Dustin Humphrey stands beside a burning motorcycle. He’s dressed as a ‘50s greaser, he’s cheering on the destructive flames, and — strangest of all — he’s not taking photos. He’s not even thinking about taking photos.
“When you’re taking photos,” he says later, “you’re not really bring present in the moment. You’re separate from it. I love photography, but lately I’ve been trying to be more present.”
Surf photographers ruin everything. Burn, baby, burn. They make secret spots the object of our every desire, and pretend like not printing the location makes it okay. But the photo is the location, and acting like it’s some sort of secret club just makes it all the more desirable. Another one bites the dust. Welcome to Canggu, Bali. When PHOTO: D.Hump first moved out here in 2007, this place was just a sleepy village on the outskirts of nowhere. Today, the place is an expat clusterfuck, a surf mag photo studio and a zoo of a place to catch a wave. Seems like every new resident these days is either a surf photographer, pro surfer, or some leechy mag dude. And all their wives design bikinis and purses.
But Dustin was the first. He’s been living full time in Indo for more than a decade. And back when he was a SURFING staff photographer, he was our sport’s most prolific lensman (leading the Transworld Photo Wars for months on end). Then one day PHOTO: D.Hump just disappeared.
A few weeks later, this giant structure sprang forth in the rice paddies of Canggu and Dustin was reborn a motorcycle salesman. But the Deus “Temple of Enthusiasm” is more than a hipster bikey shop. It’s more than Thai food and signature cocktails, art shows and movie nights. It’s this place where people go and do stuff. Art stuff. Dude stuff. And they do it with enthusiasm.
This week D.Hump is teaching free photo classes to people who hang around the shop too much. Last week he hosted a series of fixed gear bicycle races. The month before, WolfMother played a massive set in the courtyard to celebrate John Lennon’s birthday. They sponsor local surfers. Host a strange DJ Triangle. And sell the oddest shaped surfboards you’ve ever seen. Now they’re having Dress-Up Drag Races in the nearby rice paddies. Or at least, they were until the motorcycle exploded.
SURFING: What happened to D.Hump? Why did you stop shooting surfing?
D.HUMP: A couple things happened. For one, I was getting complacent with my surf photography. I was sleepwalking through it, not putting the right energy in. At the same time, I started doing more fashion photography and was enjoying that a bit more, and then I met my business partner Dare and starting talking about the Deus ex Machina concept. Eventually we just said, “Okay, let’s do it.” This place pulls together all my passions: photography, surfing, motorcycles, music and art. Plus, I have a three-year-old son now and after ten years on the road — which was everything I could have hoped for — I was anxious to stay home a bit more. This was a whole new set of challenges, and I like feeling challenged.
Was there a point when your surf photography career just ended?
Last year I was coming home from shooting this righthander with Timmy Turner and Mikala and Daniel Jones. It was a spot that we’d shot ten years earlier and had kinda put my surf photography on the map. So, ten years later, we got it really good again — Daniel even got the cover of SURFING. I remember on the boat ride back home just thinking, “You know, that might be it.” A week later I was asked to go shoot Taj Burrow up in Telos — two of my favorite things to do — but I chose to stay home and watch my friend Ryan Turner compete at Padang instead. Didn’t even shoot photos. Just watched the contest. That was it. I’d come full circle.
Do you think your surf photography in Indonesia has contributed to crowding and over-exposure of a lot of spots?
Definitely. I mean, somewhere like Keramas was gonna happen one way or another. I was the first to shoot it and publish it in a magazine, but it really opened up when they built the road along the east coast. After that, it would have been like trying to keep Rocky Point a secret.
Back in the old days, I never printed where any of my Indo shots were, whether it was Bali or anywhere else. But after the bombing in 2002, the Balinese surf community came to Jason Childs and me and asked us to get Bali into the mags as much as possible. Tourism had come to a standstill here and people were hurting. So we did. We publicized the f–k out of this place all over the world, and it worked. Bali is one the world’s hottest surf destinations in the world right now.
Was it worth the cost?
Well, yeah, it f–ked it up. It f–ked it up for me too, ’cause all these photographers moved here and started following me around. They’d go shoot where I shot even if they didn’t have surfers with them. So, yeah, I f–ked it up, but I’d do it all over again because it was what Bali needed.
What one piece of advice would you give other photographers about shooting portraits?
Focus on the eyes. They’re they windows to the soul. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true. I always ask people to remove their sunnies.
After we talk, Dustin gives me a quick tour of the grounds: the surfboard shaping bays, the motorcycle and bicycle workshop, the art studios and painting rooms. Everywhere you go, locals and expats are enthusiastically tinkering away on some strange new project. Shoebox guitars. Coffin shaped surfboards. Helmet art.
The tour ends in Dustin’s custom photo studio, complete with a rounded white wall creating an illusion of no corners. “This is my dream studio,” he says. “So I can still do photography anytime I want. But these days I’m also teaching a lot of other people what I learned over the years.”
The charred motorcycle bike is now set up in the studio for his photo class to practice product shots on. Later, they’re going to rebuild the bike for the young owner, Max, and call it “The Phoenix,” the bike that rose from its own ashes.
Dustin climbs onto the bike and lets me shoot portraits of him. I try to focus on the eyes. —Nathan Myers
Learn more about Deus ex Machina Bali here.