We were hyped to have Joe in issue 17. If you missed it in print don't worry, you can enjoy it now!
So you're just back from a Thrasher trip to Ecuador, right? What were you doing there?
We went out there on a Hellride trip. One of the trips Jake does, and he invited me to go. Basically Raven wanted to do a trip, and everybody wanted to go to Quito, and Jake hadn't been in 20 years, and Peter Hewitt hadn't been in 20 years, so it was something that had been talked about for the last few years and Jake just pulled the trigger on it, so we went to Quito for ten days.
When will we see the results?
We're on deadline today actually, so it'll be April 2018. There's three articles in the mag; there's the Skater Of The Year trip with Jamie Foy and a bunch of dudes in Australia, then Rhino went to Arizona, with all girl skaters - Lizzie Armanto, Lacey Baker, they all did a trip - and then we did our trip. So there's the girls, the Skater Of The Year bros, and then the Hellride crew which was Grant, Raven, Rémy, Ronnie Sandoval, Frank Gerwer and Peter Hewitt. It was a really cool trip.
Trips to places nobody really skates is a big thing just now, especially for Thrasher. How is that for a photographer? It's not like you're just going to Wallenberg and you know where to be to get the best photo of whatever it is. Do you ever kinda panic when you're in some weird place? Is it more fun?
When you're in your home town, and you know the spots - like in SF - and you go to them as a local, you know you get kicked out all the time, but then when random dudes come to town you're like, "How the hell did they get to skate that?" and I kinda like that feeling of going somewhere that I don't really know and it being a really cool spot to shoot but being out of my comfort zone. I don't want to go to the same spot and shoot the same thing. I mean I've been to Wallenberg so many times to shoot photos, and it's cool, and it's right in my backyard, but it's nice to go somewhere where the light might be different or the architecture's different. Being with skaters when they're in the moment, and they find something that they're really stoked on is rad but sometimes it can be so tangible that they can be like, "Oh cool, we'll do it next weekend! We'll come back and do it!" But being somewhere and having ten days, and knowing you catch the bus home in ten days, I feel that people are just more willing to fuckin' get gnarly.
You can't shoot a photo at a famous spot unless it's better than the last photo that was shot there.
Exactly. I find that SF is quite a hard city to shoot in because the standard of tricks that have been done on the spots is so high. They've been skated for so long, and you've had Brian Anderson, you've had Peter Ramondetta, you've all these dudes skating the spots and then you go there and dudes are all, "Damn, so-and-so did that?! So-and-so did this?!" so it's kinda hard. Going to a different spot is great for the skaters because they don't have to worry about ABDs and anything's good at this point. That makes it easier for sure.
So you moved to SF from Detroit, right?
A good time to go to SF...
Well, I graduated from High School, then went and did one year at a community college when I was 19 years old, and I was working construction and skating. Now nothing against the trades, or nothing against working construction, but I was building houses and stuff and I was 19. I was really just like, "Damn, I just want to enjoy my life and do what I wanna do." I was working really hard and I had a lot of money but I wasn't happy. I always had a brand new board and brand new shoes but I was too tired to skate. I'd be working sometimes from six in the morning to nine at night and I was getting paid well for it, but at the same time, I'm thinking, "Damn, this is not living. This is not what I want to do. I want to skateboard." So I'd saved some money, and me and a bunch of friends from Michigan just started talking about moving to California. So we each dumped a bunch of money into our friend's car and got new brakes, a tune-up, new tyres and we drove it to California. We kinda knew that we wanted to live in SF just because of the fact that we wouldn't need a car there because there was really good public transportation. So we went to SF, skated for about ten days, then drove to LA and skated for a week, then we drove to San Diego and skated for a week. We just couch surfed, and met skaters and stayed with them, and slept in tents, then we decided that SF was where we really wanted to be. We just liked the city and it felt right so we drove all the way back to SF, but we already spent our money by then. We all stayed at my friend Eric's sister's house in Marin County, and we slept in tents but we could use the house to cook food and take showers. We did that and worked shitty jobs for a couple months and we just skated all the time. We were having the best time of our lives when Eric's sister's boyfriend told us we'd overstayed our welcome. So we were tripping out, wondering what we were going to do, and it was super stressful because none of us had credit so no-one could rent an apartment and we didn't really have much money either, so nothing for a deposit. So we looked for the worst neighbourhood. We looked at this apartment in the hood, which belonged to a couple who had just got married. He was an ambulance driver and he really liked us. We didn't have money, or credentials or anything, but he said he'd go talk to his wife. We told him we would pay our rent on time, and pay the deposit over time. So we met her, and she said we could move in! We gave them a wad of cash for the first month's rent right there, and they asked if we had anything we wanted to bring inside, so we said, 'Yeah!", and went to our friend's car and each brought in a sleeping bag, a skateboard and a duffel bag. They were looking at us, like, "Is this everything you own?!" and we're just, "Yeah. This is everything we own". They thought we were joking, but we had nothing.
