Australian photographer Luke Shadbolt has traveled the world chasing waves.
For the past five years, Shadbolt has been shooting surf and underwater photography for editorial and commercial clients as he pursued his quest for the perfect waves. But in 2015, he decided to change his focus to seek out the most violent waves he could find. The result: Shadbolt’s otherworldly series, Maelstrom.
The term “maelstrom” refers to a powerful whirlpool but can also be used to describe a state of chaos or turmoil. The series’ concept was inspired by a picture Shadbolt made in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. In the photograph, surfer Renan Faccini raises his arms above his head as a massive plume of whitewash explodes in front of him (see below). Shadbolt interprets the image with a dual meaning, which he says is a theme throughout Maelstrom.
On one hand, Shadbolt believes Faccini appears to celebrate the power of the ocean. On the other hand, he interprets Faccini’s raised arms as an act of manipulation or sorcery, representing mankind’s desire to control nature. Interested in the dual notions of creation and destruction, Shadbolt set out to document the chaotic nature of the ocean.
With extensive experience shooting in turbulent situations, Shadbolt says these waves, which can tower between three to five stories, have the power to “literally tear people apart,” he tells TIME. “It still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and that’s coming from a lifetime of surfing… It’s truly one of the most chaotic instances of the ocean anyone could ever witness.”