When Bruce Brown sat down with a travel agent to book his direct roundtrip flights from Los Angeles to Cape Town, where he would film parts of his seminal 1966 documentary Endless Summer, he learned it would cost him $50 less if he were to circumnavigate the globe instead. It was in the interest of economy, then, that Brown opted to expand the project into an ode to summer, prowling the coasts of faraway lands like Senegal, Ghana, Australia, and Tahiti with two friends in perpetual pursuit of balmy days and good waves. Brown’s color-saturated portrayal of exuberant aquabatics against heavenly tropical backdrops refashioned the summer season in the American imagination from a few months of semi-nude diversion into a perpetually sun-kissed, unburdened frame of mind in which the only rational ambition is not to think too hard, to slip successfully from one curl of seawater into another without capsizing.
Of course, these are not our times, nor can it be said that 1966—with the escalation of the Vietnam War and an ongoing and bitter fight for racial justice— was a placid year. Rather than an immersive state of pleasure-seeking insulated from the pressures of reality, an “endless summer” is best understood as a string of stolen moments, brief glimpses of complete stillness or jubilation that can seep between the cracks of an otherwise turbulent moment.
This week, the Morrison Hotel Gallery opened Endless Summer, a virtual photography exhibition that taps into the same uplifting spirit that Brown conjures in his documentary. The compilation of bare-limbed, languid moments captured by photographers including Henry Diltz and Pattie Boyd, seem to have little in common: the images span multiple eras and subcultures (subjects range from Elvis Presley to Debbie Harry to NWA) and vary widely in composition. But the photographs in the exhibition share a sense of loose-limbed ease, an infectious aimlessness that can only be attributed to the season.
The collection, replete with celebrities in repose, rickety wooden rollercoasters of yore, crystalline swimming pools and beaches at low tide, is the perfect cocktail of vitamin D and escapism to soothe the restless midweek jitters. With Endless Summer, the Morrison Hotel Gallery offers us summertime in concentrate, as it exists only in the imagination.