"Aloha, it’s Summer.” So starts every conversation with Emmy-winning television producer Summer Strauch, who is now making waves in photography. Her ethereal vistas of sea and sky, dotted with distant boats, dolphins and surfers, conjure the ideal of timeless pleasure in the Pacific.
This aquatic affinity is in her DNA: Her father, Paul Strauch, was a champion Hawaiian surfer in the 1950s and ’60s, and introduced his daughter to the waves when she was an infant. “Every free moment we had was spent at the beach,” she says of her childhood in Honolulu. “My mom and dad met in high school; he surfed and she was in bikini competitions. Our whole family was influenced by the culture of the water.”
Three decades ago, when Strauch was 16, the family moved to New Jersey. After graduating from Maryland’s Towson University, she began working in the television industry, eventually spending two decades at MTV, where she produced the Video Music Awards and New Year’s Eve specials featuring artists such as Coldplay, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. She also won two Emmys for her work on the network’s docuseries Made.
Her career was driven by a lifelong love of photography. “Although video and film are quite different, setting up the shot has similarities,” Strauch says. “For me, it’s about the details. I remember shooting MTV’s House of Style with Bar Refaeli in the middle of a New York winter. It was about 15 degrees, and we were doing a segment on bathing suits in the Botanical Garden. I wanted the viewer to believe we were in the desert, so we lit Sternos and held them under the camera so it looked like heat was rising. Every time we cut, I wrapped blankets around Bar and promised my staff it was worth the shot.”
Two years ago, Strauch moved to Northern California, and the familiarity of the Pacific Ocean inspired her to pick up her Canon camera and document what she saw. Her dreamlike visual style is heavily influenced by music. “As I look out over the surf with my camera, songs pop into my head, and the lyrics drive how I frame the shot,” she says. “They play over and over in my mind until I capture an image that tells that exact story.”
Accordingly, each of her photographs is named after a lyric that influenced it: A Pocket Full of Sunshine, Where Trouble Melts Like Lemon Drops, Take Me Down to the Paradise City. “It’s always the happy songs that resonate with me,” she says. “Television was exciting, but it was crafting other people’s visions, the network’s or a celebrity’s. Photography just feels like the relationship my family has with water.”
In a roundabout way, Strauch’s move into photography was foretold by a Hawaiian psychic, who’d informed her parents that their then-unborn daughter would “move millions with her music,” a prediction they shared with her when she was six. “It may sound silly, but since that day I have been trying to fulfill this prophecy,” she says. “My whole life, I’ve been seeking what that meant. Like, am I a singer? Should I be a songwriter? And none of it worked out. That is one of the reasons why I started to work at MTV. But when that was over, I still felt like there was something else.”
Strauch now travels between California and Hawaii, still trying to pin down what that elusive “something else” might be. “It wasn’t until I started taking photographs,” she says, “that I realized what that psychic may have meant.”