LeRoy “Granny” Grannis was a veteran sports photographer born in August, 1917. He is best known for his surfing and sea related images from the 1960s. The New York Times dubbed him “the godfather of surf photography.
He was born in Hermosa Beach, California meant that he had been living on a beachfront since his childhood. By the age of five Grannis was taken swimming and bodysurfing by his father. Soon he made himself a bellyboard from a piece of wood and rode it during vacations in his mother’s home state of Florida.
In 1931, at age 14, his father gave him a 6′ x 2′ pine board from which he hacked a kneeboard using a drawknife. At Hermosa Pier, stand up surfing was the rage, so he began borrowing boards until he could get his own. Later, he struggled to balance surf time with family and work as a member of the Palos Verdes Surf Club, second only in America to the Corona Del Mar Surf Board Club, which was established in the late 1920s.
Unable to afford an education at UCLA during the Depression, Grannis dropped out and found work as a carpenter, junkyard de-tinner and spent some years at Standard Oil. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) in 1943, serving as a pilot flying supply lines to troops in combat and remaining on active reserve until retiring as a major in 1977. Several fellow surf club members were employed with Pacific Bell, and Grannis joined them in 1946.
He had already begun to venture into photography, and several of his pictures were featured in photo pioneer and close friend John Heath “Doc” Ball’s 1946 book California Surfriders. He surfed the occasional contest during the 1950s, gradually settling into the role of assisting Hoppy Swarts at the controls during the early years of the United States Surfing Association. The telephone company job had given him an ulcer by 1959 and his doctor advised him to take up a hobby. After some guidance from his friend he became more serious about the craft. He would spent hours photographing surfers in Hermosa, then go back to his Monterey Avenue home to develop film in his darkroom.
Among Grannis’ memorable photos is one of Dewey Weber surfing in 1966 off 22nd Street in Hermosa.
His work soon appeared in prominent surf culture magazines of the time including Surfer, Reef and Surfing Illustrated. He quickly became one of the sport’s most important documentarians. Other photographers were shooting from the water, but they were forced to return to land to reload. Grannis developed a rubber-lined box that enabled him to change film in the lineup. He spent the decade in California and Hawaii, capturing the best surfers in the world riding the best surf.
For 31 years, Grannis balanced a career with General Telephone Co. surfing, photography and his family.
In 1971, fed up with increased competition for the perfect angle, Grannis quit shooting surfing and soon found himself involved in hang gliding. The sport replaced surfing in his life, and he held a brief stint as photographer for Hang Gliding magazine. Several injuries, including a badly fractured leg in 1981, caused him to find a new outlet. This time it was windsurfing. Until the late 1980s, Grannis both engaged in and photographed the sport.
He was photo editor of Surfing Illustrated and of International Surfing, which he co-founded. He was named Grand Master of the 2007 Hermosa Beach Art Walk “Salute to 100 Summers.”
He was elected to the International Surfing Hall of Fame as the number one lensman in 1966 and in 2002 was awarded SIMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Grannis was the subject of The Surfer’s Journal’s first ode to master photographers in 1998 with a 1998 hardback compilation of Grannis’ 1960s photos entitled Photo: Grannis. His work was later featured in Stacy Peralta’s 2004 award-winning documentary of the sport, Riding Giants.
In 2005, M+B Gallery in Los Angeles gave Grannis his first art gallery exhibition and since then, his photographs have been exhibited at galleries, art fairs and museums both at home and abroad, including New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London and Antwerp. Some more of his work can be seen HERE.
In 2006, Taschen published LeRoy Grannis: Birth of a Culture as a limited-edition, signed collector’s edition monograph. Due to the extreme popularity of the book, TASCHEN has since released two additional popular editions of the book.
Grannis died on February 3, 2011 at his home on Hermosa Beach, California.