Through all of the craziness of late, we do get rewarded from time to time with some of the exceptional creative work that is still being produced. We recently hooked up with Western Australian photographer, Tom Pearsall, or Driftwood Photography, as he’s also known, to have a brief chat and exchange a few images.
Tom’s work is a life-long passion that has included surfing as a center point. But, as you can see, he is also very adept at capturing some of life’s moments out of the water as well.
What Youth: Where did you grow up?
Tom Persall: I grew up in the coastal suburbs of the sleepy West Oz city of Perth. A big turning point in my life was when my old man (a paramedic for 30+ years) scored a position running the first professional ambo station ‘down south’. He was bloody stoked as he is a life long surfer and Perth was getting busier and crazier than ever as an ambo. I was 17 years old, freshly finished high school, and just beginning to reap the rewards of a license and the freedom of adulthood. Moving away from all my mates was giving me a serious case of FOMO so I fought the move and basically squatted in my parent’s empty house that was ‘For Sale’ without them knowing. That’s a story in itself but eventually, I came to a point where I was incredibly hungover, opened the huge cupboard and there was just one lonely can of Heinz Big ‘N’ Chunky and I thought “this is pretty sad”, packed my stuff and headed down to the South West Region of Western Australia to join the family. Turned out being the single most important thing I’ve done in the trajectory of my life, and one I am forever grateful for. Who knows, I might still be working at Carine Bottle-o if Dad didn’t get that job.
WY: Do you remember getting your first camera?
TP: My memories pretty shocking but it was only in 2014 so I can remember that (just). I’d scored a job surf guiding at ‘Pitstop Hill’ in the Mentawais and knew renowned photographer Johnny “Jungle” Barton was working there. So I bought a DSLR complete with a shitty kit lens and went and annoyed the hell out of him. I remember seeing one of his amazing water shots and going, “My god! What lens is that??!” I can’t remember exactly what he said but it hit me straight between the eyes and went something like this, “The best loaf of bread you’ve had isn’t because the baker had the best oven”. Pretty Confucious-like for a big Aussie with a cast-away beard.
WY: Do you have any mentors?
TP: My parents, Rhonda and Mel, have always mentored through example. They are stand up humans who first got me into the salt and have always afforded my little (now bigger than me) bro and I every opportunity in life and never pressured us. Joe Knight of One Ocean International (a watermanship training organization) has mentored me in a broad range of disciplines; freediving, carbon dioxide tolerance, discipline, water safety, and rescue as well as mindfulness and breathwork. The results from that training have had a profound influence on my career so far. Being able to swim safely in conditions I wouldn’t have otherwise; as well as mental clarity outside of the water which has led to an improved sense of well being. Also Luke Sarranah, an underground West Oz charger I’ve been traveling around the world with these past few years. Having done nearly no international travel until I was about 26 (I’m 31 now) I know he’s felt like he is trailing a lost puppy through many of the world’s airports.
WY: What makes a great photo?
TP: I’ve never had any formal training in photography which is kind of good and bad. The learning curve is much longer but in a way you’re not constrained by the ‘rules’ because you don’t know what they are! haha. It’s a bit cliche but I think, simply, a great photo is anything that makes you feel something strongly. There are so many incredibly talented photographers shooting surf that it is very rare to see something new. When you see something that really stuns you, like Leroy Bellet’s POV angle at Teahupo’o or Stu Gibson and Russell Ord’s wide-angle shots in gigantic, deadly slabs, you know the background story is so much more than the image. It’s taken a tonne of training, travel, risk, preparation, finances, heartbreaking disappointments and courage to chase their unique vision.
WY: Favorite camera?
TP: Any Sony mirrorless gets me going. They’re so easy to use it sometimes feels like cheating.
WY: Any other interests outside photography?
TP: I’m usually surfing unless it’s really special conditions or outside of my comfort level, then I’ll grab the camera. I’ve got to be careful to maintain a good balance or I start resenting shooting because I miss all the good sessions!
WY: Why do you take photos?
TP: I was sick of polishing glasses 5 days a week in the bar! haha. Nah, there’s a mush of reasons. I remember always catching extraordinary glimpses of moments whilst surfing. Like looking back as you scratch over the shoulder of a North Point bomb and getting this snapshot of someone deep in this mind-boggling, roaring cavern – everything glowing green and gold – imprinted on the inside of my eyelids. Or simply when a wave passes by and the offshore spray causes a vibrant, circular rainbow for a split second. I wanted to capture those moments to share what a unique experience surfing can be.
Another major reason, to add to my cliches, is that there has always been a nagging to do something that can make a difference. Running bars and restaurants for almost a decade wasn’t scratching that itch. It was making it itchier. Storytelling with pictures is, in my mind, one of the most powerful tools to initiate change. As we know our natural environment is going to hell in a handbasket and to get a little bit political our (Australia’s) government seems to be doing everything it can to not only stuff our environment but also throw sticks in the spokes of other countries trying to implement positive change. Coastal people are lucky to be relatively connected with nature, often from a young age, but our larger populations living in urban areas maybe don’t cherish how precious and incredibly delicate nature is. If I can infect some of those people with the wonder and awe of what it feels like to swim amongst liquid mountains – teeming with unique creatures of all shapes, sizes, and colours – then that would be a lifetime achievement for me.
WY: Cool. Thank you for the time and insight into your life.
Find more of Tom’s work here: