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Peter 'Joli' Wilson and his long-ass career in surf photography

Kelly Slater at Backdoor © Peter 'Joli' Wilson



Creator Profiles

40 Years at the Center of Surfing: Peter "Joli" Wilson part 1 in a 2 part series

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 26 March, 2017 - From covering the fledgling days of pro surfing to chronicling the electric energy of Andy Irons, Peter "Joli" Wilson has been front and center to some of surfing's most famous periods. Since the late 80s Peter estimates he's photographed between 50-80% of the ASP/WSL Tour, with certain spots being personal favorites - Tahiti and Fiji.

His images bring us the tour and its periphery to surfers and non-surfers worldwide who will never have the chance to stand on the beach at Snapper for a Mick vs. Parko heat.

Gary Elkerton © Peter 'Joli' Wilson


Where are you from and what do you shoot with?
I’m from Ballarat, Victoria an hour from Torquay Bells Beach. I started with Nikon in the 70’s - went to Canon when Auto focus came in and am now back shooting with Nikon; having won the Nikon Surf Photo Of The Year 2011 and 2013. 

How did surf photography start for you?
Basically I had twin passions in 1963 Surfing and Photography and they have continued ever since. I used to hitch-hike the 60 miles / 100 kilometers to Torquay. It turned out I’m a better photographer than surfer.


Tell us something most people don’t know about surf photography
I think a lot of people don’t understand the process of taking the photo and getting it published… or even out of the camera. The glamour side is standing on beaches all around the world but now in the digital age, the very un-glamorous side the hours sitting on the computer editing and distributing the images.

Share with us your heaviest experience in the surf or while travelling.
There have been a number of scary moments and funnily enough most have been while in a boat.

-The boat breaking down in the middle of the line up during the Code Red swell at Teahupo’o, Tahiti.

-Drifting across the channel at Huahine, Tahiti, trying desperately to start the boat motor and not having my gear in a waterproof Pelican Case.

-Being flipped out of a zodiac at G-Land in the impact zone due to driver error

-On a Surf Boat trip and nearly T-boning a very large Indonesian fishing boat that was running with no lights on crossing between Sumba and Sumbawa

Heaviest – having a boat roll over on top of me in Fiji. I was trapped underneath the boat and had to come up into the hull to get a couple of breaths before I could swim out not really sure of where up or down was. I was bashed around with bruising and broken ribs and it took me a couple of months to recover.

1995 G-Land Pro © Peter 'Joli' Wilson


Name one photographic image you saw that changed the way you approach photography.
There isn’t one particular image but more the photo-journalism style of Brassai who was a French street photographer in the 1930’s. He was able to move freely amongst his subjects with a camera and I feel that I have the same advantage moving amongst mine where ever I may be.


No bikinis or thrusters here, but the work of Brassaï is a major influence in Peter "Joli" Wilson's work.


What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
Have a few…

The #1 being my opportunity of interviewing and photographing the Dalai Lama

#2  I had 3 separate Magazine covers for the last month of the last century December 1999 … but wondered whether anybody would see them ticking over into the new millennium.

#3  Team Joli at work having double covers – front and back - one action one portrait of Andy Irons celebrating his life.



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