rob gilley

The Expendable

| posted on April 05, 2011

Photographer Rob Gilley blows off some steam in the tall grass in front of the SURFER Magazine headquarters.

Rob Gilley

Recently cut from the Surfer photography staff, Rob Gilley is now applying a surprising new talent for embittered, sardonic prose to the

Not long after the hostess shows us to our booth, Brendon nips it in the bud: “We just need to change the way we pay you.”

Uh-oh. I know what this is. This is not good. Not good at all. “Change the way we pay you” is code for “We need to fire you and feel good about it.”

Today it seems that my destiny is Ryan Bingham Up in the Air subterfuge, a disguised Bugs Bunny coin toss: “Hit the road, kid.”

The reason I know this is that I’ve been here before. On both sides of the booth. Just replace Brendon Thomas with Pete Taras or Evan Slater or Chris Mauro or Sam George or Steve Hawk or Jim Savas or Doug Palladini or Matt Warshaw or Paul Holmes or any of the countless editors and publishers who have faced withered budgets, corporate mandates, and contributors gone stale.

It’s a scenario that’s been repeated more times than an NSSA lip tap. I am getting downsized, or more accurately, being put out to pasture.

It’s nasty business, really. An ugly situation. Surf photographers and writers that hang around too long. Outdating their skills. Wearing out their welcome. Acting like that 50-year-old dude at Trestles who gets all the biggest set waves but gets to his feet one knee at a time.

How do you tell somebody that their once unique, state-of-the-art talent is now dime-a-dozen? Does a surf magazine reader really care how good a photographer used to be or how easy he is to work with now? I think not.

Plus, there are only so many 300mm boat shots a surf magazine can use.

So, as the waitress sets the veggie burger down in front of me, and Brendon and Grant Ellis launch into a time-tested you-can-actually-make-more-money-this-way buzz word pep rally (“bean counters” [ding!]), “current economic climate” [ding!]), “budgetary concerns” [ding!]), my mind drifts off.

First, to a Falling Down/Rambo hybrid film clip where my character, with the constricted, spectacled-face of Michael Douglas, and the veiny biceps and torn shirt of Sylvester Stallone, goes absolutely postal at SURFER Magazine headquarters. Just a good ol’ Peckinpah melee where sweat is flying, people are running, and my oversized arms are absorbing the machine gun reports with oiled-downed grace.

Then, to a camouflage-clad, homeless surf photographer at the local coast highway median with a shoddy cardboard sign that reads, “No, I don’t have a Golden Voice but I Will Shoot For Food.”

Then something weird happens. A compressed internal montage of my alleged surf photography “career” flickers by: the exotic destinations visited, the personal waves ridden, the beer swilled—all on SURFER’s dime—and anger is quickly replaced with resignation and a bizarre sense of relief.

In a Bernie Madoff kind of way, I realize that the gig is finally up. The scam has been detected. I’ve been made. It was fun while it lasted.

It’s too bad, though. I still have so much to say. So much repeated history to warn about. So many stories to tell. So much bitterness to impart.

So many boat shots to take.

But then, as Brendon shifts into a discussion about a dollar-for-dollar editorial expense mandate, it hits me: an editorial column. Let me produce a column and it could be a perfect guaranteed-use, dollar-for-dollar appeasement for the bean counters. A backhanded way for an editor to stroke a photojournalist’s ego and ostracize him at the same time.

Suddenly I feel like Tom Curren’s foot finding the board again in the white water. Give me some space in the back of the magazine, or a blog that no one will look at. It’s guaranteed use for the accounting department and Indo Board exile for the Y generation. Pay me a little bit monthly, give me some photo space, and let me rant a little bit.

Just don’t let me talk about myself in the third person.

Look out for Rob’s rants (and photographs) every Monday morning on

  • mateo

    Nice. I like Giley…

  • Jersey Greg

    Oh the irony. Leave the Rambo style, machine gun blasting,synthetic photo spraying to the new school hacks. Rob is a 35mm E-6 Sniper, one shot, one kill!

    Long live Gilley!

    Jersey Greg

  • sam george

    I said it before, I’ll say it again, Rob Gilley should’ve been the first person to hold the title of SURFER editor and photo editor simultaneously. If we hadn’t clashed over the practice of disguising foreign surf spots I would have had him write all the articles he wanted. As it is I’m signing up as a certified Gilley Fan…can’t wait to read the next installment of “As The Masthead Turns.”

  • Sam Olson

    Rob, i will never forget the many slide shows projected in the Surfing Magazine break room amidst the digital age. Or the battles over film vs digital and “Death before Digital” t-shirts. By the way do you have any of those for sale?

  • Myles McGuinness

    First Flindt now GIlley. Can’t wait for the next installment on the blog. Good on ya Rob.

  • Eddie G

    Rob Gilley rocks, awesome photos and the guy can write. Restructure sucks. In this day and age it is all too common. Layoffs, pink slips, shut downs, and just plain getting fired. As a graphic artist and a teacher I have definitely been there (probably more times than I’d care to admit) and always with the feeling that it isn’t fair and that you are getting the shaft. I’m glad Surfer is at least letting the brother write. I’m a huge fan of Gilley and will definitely be reading!

  • Chris Burkard

    Cant wait to read what rob has to say, finally a voice of reason in an otherwise confusing photographic industry. Robs work has been one of my main motivations to want to travel and shoot good lineups.

