These Ocean Waves Look Like Liquid Sculptures

Photographer Pierre Carreau captures waves mid-break, showing the surf’s delicate balance of power and fragility

“I feel like a hunter of perfect moments,” says Pierre Carreau. Most days, in a 20-minute window when the lighting is just right, the photographer is on the beach near his home on the Caribbean island of St. Barth shooting curling waves.

Carreau is a surfer and kitesurfer, but when he is grounded and behind a camera his “perfect moment” is not the instant his eye connects with a rideable wave. As a photographer, he is interested instead in what surfers would pass by. He is mesmerized by breaking waves —the physical result of wind rippling the water surface and friction causing crests to spill onto shore—and he wants to freeze them and share them with the landlocked. ”My goal is to focus on the wave shapes that create a paradox of power and fragility,” he says.

Born into a family of artists in France, Carreau strayed the course by studying business and pursuing a career in Information Technology. His calling, he’d come to find out, was photography though, and he eventually jumped ship to pursue it. His first commercial gigs were for magazines and equipment brands related to water sports. His own affinity to the ocean inspired him and his family, in 2004, to permanently relocate to St. Barth in the French West Indies.

A year ago, Carreau started “AquaViva,” his photographic study of ocean waves. Today, the series consists of about 30 images of sun-kissed breakers. One of the biggest challenges about taking his shots is managing to frame his compositions and focus at the same time. “Waves are so fast and the depth of field is so short that I have to make very quick choices, very instinctive,” he explains. Carreau uses the continuous drive mode on his camera to capture several frames a second. “I need to take thousands of photographs to really get the jewel I am searching for,” he says.

The photographer waxes lyrical about waves. “It’s like a story written by the wind on the deep sea and you can read it when the swell arrives on the shore,” he says. He calls them nature’s “liquid sculptures” and says “by freezing the waves I give them eternity.”

Carreau wants his photographs to spur an exchange of energy—from the waves to their onlookers. “I like the fact that this energy comes from far away to be revealed on our beaches,” he says.

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