So you didn't go to SF to start shooting photos, it was purely to skateboard?
I really loved looking at photos in Thrasher and Transworld and Poweredge, but I had no interest in photography whatsoever. I didn't care about taking photos, and I moved to SF to skateboard every day and work as little as possible. I was skating all the time and I ended up meeting Gabe [Morford], Tobin [Yelland], Luke [Ogden] and Bryce [Kanights] from skating in the city with my friends. I lived with Greg Hunt when he was amateur for Stereo. I knew Greg, and Dave Metty the DLX team manager, from Michigan. Greg was going to college in SF and he hung out with Aaron Meza all the time. Dave was the team manager at Real when Real was new, so all these dudes like Kelly Bird and Tony Ferguson would always be staying at our apartment, and when they started Stereo, Jason Lee and Chris Pastras would be staying at our house. We lived like six blocks from Union Square, so we'd always just skate there, and I ended up hanging out with these guys, just from them staying at the house. Jeff Klindt, who was part owner of DLX, would always tell me he wanted me to work there. I worked in shipping for a clothing store so I didn't want to work in skateboarding. I didn't want to sell skateboards, I didn't want to ship skateboards, I wanted to ride a skateboard. Jeff always tripped out on that - he was a really talented musician, his music was always in H-Street videos through his band Wonderful Broken Thing, and he was a really amazing artist too. He went to art school at UC Davis, and he ended up working for Thrasher, before DLX. He really wanted me to work there so I would go in and fold Forties clothing, and cut strings off Forties clothing, and pack mounting hardware. I would go in at night to do stuff like that and he would pay me, but I just really didn't want to work in skateboarding. I didn't want working in skateboarding to ruin skateboarding for me.
I don't think Jeff got the credit he deserved.
He did get credit. He was behind the scenes. He was so prolific. I remember going to his house and seeing his artwork, and just going, "Wow!" I mean he did the Hensley stained-glass graphic and the Salman Agah timekeeper graphic, so it was cool just being around him. But through him, I met Jim [Thiebaud] and Tommy [Guerrero]. So I just carried on skating for a few years until I hurt my back pretty bad and I couldn't really do much. I was seeing this girl who told me I was depressed because I couldn't skateboard, and I was like, "Fuck, I AM depressed because I can't skateboard all the time". She told me I had to think about my future and go to school, and I actually took her advice. I went to City College in San Francisco and started taking black and white photography - and black and white darkroom - classes. Once I developed and printed my first roll of film that was all I wanted to do. I had a shitty camera and I would shoot really shitty photos of my friends, but I thought developing and printing them was so cool. A lot of my friends hung out with Gabe Morford and he would give me a lot of photography tips.
Gabe probably had a lot of people showing him photos then, so that's rad that he took the time with you.
