Gabriella Angotti-Jones – I Just Want to Surf

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

This is not the usual photobook investigating the Southern California surf culture. As evident on the book’s interesting slipcover, a folded double-sided surf poster, that Gabriella Angotti-Jones subjects for I Just Want to Surf are not the usual bunch of ‘tan’ blonde beach dudes. In fact they are not even dudes, but a small informal family of surfing women who come by their dark complexations very naturally. A very different surfing sub-culture, who are nevertheless fanatic surfers, and similar to other surfers I know here in Southern California, make surfing the priority and everything else seems to be scheduled around the ocean, sun and the surging pulse of the waves. 

Angotti-Jones is not an outsider looking in for her surf-story, while she is a documentary photograph, she is also one who equally is at one with the ocean and waiting for her time on the line to catch a wave. The difference is that Angotti-Jones is also juggling a waterproof camera to further complicate her surfing adventures.

She investigates the entire surfing experience of board preparation, collective walks toward the ocean, in the water and then time ridding the waves. As with most group events there are the subsequent recollections, awesome rides complementing wild wipe-outs. She documents this human experience with intimacy and dignity, which is more than surf style and technique, long boards, short boards, knee boards, boogie boards or skim boards. She provides us with a sense of her Black surf community.

Her book includes a running dialog that includes some dark emotional undertones, which I think makes this is a timely time to review I Just Want to Surf in May, a time of year that is also Mental Health Awareness Month. Her testimonial dialog is provided using a brilliant book design element of half pages, representing that something is concealed with in the book as well as metaphorically not fully revealed in the photographs.  Angotti-Jones narrates her story as to how her surfing friends came to emotional aid during her bouts of depression. 

Angotti-Jones portraits reveal individuals who are bonding, close nit, tight, at play, surfing, hanging out at home, socializing on the beach and when in the surf, taking a wave. Her photographs are made with forthright candor. She shares that growing up in the beach community of Orange County, traditionally very conservative and not a racially blended area, that her surfing endeavors raised issues of race, but in the context of surfing, equally with issues of gender. Women, of any race, are a minority on the ocean looking to catch a wave, although I personally see signs that this changing, especially the youth surfing competitions, which she includes a very touching photo of a young Black girl holding a surf board during a similar group event.

The book’s full bleeds with the photographs running off the edges implies that there is much more going on than these pages can retain. The book’s Swiss binding allow the expansive photographs to cross across the two pages for a layflat read without anything lost in the gutter. Some of the captioning is very subtle as it hovers just over or slightly under the photographs, as though a small footnote to aid in the reading of the photograph. An excellent book layout and design that really complements her narrative.

Revealed in her photographs are the intense exuberances of sport moments. Whether one is surfing, skiing, running or biking, there is an emotional zone one experiences while in the moment of the peak action. Angotti-Jones is able to capture this intensity of her friends, and as a surfer, these also become a series of indirect self-portraits. She is able to help take us on their journey and time together, while we may not experience these moments directly, the intensity of their friendship is shared in a manner that we may know something of their experience. We can imagine the highs and lows; that surfing is similar to life itself.


Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor/founder PhotoBook Journal


 I Just Want to Surf, Gabriella Angotti-Jones

Photographer: Gabriella Angotti-Jones, born Orange County, CA and resides Los Angeles, California

Publisher: MASS Books, Massachusetts, Copyright 2022

Essays: Deborah Artman

Text: English

Stiff covers, coverslip is a fold out, double sided printed poster, Mini booklets inside with text and images, swiss binding, 7.48 x 9.25 inches, Printed by NPN Drukkers, ISBN 978-0-9972163-5-6

Photobook Designer: Kummer & Herman


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.

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