Walking down gorgeous Manhattan Beach Avenue near the Manhattan Beach pier, there are countless boutiques, restaurants, and one unique treasure, the Bo Bridges Gallery. The walls are filled with massive images, surfboards, and skateboards of photographer Bo Bridges’ adventures and most surreal moments. While he takes me through the gallery, he tells the story behind each image and I start to notice a recurring theme - every image is captured in a high stakes capacity. Bridges is willing to risk it all to get the perfect shot. With nearly 20 years of experience shooting nearly every action sports star imaginable, including our friend and muse Makua Rothman, Bridges has a pretty impressive track record. Bridges’ creative and meticulous eye showcases the beauty in the world and people around us.
Besides photography, Bridges has also created his own line of hats, socks and limited edition t-shirts showcasing his pieces, all on prominent display in his shop. The first run of t-shirts ran out so quickly that they are now beginning to add more. Bridges’ work is never done however, he is jetting off to Australia after our interview for another shoot as well as continuing to manage the gallery. His approach to life and photography is simple - just go for it. It summarizes perfectly how his career has developed and we look forward to seeing his amazing new adventures come to life.
Labeling Men: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Bo Bridges: Growing up, my dad was a pilot in the Air Force, so we were constantly on the move. Every time we moved was a new adventure - new sports, new locations, new weather. I started becoming interested in sports, and each time we moved there would be a new one to try. I became really good at skateboarding, BMX Racing, snowboarding and surfing and these sports really shaped my years growing up. I went to college for Sports Marketing, but eventually transferred my major over to Photography and got a minor in Marine Biology.
Labeling Men: Wow, what inspired the switch?
Bo Bridges:I didn't want be in an office all the time. Photography seemed like a great way to still experience that sense of adventure I experienced through sports growing up. Today, digital media makes it a lot easier to take a good picture and get it properly exposed, but back then it was all film. We were rolling our own black and white film, processing it all and I became fascinated with the process. Because it was a fine arts school, the classes I was in were very oriented toward fine art photography and people were focused on still-life and abstract work. But there was no commercial, no sports, nothing. I love the arts side of it but I wanted to expand upon that - I just didn’t know how. I was observant of what other people were shooting and constantly thinking, “How am I going to make a living doing this?” I was also constantly thinking, “What can I do to be outside?" I ended up getting my pilot's license near the end of college. I would fly and take photos from the air. It turned into a business post-college: I flew over intercoastal waterways in Florida capturing shots.then one thing led to a another and I started hiring a pilot to fly me so I could focus on the camera and getting the shots.
Labeling Men: [Laughs] That makes sense!
Bo Bridges: I did that for a bit, but I wanted to get back into sports. So I went to Vail, Colorado on a whim. I drove out there and I told myself, if I didn’t get a job in photography in one month and I’d come back and keep doing this aerial photography business. Luckily, I got a job there and I started shooting the World Cup downhill in Beaver Creek, along with other events. They had white water, kayaking, skateboarding, and a big wakeboard scene in Denver. Then Vans did the Vans Triple Crown, so there was a lot of stuff going on. That one-month stopover turned into a six-year gap, but it started my career - the career I’m still doing now. I got involved with a lot of the big ski and snowboard companies. By ‘99 I was travelling, 100 to 150 days a year, chasing the best skiers, snowboarders all over to places like France, New Zealand, Japan, Europe. A lot of it was back country hiking, a little sketchy, snow conditions, frost bite, and everything else, but it was fun, I was young and livin’ it, just going for it. Momentum kept building and I began going to New York and Los Angeles for more shoots, so I decided to move to LA in 2000 to try it out. I was scared I would just come here and surf all the time.
Labeling Men: Right, and not focus on work.
Bo Bridges: Right, but it’s worked out. I opened my first gallery here in 2006 down in Hermosa. I had a studio in there and five editing suites for video. It was a great space, but the foot traffic was a little slow, so I moved shop about three years ago to this space I have now in Manhattan Beach.
The gallery is a place to showcase the fusion between my fine art side and my adventure seeking side by featuring clean and simple yet powerful landscape images on the walls. I love that I am able to travel and I can still focus on shooting, commercial, advertising work as well.
Labeling Men: So where out of all the places you’ve been was your favorite place to travel?
Bo Bridges: Fiji is right up there.
Labeling Men: Can’t blame you there!
Bo Bridges: Love the people, love the waves, the water is gorgeous; I just love it there. But someone asked me the other day, “What is the worst place you’ve ever been?” I thought that was a hard good question because I don’t really have an answer.
Labeling Men: Well I’ll flip that question a little bit, what is the most dangerous place you’ve ever traveled?
Bo Bridges: I’d say a trip I did to capture glacier tsunami surfing in Cordova, Alaska. Garrett McNamara, a big wave surfer from Hawaii, kept calling me to come to this spot [Alaska]. They didn’t have a photographer, just a few videographers, so I flew up and when I got there none of my equipment made it except for what I carried with me. This shot [pointing to the picture] happened five minutes after I got there - they had been there two weeks waiting for this to happen and that [piece of glacier ice] fell from 400 feet high off of a glacier they said was as big as Rhode Island. Had it fallen differently than it did it would have killed everybody. I shot as many frames as I could to get the shot as the white water was churned into a massive barrel - 30 to 40 degree water temps, and Garrett and Keali’i Mamala, another big wave surfer, surfed it all the way down the river. But it turned into a tsunami wave coming right for where we were shooting from on land so we ran like hell. Had we stayed there we would have gotten swiped for sure, it took out the whole shoreline. I remember after we ran for it we ended up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by massive grizzly bears and I didn’t have any protection, just my camera and my tripod.
