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30,000 ‘Lost & Found’ photos tell the tale of ’70s surf culture

One day in 2007, long-time surfing enthusiast and amateur photographer Doug Walker found himself at the Rose Bowl flea market in Los Angeles.

Born in L.A., Walker now resided in San Francisco, but he always stopped by the Bowl when he was back in town. The visit would be a turning point in his life, after he stumbled upon three file boxes containing some 30,000 discarded film negatives from Surfing Magazine.

“The real beauty behind the whole thing is the story,” Walker told Digital Trends. “Here I am in S.F., got kids, plugging away at life. I come home one night and my son is filling out college applications. Where did life go?”

Walker is a commercial film editor, and he had recently told his wife that he needed to find a new surfing project. The sport had long been his passion, and with his children flying the coop, he wanted to reconnect with it. His wife came home with a camera one day, handed it to him, and said, “Go make something.”

“It’s not a ‘me’ story, it’s a ‘we’ story, I just happened to be the guy who found it.”

Walker’s path was clear: It was the camera that brought him back to L.A., and led him to stumble upon the Surfing Magazine negatives. It was less apparent how the photographs, which all dated from the 1970s, came to be at the market. He supposed they were a victim of the magazine’s transition from film to digital in the early 2000s. After buying a few sheets, Walker’s curiosity got the best of him. He returned to Rose Bowl to purchase the rest of the collection for a total of $800.

While digitizing the images, Walker immediately recognized several of the photographers’ names, including Aaron Chang. Walker had cold-called Chang one year prior about an idea for an unrelated collaboration. He decided to call him again.

“When I told him what I found, he said, ‘Come on down for a surf.’”

So began Walker’s journey of reconnecting with the photographers behind the discarded photos. It culminated in the creation of the The Lost & Found Collection: Volume one, a coffee table book that features work from some of the sport’s most prolific photographers, including Bob Barbour, Lance Trout, Shirley Rogers, and Larry “Flame” Moore. As the book’s description reads, it “tells the story of an era that can never be duplicated.”

In culling the 30,000 images down to a number that would fit in the book, Walker focused on selecting photographs that may not have been published previously. “I’m more interested in the stuff that best captures the lifestyle,” he said. The result is a 168-page window into 70’s surfing culture.

Walker hopes to produce a second volume of the book sometime soon, likely focused on the work of a single photographer. He sees the book as the bible of the brand, which has grown to include apparel and will soon offer limited-edition signed prints.

Walker also recorded over 70 video interviews with photographers throughout the course of making the book. He plans to turn the footage into a documentary in the near future. “Some of these people aren’t with us anymore, and I have their last interviews,” he said. He sees himself as a custodian of surfing culture. “When this sort of thing is put in front of you, it’s a huge responsibility.”

In addition to the book and the upcoming documentary, Walker maintains a blog of stories related to the project.

One point Walker stressed is that his efforts with the Lost and Found Collection are not about him. The book is about the photographers, the surfers, and the culture of a decade now long past. “It’s not a ‘me’ story, it’s a ‘we’ story,” he said. “I just happened to be the guy who found it.”