For sure. It was weird because even though it was my friends who were friends with him, it was me that he'd give this constructive criticism to. I never felt like I was trying to step on anyone's toes, like I wasn't even trying to be 'the next dude' or anything. Then I met Lance Dawes, and I'd send him photos and he'd use one every once in a while in Slap. I sent Transworld and Skateboarder photos but I was mostly getting stuff in Slap. I would ride my bike to Slap - I had this shitty bike I bought from a crackhead for $20 - with like three rolls of film and Lance would just be like, "Soft". "Get closer with your fisheye." "This sucks." "This lens sucks." "This sucks." "This sucks." And I would be so bummed.
But he still wanted to see your photos. What was the first photo you shot that ran?
It was a contents page in Slap. I think it was a Salman Agah photo. But Lance was really harsh. He was from the school of MoFo, he'd interned under MoFo, and MoFo was a tough customer too. They were just more assertive, more gnarly. They would say, "This fuckin' sucks", rather than "Oh, you'll get better over time", and they'd tell you why it sucked. But with that being said, every time I'd leave he'd give me three more rolls of film. And I'd shoot with my friends, random dudes, amateurs and sometimes pros. Every time Lance would give me film there was a glimmer of hope... Like he had faith in me. And for me, it was like, "Do I buy groceries or do I get this film developed... Fuck it, I'll get the film developed". I kept a little notebook, and it'd be like, "Frame one, 250th, shot at f8, half power", and I would keep notes, so that when I got the photos back I'd be, "Oh, this looks better if I shoot at a 1/30th of a second at 5.6 at quarter power" so I'd know how to shoot at different light. "Dusk - try these shutter speeds". And I'd shoot something at 1/60th, at 1/30th, at 1/15th, and move the camera around, and find out what works. I feel like shooting skateboarding then was easier because the tricks weren't as gnarly, and the guys could do 'em. I shot a photo of Grant in Quito, grinding this rail, and it took me longer to set up my flashes than it took him to grind it. I set up the flashes, and I shot a photo of him standing next to it to check the exposure, to check the focus, and he literally grinded it first try. I got it, but he looked and me, like, "Did you get it?" and I had, and I showed it to him and he was super stoked. You have to be as good with your camera as Grant Taylor is with a skateboard, because he's gonna do it first fuckin' try, and he doesn't want to do it again. I feel like there's a lot of pressure sometimes. You have to have everything right so you don't miss that photo. It's scary. It's a trip.
So if you're shooting for High Speed, were there people you were maybe 'expected' to shoot?
I feel like back then, in the '90s, there were pros and amateurs, but there were always people coming up and Slap was always very welcoming, and always happy to put new dudes in the magazine. As long as it was a cool photo. As long as it was a cool angle, or cool lighting, or something different. Those guys were very open to put anybody in the magazine. They wanted names and stuff, but I never cold-called anybody, like, "Hey, I'm Joe Brook and I shoot photos. Do you want to go out today?" I just skated as much as the guys skated, and I wasn't as good but I skated avidly. I remember the first trip I went on, and I was skating, and the team manager was all, "Dude, you know what you're here to do, right? You're here to shoot photos. You can skate when the guys aren't skating but you need to shoot photos". That was a weird one, realising that I had a real job.
Did you ever shoot a great photo that didn't run because of magazine politics?
No, I never felt like that was an issue. I guess you could say that there was a lot of competition in SF because there was a lot of people living there! There was Bryce, Tobin, Morford, Pete Thompson, me, Jon Humphries... There were a lot of dudes living in SF. I think Transworld was kinda like the cool magazine, in a way, the glossy magazine, and Pete Thompson who shot for them had like a Hasselblad fisheye and he drove a BMW. It was like, if you worked for Transworld, you'd be driving a car like that. I think the only time photos wouldn't run is if the spot was burnout. Like if Pete got a photo in Transworld, they [Slap] wouldn't run a shot of the same skater at the same spot, even if it was a different trick, if Transworld had already run it. If there was a new spot in SF it was a case of seeing who would get a photo published first.
These Detroit photos are amazing. Do you go back there much?
