Fabiola in smoke. Photo: Brian Nevins
This past April, 33-year-old, Hampton, New Hampshire-based photographer Brian Nevins won the Telus Pro Photographer Showdown in Whistler, British Columbia. It’s one of the world’s biggest adventure photography awards. Any action sports lensman could point to it as a pivotal moment in their career. For Nevins, winning the award was a shock. It was also an affirmation that he was shooting the right way. It was not the pivotal moment in his career. He says that moment came six years ago, when he first visited a Nicaraguan dump called La Chureca.
Photo: Brian Nevins
Everything started for Nevins with surf photography. After high school, he and a friend planned to travel to California to be surf bums. His father, who was an airline pilot, told him he’d be cut off from free flights if he didn’t attend school. Nevins enrolled at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo as an easy way to take classes and surf. He stumbled into a photography class and latched onto a professor that inspired him, made him think, and, eventually, changed his life. “He said, ‘If you’re going to go surf and be a beach bum, you might as well take pictures and see what you can do with it,’” says Nevins. “And one thing led to another and it became my life’s passion.”
He attended the Brooks Institute and majored in photography, begged David Pu’u for a year until he got a job assisting as a surf photographer, and started shooting for Surfer magazine while still taking classes. He graduated and spent eight years shooting action sports, living off mac and cheese and crackers while traveling the world. “It’s not a lucrative job, but, you know, in my head, when I was younger, I thought, This is the most impossible dream.” he says. “So once I started making my $4 a year doing that, I didn’t care.”
Then he went to the dump for the first time. He saw parents scraping the meat off of rotting cow carcasses while children walked barefoot over exposed hypodermic needles. It changed the way he viewed the world. “I shoot for different reasons now,” he says. “The La Chureca shoot, the day that crept into my life, I kind of stopped seeing surfing for the sponsored shots and the action shots and it just became looking at life and surfing differently,” he says. “I think the only shots I take of surfing now remind me of the things that I love, rather than the things I know will be published.”