Activism. Courage. Environmentalism. Strength. Survivalism. Surf. One of these words might not fit exactly with the others unless context speaks for itself. These words do in fact, serve as common denominators if one would want to talk about Ramon Navarro’s life. Born into a family of Chilean fishermen, young Navarro scaled the pyramid of world-renowned surfers and uses his fame for environmental activism. Patagonia photographer Jeff Johnson talks about his experience when documenting the journey of Ramon and his fight against resort building and polluting sewage pipes through the big surf waves, captured in the beautiful film by Chris Malloy, The Fisherman’s Son (available on YouTube).

Please explain a bit more the creative process behind the documentary itself and Malloy’s direction for the book? Was the book conceived from the beginning?

The relationship started with the filming of 180 South in 2008. Ramon is in the film. You should watch the film because that is where the idea of The Fisherman’s Son started. So when Chris got the OK to make The Fisherman’s Son he definitely wanted to have a book to go with it. The book is comprised of photographs from photographers all over the world who have been with Ramon over the years. Chris asked me to join the crew while filming because I know Ramon and have shot photos of him and his family before. Chris really liked what he saw me doing with my Monochrom (in the film 180 South I shot a lot with my Leica M7). So he requested I shoot my Monochrom as much as possible. A lot of my photos are documenting behind the scenes. I was excited to see my photos used for the front and back cover of the book.

© Jeff Johnson

The book includes images from Punta de Lobos in Chile and Hawaii – could you please explain a bit more in detail about the experience shooting under difficult conditions (i.e. underwater and/or aerial). Was the casing only for the Monochrom? 

Building an underwater housing for the Leica Monochrom took a lot of trial and error primarily because no one has ever made one for a Leica, especially a Monochrom. As far as I know, only one housing was made for a Leica back in the 70’s. I started with a round port for the 21mm Super-Elmar lens. With a rangefinder the focus has to be pre-set. Because of the dome effect of the round port, the focus has to be set much differently underwater than above the water. After multiple test shoots I just couldn’t get the round port to focus correctly underwater. So I had a flat port built and was able to get it to work over and under the water. To keep a rather large depth of field I shoot it almost always at f8.0.

The two images you mention were shot with the M (Typ 240) – the ones with the boy and surf board, could you tell a bit more about his personal story? Was he just an actor or is he following the same steps as Ramon did?

Director Chris Malloy wanted to find a young boy to reenact some scenes depicting Ramon’s childhood. The boy Chris ended up using is actually a friend of Ramon’s, a local buy that was hanging around. the boy was so excited to do this because her really looks up to Ramon.

How does the book complement the film itself?

With the book I think you see more of Ramon’s history. And you also get to see a little behind the scenes of how the film was made.

You mentioned the Leica Cine Lenses were used for the film, what equipment was used in conjunction with the lenses? Was the decision of using Leica lenses there from the start?

The producer, Tim Lynch, knew I had a great relationship with Leica. He asked me if I could introduce him to someone at Leica who deals with the Cine lenses. So I put him in contact. The production company is called Farm League. Farm League ended up purchasing a whole set of Leica Cine lenses. For the Fisherman’s Son film they used the Cine lenses on Red cameras.

How did the collaboration between Patagonia and Chris Malloy work? Will Patagonia continue to support Ramon’s advocacy for conserving Punta de Lobos?

Chris Malloy is employed by Patagonia. The collaboration is ongoing. And Patagonia will continue to support Ramon and his environmental efforts. There are programs like Punta de Lobos por siempre: Protect the Point Forever

Is there anything else you’d liked to add that readers might want to know about regarding the book photography and next steps with the project?

Anyone who does creative work for a living should always have personal (passion) projects they are working on. I have always shot black and white for my personal projects, because I absolutely love black and white imagery. The Monochrom has been a great vehicle for this. Now I am doing more and more black and white commercially. It’s the same for director Chris Malloy. Films like The Fisherman’s Son are his passion and they inform his commercial work, they’re blending together.

Thank you Jeff!

To connect with Jeff Johnson and know more about his work, please visit his website and follow him on Instagram.

To watch The Fisherman’s Son, please visit this link.