Well my mom and my brother still live there, so I go back every summer, and my friends there will always take me around, and show me empty buildings and stuff. I bring my kids; I have a five and a seven-year-old - Archer and Abilene. and my brothers have kids so we get all the kids together and have fun. I was just on a New Balance trip to Detroit, and I stayed two days extra to hang out with my mom and shoot photos around Detroit. I was born there, then we moved away and moved back, but it was rough, man. It was crazy. As a kid, you knew you had to watch your back. You got street smarts real quick. It's fucking gnarly. Detroit ends at Eight Mile, then it's the suburbs where we moved back to. It's just so different there. A couple of years ago me and my mom drove over to look at our old house, and I got out the car to photograph it, and these guys appeared like, "Yo, what's up? Why are you photographing that house?" and I thought I was going to get fucking robbed photographing the house that I grew up in. My mom was so scared. So these dudes are flexing on me and this old guy appears, and is all, "Is your dad Raymond?", and I said yeah, and he called off the kids that were fucking with me, and said, "Your dad was always very kind to us. You were the last white people on the block but your dad was always very kind to us". Detroit's a cool city. I like it because there's nowhere else like it in the world. It's really turning around now too, but there was a point where it was like the Wild West and you could do whatever you wanted. You could do anything.
Do you think growing up in Detroit helped you deal with somewhere like Hunters Point?
Oh for sure. When I lived in the Tenderloin - I lived there for 15 years in the same apartment - people would come stay at my house and I'd have to tell them not to leave anything in their car. People leaving anything in their car would just get it stolen. It was like, "Take off your earrings, take off your fresh clothes and don't look like you want to get robbed". Like a dude would be "I got mugged for my Rolex!" but it was like, "Just look at you man, look at your big gold chain, you look like a mark!" My dad grew up in the Depression, and he knew Detroit inside-out. There's this abandoned train station in Detroit, and my dad used to sell Polish, Russian and Italian newspapers there for a penny back then. I remember we'd drive to baseball games when I was a kid, and being aware that we were parking in really gnarly neighbourhoods when I was seven or eight years old and my dad would be talking to all these dudes; he was just comfortable doing that because he grew up there, and when we'd get back they'd be all, "Yeah, we watched your car! Nobody messed with it!" and he'd give them five bucks or a six-pack of beer or whatever. Growing up skating there was awesome too. We built a skatepark in Detroit; we built a park called the Ride It Sculpture Park six years ago. My friend Mitch has this not-for-profit, he and his wife were doing all this cool stuff, but he didn't have a skatepark, so we raised a ton of money doing art boards - about $35,000 - and Spitfire, Indy and Thrasher all gave us money so we ended up with $49,000 to build a park. It was really cool. I just want something for the kids, something that might change some kid's life. They might pick up a camera, they might pick up a video camera, they might become the best skater, they might get inspired by graphic design or anything. I was always inspired by people like Neil Blender and Lance Mountain, pro skaters who made there own graphics and take photos and play music. I love that. You can do anything you want. Skateboarding basically got me out of mainstream, generic America... 'Go to school, get married, have kids, buy a house'. Skateboarding showed me that there was a different way to live life, and it was like, "OK, I don't want this version of life. I want something else, and I don't care about a house and cars and bank accounts". I just want to do what I want to do and enjoy it and see things and meet people. It was never about having a fat pay cheque, It was about friends and doing cool stuff! you know? I just want to appreciate life.
I'm stoked you sent over that McCrank photo, the Edinburgh one. What good international trips have you been on?