  • http://77 jabba

    Dig the writing!
    50-year old at trestles on set waves…” excellent. keep going.

  • williamcfoster

    Rock on.
    I like Bob, too.

  • Mike Balzer

    Pretty funny stuff and rather timely with jobs in general. I remember a phone call from Rob himself telling me of a change to be made when I was a “retainered” Surfer photog. In a time when the Surf Industry is making more $$$ than ever the lowly surf photographer is low man on the evolutionary ladder when it comes to “er” and “ing”. With every new editor change they have their favored bros who they throw the perks. Today it is all about access to talent. If you are the only surfer on the beach shooting Kelly, Jordy, Parko you can name your price on photos. To do that you have to sell your soul and buyout price to appease that company that “allows” you access to their elite talent. Today it is much more about that than who is a good, average, great photographer. The days of Flame were epic where he professed “best photo wins”. Good luck with the blog and keeping the dream alive.


    Gilley is first class all the way. I have always been a big fan of his attitude and work. I am glad that he finally gets that he needs to move on….change and adversity is a good thing.

    Now, if you replace Gilley with some 20 year old kid that lives at home, sucking off of his mom’s tit, who calls himself a surf photographer, many of us will have some serious issues with this mag and the shortsightedness of this industry.

    This line just sums it all up right here from Gilley,

    “How do you tell somebody that their once unique, state-of-the-art talent is now dime-a-dozen?”

    Master photographers are getting dumped monthly it seems.

    RIP Warren Bolster.

  • David Puu

    Good on ya Rob. Hope you saw Art’s piece which Jake did for ESPN. You and Art both are so on point.

    In a race to the bottom the winners never do, not in the real world of editorial and commercial photography.

    Best way to destroy the value of an editorial asset is to do exactly what publications are now doing: plying the advertorial seas.

    Flame’s number one rule was to own your assets. Period. Funny watching the wool being pulled over the eyes of the wanna bes.

    Good luck with that and mind the kill zone. They are next.

  • Peripatetic

    I love how this exchange showcases not only how much better of a writer Gilley is than the folks who terminated him, but also how much better he is at business.

  • Matt Parker

    Rob Gilley is a photographic sniper and a word smith? In some overpriced hotel, over a overpriced drink, Chas Smith is shitting a brick.

  • Lusk

    great move cant wait to read your rants i know you got plenty of ammo rambo

  • Michelle Smith

    Is this the same Rob Gilley who was going to or did make shirts that read “death before digital” and now is having classes on teaching people how to shoot digital? I am confused and now your’e a writer for a blog because Surfer dropped you? Waa, break out the tissue.

  • Mark

    Giley nails it. I drink my starbucks after a surf and see Rob walk into his studio in Cardiff and wonder how this guy has been pulling this off for so long and making it. I have a career that pays very well but no job statisfaction. Way to go Giley you pulled it off again and got an extension on your “dream” job. See you tomorrow at the studio. I will be giving you a high five on behalf of the 50+ old surfers in Cardiff that hate their day job. I think I would like to sweep the floors at the studio for my next act…

  • KSC

    Great blog, Rob. Nice to see the mag giving you the space to rant. Anyone who has ever had their name on the masthead has had to deal with magazine politics and change, and it’ll be interesting to see just how far they let you go with your comments on the two. Whether we like it or not, the industry and the mags are Corporate America, and there’s no loyalty in those boardrooms. You just watch how fast those names at the top change in the next few years.

  • Jack English

    The new photog hang out =)

  • mez

    oh boy- THIS is gonna be good reading!
    give ’em both barrels, tony montana style, with that 30 ought for a mind you have gilley, no retreat, no surrender.
    “say hello to my lil’ fren” !

  • walt7873

    Rob you published my only my best photos when you were editor and gave me a true chance based on my talent…only when it deserved it. you are the last of a dying breed. Long live Gilley!!!

  • http://n/a zeno malan

    Had an arms length association with photogs and editors at Surfer.

    What a list of respondees here.

    NO one is really astonished are they?

    Status quo? Do photographers expect talent will be the deciding factor. You’ve got to go along to get along.

  • Mike Shand

    You’ve had plenty of admirers for many a year, and that will continue regardless of the venue. Just keep growing by surfing and shooting, both pics & words, and you’re likely to find more benefits to this change than you anticipate.

  • sd, cali

    wait, what was the point of all that?

    • Beau

      The voice of age and experience speaks, the young bucks won’t get it but hey WGAF?

      I once met Gilley – well when I say met, I asked him a question about his kit while he was shooting at Hosseger and he took the time to be courteous and explain what he was using…

      Gilley you’re a legend – keep at it…

  • Steve Spaulding

    Rob, Love the journalistic side you have. Seems like we all have to re-invent ourselves these days… Good luck on your new endeavor. I always wanted to
    see a monthly column on “Where are they now”? If you get a chance to unearth
    some old characters and bring to light some of these old mysteries in your writings,
    I’d like to read about it.

  • jessica trent

    this has me back to reading surfer online again…. if only for THIS column 🙂 good work!

  • Greg

    Hang in there Rob. BTW, nice start piece!

  • Bill Fields

    Known Rob for years, a totally great guy, just found out. Their loss!