Jim Welch loves waves! This free spirit surfer chases ocean swells around the world, and also captures their magical hidden beauty on camera. Jim’s luminous photographs sparkle with color and energy. Rainbows, fantasy landscapes, and cosmic swirls all unfold in a gorgeous microcosm of nature and the very essence of life. The photos reveal the intimate world of an artist who is deeply connected to the heartbeat of the ocean.
Jim grew up surfing the waves of the Hawaiian Islands and he knows well the nuances and moods of the ocean. It is customary for a surfer to tune into the rhythm of the wave sets before diving in. As Jim puts it, “Each wave has its own name tag”. A surfer pleasures in the feeling of being at one with the water, and in the big waves his or her very life can depend on achieving this synergy.
In 1989, the search for new surf experiences and a desire for freedom led Jim away from Hawaii and on the road. He hung out in a California beach house for a while and found some fun and liberation. Right about that time, he bought a camera and shot his first roll of film with the guidance of a professional photographer. Jim was immediately hooked and traveling soon became about capturing the world and his experiences in photographs.
Jim explored around Asia and he witnessed the rawness of poverty in the third world and the very real disparity between the rich and the poor. He also made the fleeting acquaintance of people in Costa Rica and Indonesia who owned next to nothing, yet generously invited him into their homes to share what little they had to offer. It was in these experiences that he found the golden secret of where happiness may be found, at least in part. He has been amazed at the kindnesses extended to him by complete strangers. There was also a realization of the value of simplicity, and “the commonality we all share. In the end we are all humans having experiences and just trying to have a good life.”
Why does Jim think that everyone should travel?
“The new sensory experiences give you a reborn appreciation for everything, and most of all for life. You feel alive! You discover the magic and richness of living in the moment. There is the fascination of discovering new things and you expand.”
There came a point in the ongoing saga of Jim’s travels when he felt the call to go to Africa. This trip was not about chasing the surf, but rather it was an irresistible attraction to the exotic. Through a synchronistic set of circumstances he was invited to visit the village of the Pondo tribe, who as it happened was hosting a meeting of chiefs to determine solutions to some ecological problems.
During the meeting there were about seventy people crammed into one hut, and they were all working together towards a common good. There was a strong feeling of community in that African village and a sense that “if we are going to succeed, we are going to do it together.” When the business at hand had been accomplished, everyone gathered to celebrate. Music began and the children started to dance. Jim was struck by their innate rhythm, some of them very young, as they danced to the hypnotic chanting of male and female voices. The throbbing beat of the drums intensified, and as the adults joined the dance it gradually escalated into a frenzied, rhythmic merging of energies. In the midst of it all, Jim felt the deep connection of the people to one another and to the spirit world. He experienced “One”.
Profound experiences have a way of changing a person’s direction, and Jim’s enthusiasm for photographing surfers and landscapes dried up. But as the saying goes, as one door shuts another opens, and Jim was shown the way by his old friend the ocean. One day at the beach while idly observing two wave sets crashing together, inspiration hit Jim like lightning. His passion turned to wave photography.
Jim’s new fascination with the intimate world of waves quickly took hold and he fully embraced the challenge of taking wave photographs. Jim works with an underwater camera inside potentially dangerous waves up to twelve feet high. Immediacy and a crucial sense of timing are definitely involved. He reveals, “I am in rhythm with the ocean’s pulse. I sit and watch the waves first and I mesh with the rhythm of the natural elements of the ocean.”
At the heart of the photography lies a deep desire on Jim’s part to awaken those around him. He is aware of a general lack of connection to nature, although he does believe that many people crave to find it again. He says, “I have always had a deep sorrow for the decline and decimation of the natural world. I hold an appreciation for nature close to my heart and I try to capture it through the lens in such a way that people will take another look and really appreciate the beauty.”
In every photograph you see his love of nature, his connection with the ocean, and that feeling of “One.” Each wave is splendidly unique, but also part of a beautiful whole. And as Jim says, “Waves are unpredictable, and that is what I love most about life!”
Wave photographs © Jim Welch
My friend Jim Welch is an avid traveler and talented photographer. To see more of his work, please visit his website: New World Images
“One Wave” © Susan L Hart
“One Wave” was first published by EscapeArtist.com in their September 2002 issue of Escape from America magazine.
A version of this story published August 2016 in Friends in Foreign Places: An Expat Anthology.