Some soul-seekers embark on solo journeys to faraway places to find themselves and their creative voice. Photographer Lucrecia (Luki) O’Keefe simply opened her eyes to the Southern California surf history and culture around her.
Raised in a community of surfers, sailors, fishermen, and waterman, Luki’s after-school hours and summers activities revolved around sustenance from the sea. From working at her family fish market and helping her dad cut surfboard blanks, to sailing for weeks and loitering in the San-O parking lot, reading the currents and swimming in open water was as intuitive as walking on sand.
All that subconscious ocean knowledge and passion for film clicked together in flying sparks when she picked up a water camera and started shooting her friends surfing.
“I just want to showcase the beautiful talent in front of me. There’s no hidden strategy but I love powerful moments with a feminine vibe,” she says of shooting her friends frolicking in the waves.
She’s since built a portfolio of dreamy still frames, documentations of moments spent by the tides and swells—and branched outside of SoCal to a jealous-worthy number of shoot locations: Hawaii, Costa Rica, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Puerto Rico, Australia and most recently Japan.
We adore Luki’s photos so much that we wanted to hang them on our walls, and so we found a way to make that happen. You can now buy limited edition prints of Luki’s favorite shots HERE!
We caught up with Luki to talk more about her reversible signature suit designed for paddling and diving with a camera under breaking waves, and her collection of point and shoot film cameras.
Photos of Luki O'Keefe by Dylan Gordon, Seeababes, and Keoki Saguibo.
What’s your family’s history in California and surfing? How was the ocean part of your upbringing?
My family is very broken up and spread out but literally every end of it is tied to the ocean through surfing, sailing, diving, or fishing. My dad, uncle and grandpa are worldly sailors and surfers with brilliant fishing skills that most sailors acquire. They continue to inspire me through their ability to navigate and thrive off of the ocean and wind. Their stories will give you chills.
My mom, uncle and grandfather on her side are all Captains with a lifetime of sport fishing experience under their belt.
Growing under these incredible watermen (and women) exposed me to a nomadic, exciting way of life at an early age, which I try to stay on course with. Whenever I stray, my parents are there like lighthouses to remind me that home is at sea.
How did you learn about surf photography being a possible career path? Who helped you along the way?
I was still in high school when I went on my first surf trip with Seea in 2011. Nick LaVecchia was the photographer. I was a surfer/model on that trip but I was pretty shy. I remember being in awe of Nick’s work. I thought to myself ‘That has to be one of the best jobs in the world.’ I asked Nick a million questions. He was so patient and generous with me. I attempted to find fun moments to capture on my iPhone. He looked at one of Lola jumping off a balcony into the pool. It had an interesting composition and he said, “You have an eye. Seriously, you could do this.” That’s when I realized photography could actually be a career worth working for. He’s been an incredibly helpful friend and mentor since then. I will always be grateful for that.
For your signature suit, what type of style did you want and why?
I’m always looking for leading lines and contrast to play with in my images so I was naturally attracted the structure of a vintage suit in [designer] Amanda Chinchelli’s collection that had a low square back. I decided to apply that and connect it to a square neck with a contrasting band. The rest is just a simple cut to keep me free in the water. Amanda took it a step farther and made it reversible with one solid simple side and one fun print. The suit came out with a lot of personality and elegance.
What is it like to shoot photos from the water? How are you more vulnerable than on a surfboard?
Swimming in the water is very different than floating on a board! I haven't seen a shark while swimming but I’ve been called out of the water from lifeguards because of shark sightings. I’ve been bitten by who knows what, stung by an uncountable amount of jelly fish, greeted by rays, curious seals, and all sorts of mystery critters.
During my last visit to Sayulita I was humbled by several schools of foot-long fish jumping out of the water in a frantic triangular formation. One even hit me in the face! They were being chased by something. I just prayed it wasn’t hungry for me and kept swimming. The girls could see this action and Karina let me sit on her board for a minute to chill but the waves were perfect and too many being unridden for her to just sit there and watch. I can’t just get out of the water when I'm tripping out. What would I say? “Sorry I couldn't get the pics because it was scary.” No, I’d rather be a corpse than a coward so I “just keep swimming” and I sing that to myself often.
What are some of your favorite photos that you’ve shot and why?
I can’t choose. Honestly. I think there are favorite photos for each person I shoot with because they each have their own unique style and attitude. Lola has a solid backside ten, Karina has some fancy footwork, Makala is fast and sharp, Leah is timeless on big waves, Mele the queen of grace, I could go on and on but any image that shows their personality is my favorite.
What are your other passions and hobbies right now? What are you excited about doing when you’re not shooting?
I've been traveling a bit so when I'm home I spend most of my free time catching up with family and surfing as much as humanly possible. Lately, I’ve been reading some sailing books with my dad and obsessively hunting for vintage analog cameras online and at thrift stores. I think I'm addicted to the mystery of it. Each camera I find always has a distinct personality whether it’s a faulty back that creates light leaks, a bright flash, or an interesting body…I can’t stop!
You’ve traveled around with the Seeababes a bunch. How is being the photographer on a surf trip assignment different from traveling for fun?
It’s a lot more work and I'm always thinking about what to do next and what I could do better. There’s a bit more to it like equipment, editing, strategy, etc… Some trips are busier and packed with more to shoot so I don't really surf but sometimes I get to surf every day for at least an hour. It really depends. Either way, it’s still a dream.
Follow Luki's photo diary on Instagram: @_lucrecia_
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