Well, the first big trip I went on was to Europe. My friend Anthony Claravall filmed for 411 and he would live in Europe for three months every summer, and I just went to Europe and followed him around. He knew everybody, and we followed the contest circuit, going to Radlands and going to Germany and Marseilles and Barcelona and Prague and all over the place. Just seeing how easy it was to get on trains and move around and meet up with friends... The world suddenly got really, really small! I met all these dudes, and couch surfed, and always said that they could come stay at my place, since my house was just a skate house for about ten years. Rattray and his friends stayed, Pete Hellicar, Vaughan Baker, all those dudes came and stayed. I actually shot a photo of Vaughan that was on the cover of Slap. But it was great, we were all just friends skateboarding. There was never an agenda. Going skateboarding was the most important thing. There was no, 'We're going to take over the world and become rich', we just wanted to skateboard and have fun. I still hang out with Rattray since he lives in Portland, and I speak to Vaughan and it's just crazy that he works for Nike... It's a trip to see what everyone is doing, but it was all just about having fun and getting out there and doing it. I feel so lucky to get to do what I do. I don't take that for granted.
So when did it change? When did it change from you being able to go wherever and shoot whoever?
It kinda changed at that point. I wasn't really working for anybody and I was just contributing to every magazine, and I met Skin at Radlands, and he said he wanted to have me do more stuff for Transworld. Thomas Campbell was really instrumental in helping me too. When he started Skateboarder up again, nobody wanted to work for them, because everybody was already with Slap, Thrasher and Transworld. Thomas asked me to shoot, but I could never afford to get film developed, so Thomas started shipping me boxes and boxes of film and told me to get all my receipts from the photo lab and mail them to him so he could get Skateboarder to pay me back. And he said, "If you need money for rent, find some receipts from somewhere and send them to me and I'll get them paid, I'll reimburse you". So any time me or my friends ate food, I'd keep the receipts to send to him. It got to the point where I didn't have to work, but I wasn't getting paid a wage by them, I was just a contributor, but being able to shoot as much as I wanted really, really helped me. It was cool getting his feedback because he's such an amazing person. He was very nurturing, and he was kind of coaching me and Benjamin Deberdt as well as some other people. I still have the cassette music mixtapes, that he would send me back then. He was just such a great person, super inspiring, and super influential but so humble. One time we wereout skating and he said we should go to his friend Barry's house, and when we got there I was like, "Oh my God, this is Twist's art loft!" But Thomas was so humble. There was no, "Let's go to Twist's loft!" or anything.
So when I got back from that Europe trip, I shot a Danny Wainwright interview for Slap, and I had a big Europe article with tons of random photos. After submitting like 40 rolls of film I didn't hear from Lance for a couple of days, and I was super nervous, but then Lance told me he was moving to LA and asked if I wanted to be the photo editor of Slap...
After worrying that they weren't even going to run any of your photos.
Yeah, I was so freaked out. I had three job offers, one from Transworld, one from Skateboarder and one from Slap. Mark Whiteley was working at Slap, and I kinda knew him, and I just liked Slap. I liked Lance and I liked the photos, and Brian Gaberman and Mike O'Meally were there too. I wanted to work with those dudes! I think I'm coming up on or 20 years of working at High Speed!
How easy is it to still do what you do for Thrasher, living in Portland with a family?
It's good, it's the same. I just shot with Cody Lockwood the other day. I get more time to spend with my family here, and I use my time more wisely. I can go on trips, or go down to SF and shoot, but I'm able to spend time with my family when I get back, rather than getting back on Friday and having some dude call me up asking to go shoot on Sunday. There's a ton of good skateboarding going on in Portland, but I just use my time more wisely. I love shooting every day, but I want to be with my kids, and I want to do fun things with my family. I mean skateboarding is always going to progress and it's always going to get gnarlier, and there's always something different happening but it's kinda cool to distance yourself a little bit from it. You get so 'in it' from being around it all the time that I feel you don't appreciate it as much.
What do you think about people reposting pictures you've taken on Instagram?
I'm OK with it. I kinda think that when a company reposts something we maybe should get paid. If it's a company I've been on a trip with and they're like, "Hey, can we get all your photos to post on Instagram?" I don't care about people posting old stuff but I think companies should pay something.
Is there a photo you missed?