Labeling Men: That’s pretty terrifying!
Bo Bridges: [Laughs] It was fun though and I got the shot. Those photos ran all over the world at the time [circa 2007]. So I would say that was the coolest, stupidest, most dangerous, thing I’ve ever shot.
Labeling Men: So do you consider yourself a little bit of an adrenaline junkie?
Bo Bridges: To a point, definitely but I’ve reigned it in these days. I’ve got three kids now, so I’ve got to be more aware of what’s going on. But I still enjoy the rush, and travel in general is always a good way to take you out of your comfort zone, but give you a little adrenaline and keep searching a little further.
Labeling Men: Exactly. So with this shot, would you consider this your favorite shot… ever?
Bo Bridges: That’s a tough question. I just shot all the Mission Impossible stuff with Tom Cruise, and we shot in Morocco and London. There was some pretty cool stuff that happened there too. I don’t know if you’ve seen the billboards, but there is one where he is driving a high-speed motorcycle with an explosion in the background, I managed to capture all of that in one shot so that was pretty awesome. Then, I also captured a shot of him [Tom Cruise] hanging off the side of the airplane…
Labeling Men: I did see that one!
Bo Bridges: At first, I was flying in the helicopter next to him trying to shoot it, then I was on the ground with a long lens, laying on the tarmac trying to find the right angle, and we couldn’t quite grasp that vertical shot. I knew I needed to be hanging from the plane with him if I wanted to get the angle right and the best shot possible. We somehow figured it out, and I put on a harness on and we just went for it. He had to look up at me for the shot had on protective lenses but I had… nothing. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I was looking backwards, but at the speed the plane was flying, the wind vortex was coming around my head bouncing off the viewfinder back in my eyeball into my eyelid. But we got the shots and it was a pretty fun experience, hanging out the side of the plane going that fast.
Labeling Men: That’s awesome!
Bo Bridges: Yeah, so that was a highlight.
Labeling Men: So do you do a lot of other movies?
Bo Bridges: [Nods] I just shot Transporters, which is getting ready to come out, we shot in Paris last year. Then, Chasing Mavericks, with Gerard Butler and a few others.
Labeling Men: That’s really cool! So in terms of movies and more action or sports, which do you prefer?
Bo Bridges: Sports action, but I think those are good tie-ins though. I mean with athletes they always want to get it done and move on to the next thing. I feel like it’s an easy crossover into Hollywood because it’s the same thing, they have a small window of time and you have to get the shots and get out of there. I think that sports has taught me a lot about how to get a shot quickly, especially action sports - not just lifestyle. You have one chance to get it, they aren’t going to do it again, especially since some of them are so death defying, there is one shot. They get one chance to do it, and I get one chance to shoot it. So there is a little bit of pressure there.
Labeling Men: So what inspires you most in photography, or what you get out of it?
Bo Bridges: Well, here at the gallery, I’m always flattered when someone buys something. It blows me away, because you never know, everyone has a camera now. So a lot of times, I’m just flattered when people buy the images instead of going out and taking the images and have it for themselves. With the sports stuff, there is a lot to be said about working with athletes, because a lot of time you are just meeting an athlete for the first time and they might be a little unsure about who you are and you are trying to figure them out and you kind of have to connect to get the right shots. So I think that says a lot. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the top athletes in the world. I’ve shot X Games 17 years straight and I work with a lot of those athletes, both in the arena and outside.
Labeling Men: What’s your favorite sport that you’ve photographed?
Bo Bridges: My favorite is probably surfing, but it’s the one sport I’d rather do than shoot. I always say, you couldn’t pay me enough to sit in a boat all day and shoot perfect 6-to-8-foot waves because I could surf that. But when its like bigger 20-foot plus, I’d much rather sit and watch it, if that makes sense! I just love the dynamics, it’s constantly moving.
Labeling Men: What would you say is your aesthetic?
Bo Bridges: I like things clean.
Labeling Men: What would you say is your own personal style?
Bo Bridges: I don’t like things too tight; I want to move around and be comfortable. But I also don’t like things too baggy. But I just really like things more…
Labeling Men: Clean? [Laughs]
Bo Bridges: Exactly [Laughs].
Labeling Men: Do you have any advice for young photographers?
Bo Bridges: You can be the best artist/photographer in the world. But if nobody sees your art it’s difficult to make a living. Use social media to your advantage. When you are shooting action - if you actually see it happen in your viewfinder - then you missed the shot. Keep your edits tight. Less is more when showing work. Don't be a wedding photographer with action and advertising style images on the same site. Find a style and theme you want to shoot and stick with it. Build up your portfolio and be your worst critic. Find only the most powerful shots and let the rest go. It’s difficult because some have sentimental value, but mean nothing to an outside viewer. Be ready to jump if the boat is going to capsize and try to steer clear of the prop.
Labeling Men: What’s next?
Bo Bridges: Heading to Australia to shoot for Sony. I am also doing destination photo workshops, and kids workshops at the gallery and surrounding area, which will be free of charge.
Find out more about Bo Bridges and his work at bobridges.com
Bo Bridges Gallery
1112 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Interview and photographs by Mischa Teichgraeber
This interview has been edited and condensed