Published May 11, 2009
When photographer Matt Albiani trekked up and down the coasts of America, heading from Oahu to the Outer Banks, he wasn’t looking for the perfect tan or the best waves. Albiani, who recently made a splash with his sunny album cover for the Jonas Brothers, had his eyes on the prizes: the lifeguards. In Lifeguard on Duty, he shoots an homage to the beach boys-turned-ido;s we’ve all either wanted, wanted to be, or wanted to be saved by.
As a commercial photographer, Albiani’s love for many things nautical has found its way into his work. His campaigns for Polo, Lily Pulitzer or J.Crew—all of them leisure-life, beach bum labels—capture warm, Indian summer-type nostalgia, flush with anchors, boat shoes or even lifeguards themselves. “I was a lifeguard for several years in New England,” he explains. “This project was really for the summer I never had as an ocean guard.”
Combining black-and-white and color photography, Lifeguard On Duty took Albiani on a four-year journey and reflects a sustained, unyielding reverence. He says, “The one thing they all seemed to share was a laid-back nature, a love of the ocean… and a willingness to put someone elses life above their own.” The lifeguards are captured in groups, looking like models for Albiani’s day job, or alone, scanning the shores atop their wooden towers. The pictures highlight the men’s physicality—flexed abs, bodies in motion, sun-bleached hair—like well-oiled machines, in relaxed positions but ready for action. But while they may be beautiful, these men are there to protect swimmers from the mercurial sea. Lifeguard on Duty isn’t just fantasy and fetishism—while as with any book about muscular, shirtless boys, that’s part of it—it’s a glimpse into a self-selecting society of men who take their beach-going very seriously.
Lifeguard in Duty is available through powerHouse Books on June 9.