There's probably a ton, but more so from the film days. With digital, if it doesn't look right or if the angle doesn't work, you can change lenses, you can do this or do that, or even ask the dude how he wants it shot. I remember Zion doing a 540 on Thrash and Burn, and it's not like I shoot 540s every day, so I had to ask the filmer, like, "How does he do 'em? Which way does his body go?" When you see your photo straight away you know what you need to do to make it look right. When I was shooting Cody Lockwood the other day, at Burnside, I was shooting down from the parking garage and I'd spent so much time getting my flashes set up and hiding them, then after the first shot I was just like, "You can't even see his face... Son of a bitch." I'd spent an hour setting it up and you couldn't see his face because he was turned so much on a front blunt. Sometimes it can work straight away though, you can just walk up and know the right angle straight away.
What do you think about how easy it is to change how a photo looks in Photoshop, as opposed to actually lighting it and shooting it right in the first place?
It is what it is now. There are some kids out there who are super talented with Photoshop, and they do that rather than sitting in a darkroom now. It's interesting, man. I'll look at people's photos and I'll look where the light trails are, and I'll think, "Oh, they Photoshopped or plated out their light stands. They moved the flashes closer". Like you can kind of see where the light starts and stuff. It's a means to an end but this is presently what it's all about and I totally embrace it. It's a trip. I think the writing in a magazine is super important. If you have a magazine with no words it has no voice, and there needs to be a voice, whether it's, "Go out with your friends and get wasted" or "I went to a museum today and got inspired by this artist". There needs to be a voice for all that stuff in skateboarding and we need to embrace that. Otherwise, it might as well just be a bunch of kids looking at fucking Instagram. I used to love the intros Lance Dawes would write, like, "On a flight to Barcelona at 2am...". just living it. I think good writing is really, really important. You need words behind the photos to bring it to life.
How long did the Dennis Busenitz kickflip in the wet photo take? The China Banks one.
We were working on a project for adidas, and it was just raining all the time in SF, so I said to Dennis that we should just go out and skate in the rain tomorrow, and he was really into it. So the night before, I wrapped up all my flashes in zip lock bags and made sure it'd be super easy to put them on tripods. Me and Dennis have kids, so we get up super early, and I went and picked him up at like ten in the morning. We decided we should call Frank Gerwer, but we were laughing, saying that there was no way he would come out with us. We were skating Black Rock, and it was super slippery, but Dennis was back tailing, doing all his stuff in the rain and we're just having a blast but we're absolutely soaking wet. Soaked to the skin and fucking freezing. So we went up to China Banks, not intending to shoot a photo, just to look at it in the rain. I had my film camera in my jacket but all my other camera gear was in the van, parked in the street with the hazards on. Dennis was carving around, and he just started trying the kickflip, so I ran to the van and got all my stuff, and set it all up again. He probably tried it about 30 times, and it was different every time. He'd shoot out in different ways. People were bummed we didn't have a filmer, but my friend Garrett filmed it super shitty with his DSLR. So Dennis did it, and we were super stoked but we didn't really think too much of it until I was sending Burnett a bunch of photos a couple of days later, and he sent it straight back specked out as the cover. It was crazy. And it ended up being the cover, and all these filmers are like, "Why didn't you hit us up?" and I had to say, "Dude, if I hit you up and you came and sat in the rain with us and that didn't happen, you would have hated us!" Dennis is just down for whatever, down for anything fun, and that was just something fun and different and it ended up being the cover which was awesome. I'm a fan of Dennis and his skateboarding, and he's such a great guy that I'm just glad he got the cover.
Corey Duffel has asked me to ask you about Jamie Thomas, the rail, and Photoshopping bandanas...
