years living in Bristol and working as a designer I got made redundant when the magazine I worked for went bust and bought a one way ticket to France. I spent 3 years living between the South West coast and The Three Valleys in the Alps, working as little as possible and surfing or snowboarding as much as I could. I loved the pace of life in France. Everything seemed to stop between midday and 3 every day, giving you license to go surfing. Seeing images of that strip of coastline around Hossegor still gives me a fuzzy feeling and makes me want to sell everything, move back there and consume large amounts of cheese, wine and seafood.

Ben Howard at Alexandra Palace

I’ve always believed in support my friends’ creative projects where I can, so when a young friend who I met in the water at Bantham asked me to help him with artwork for his first record I was more than happy to. That young lad went on to make many great records and become something of a star. We worked on the the first few records together, and as his career bloomed the work grew into music videos and visuals for arena tours. It was a wild, creative time and really gave me a chance to make work on a big scale, and understand my value as a creative person. This image was taken during sound check for a 3 night residency at Ally Pally which was amazing. I’m so fucking proud of Ben and what he’s achieved.

A Time & Space Machine

Making music videos was so much fun, unfortunately I missed the MTV glory years of big budgets but it was a super creative time and as a medium it’s open to ideas and playfulness. I shot this between takes while a filming with dancer Kat Collings and I love the weird shapes and ghostly form she makes. The final film is called A Time & Space Machine.

Ireland

For a long time I have had two very good reasons to go to Ireland regularly. One was working closely with Mickey Smith on lots of creative projects to do with Ben’s music which was always fun and we forged a great friendship. The other was my dad living further north near Mullaghmore. Ireland is still one of my favourite places in the world. I’ve surfed the best waves I ever had there and seen waves that scared the absolute shit out of me. This mountain, Ben Whisken, is right behind the house my dad built, and is just one of the most awesome things to live beside. It rises up like some crazy wave of rock and along with its buddy Ben Bulben it dominates and defines the landscape between Sligo town and Bundoran.

The Disco Shed

We started shaping boards in my friend Paddy’s shed for a bit of fun a few years ago. He makes boards under the name Disco Surfboards now, so naturally my first board was named the ‘Biscuit’. It’s such a fun thing to do and the feeling of satisfaction you get from riding a good wave on a board you made yourself is deep! Unfortunately this shed no longer makes dream machines, but Paddy and Ben are currently working on an amazing project called Outside which will sit up the hill from Bantham and will have a permanent shaping facility, skate bowl and cafe which will be our new home from home.

London

I actually never wanted to live in London but the draw of a hot girl (and possibly some work) was too much to resist. Over the years I’ve grown to love so much about this city. It’s full of amazing people, amazing art and creativity, so much good music and great boozers. It can be expensive to live here, but so many opportunities and relationships happen just from being here and meeting interesting people. This is the view from my balcony, which I must have shot a hundred times in different weather and light.

Travel

A couple of years ago I travelled to Ethiopia on my own for a family wedding. A large part of my family live in Addis Ababa and after the wedding I set off on my own to see a bit of the country. Up in the north, away from the cities, I had this feeling that I’d stepped back in time into a scene from the old testament or something. Until I went for a walk with a guide who had an AK47, and it all came crashing back to the 21st century. He did let me carry it for a while though so that was nice.

Looking Sideways

Working with my old friend Matt Barr on Looking Sideways has been one of the great pleasures of the last few years. Because it’s entirely self published and mostly self funded we have the freedom to do whatever we like, and to follow our curiosity and ideas. Our recent trip to California (which, to be fair, was paid for by Visit Cali) was a real high point for both of us I think. Entirely unpaid and self produced but we had basically no commercial pressures and we loved being able to make work on our own terms. We ended up making a book from the trip which has been massively rewarding. This is Herbie Fletcher showing me his extensive surfboard collection.

Japan

On Christmas Day 2019 my wife and I took off for a month long trip to Japan and of course I took my camera. This evening was something quite special. We were staying in a place called Hakone which has some great views of Mount Fuji. We had arrived just in time to get a glimpse before dark, but the next day was rainy and low visibility so we couldn’t see it. A couple of nights later the weather cleared and it just so happened that night was the first full moon of 2020. I headed out at midnight to have a look for the mountain and wasn’t disappointed. The light of the moon made Fuji glow in an otherworldly way. This was taken by putting the camera on the icy roof of my hire car and exposing for a few seconds. I gave up when my hands went numb, but luckily a few came out well. I remember throughout that trip the news of a strange new virus being discovered in China and by the time we flew home we knew we were very lucky to have had this trip.

Nazaré

The last time I went abroad was a short trip to Portugal with good friend and writer Jamie Brisick. I met Jamie on our Looking Sideways trip to California and we immediately got on. He had moved to London in 2020 to have a change of scene and do some writing and we managed to talk Huck magazine into sending us out to Nazaré to cover the WSL big wave event there. Despite having seen a million photos of the place, I was blown away by the scale and power that is everywhere. I loved shooting in a more documentary style and following my nose. Nazaré has been shot to death so it’s difficult to find something different about it, but it’s fun trying. I remember Jamie describing the waves as looking like giant forked tongues or something like that, which it kind of looks like in this picture.

Goodrays

For me the last year has been the year of Goodrays. The lockdowns and inevitable cancellation of nearly all my work was tough, but it did give me time to focus on coming up with a name and identity for this new project. Goodrays is a CBD seltzer that I’ve launched along with some friends, and has been an amazing project to throw myself into. I’ve been a designer for more than 20 years, and a photographer and film maker for much of that, so starting my own brand has really put all that experience and creativity to good use. The other co-founders are all amazing at what they do so it’s a great feeling, and definitely a steep learning curve. Not least learning how to photograph and style drinks, making sure there are bubbles and droplets and perfect wedges of citrus requires a level of attention to detail I’ve not really had to employ much in the past! It’s fun though and I love going for it and seeing what we come up with. Usually everyone throws in a load of ideas and something great comes out.

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