I'm super good friends with Jamie, and I'm really respectful of his career. I met Jamie when he was living on the streets of San Francisco. I met him and Sean Young and a couple of other guys, and they had staph infections. My mom was an x-ray technician so she'd showed me what a staph infection looked like and I knew that if you had it you had to go to the hospital. I would see Jamie skating at Embarcadero, and a lot of the dudes were really mean to him, but I wasn't really part of the crew. I was on my own shit, just skateboarding and working. Just different. Jamie was living there and skating there and those dudes would heckle him all the time. We would skate and it would be me, him, Drake Jones and Sean Young. Those guys were my guys! But yeah, one day we were skating this rail, and Corey was skating super good. He could just do anything first try, and Jamie was just coming off an injury and he was having a hard time skating. It wasn't coming as easy. He was still ripping but Corey was on some other shit. Jamie was taken aback by how gnarly Corey was skating. So Jamie front boarded and backside 5.0ed the rail. Jamie coined the name 'Duffel-land' for that rail. I knew where all Corey's spots were but I'd never take anybody to one of them without calling him up first, but he was always cool about it. I never went to Walnut Creek to shoot without calling him first, even if he was out of town. He was always super generous and super humble about that, and I always really loved that about Corey. So Jamie did his tricks, then we went back with Corey and he back lipped it and he got the cover. I just remember Jamie being floored with how good Corey was skating, and how gnarly he was skating. Corey, man... He is just so good.
I shot a photo of Jamie frontside flipping a double set in Tijuana, Mexico, and he did have a handkerchief in his back pocket. The graphic design dude that was working there at the time was kind of a dick, just a really weird dude. He was a super fan of skateboarding, and he loved all the gossip and that side of it. Jamie wanted to see every photo that you shot of him, Jamie is a control freak, like "I don't want to use that because my hand looks a certain way" or whatever. He was doing the frontside flip, and he had this sleeveless button-up shirt with eagles above the breast pocket, Jamie was going through this weird fashion thing, but he liked how the bandana looked in a different photo, so he asked if we could Photoshop it in, and Tim did it. It wasn't even a big deal until the mag came out and Tim brought it up, like, "Yeah, Jamie wanted the handkerchief in his back pocket" and whoever was in the office at the time - I think it might have been Tim O'Connor - just had more fuel for the fire, like, "Now we've got Jamie over a barrel! We're gonna give him a hard time for this..." Whatever, dude. It's not that big of a deal.
Your van, Big Blue, has seen a lot of pros and a lot of miles. Any especially notable trips?
Some of my favourites have been with Arto. Arto is such a great skater, photographer and guy. It was at the point that filming for Mind Field was coming to an end, and I was going through the Midwest a lot, and I knew a lot of spots there and would always meet people. I'd driven from California to Detroit to see my mom, and I called Arto up and asked if he wanted to drive across the country with me, and he had the Gravis credit card at the time... So it was me, Arto, Keegan Sauder, Omar Salazar and Steve Forstner travelling across the country. We went from Detroit to Ohio, to St. Louis, to Kansas City, to Denver, to Salt Lake City, to Reno, and then to Sacramento. It was rad and I just love driving that piece of shit van and I love photographing people in front of it. We weren't on a schedule, it was really cool. Omar wants to get a trick in Denver? OK, let's stay in Denver another day. We didn't need to be anywhere at a certain time, and it wasn't like we'd decided it'd take ten days. If it took a month, it took a month, and Arto was paying for everything with the Gravis card. I got that van for free, from the Birdhouse team, and Big Blue has opened so many doors for me. It's like a camera to me, it's weird. It's like a tool. Or a tripod. And it means we have the freedom to go do whatever we want. I'll be driving in SF and people will scream, "Big Blue!" and it's just insane.
A celebrity van. Well, thanks for your time and thanks for doing this.
Thanks for your patience with the photos! We had a server at Slap and I don't have access to it here. I really wanted to do this and I realized like, "Damn it, I don't really have acceptable versions of these photos!" When I moved a year ago I left my stuff in boxes. I have not unboxed any of my stuff at all. I have everything, negatives, proof sheets, stuff like that, but I just threw everything in boxes and when I got here there was no reason for me to go into those boxes. I don't need to look at that old stuff at this point. When I lived in San Francisco I would look through binders and stuff, but since I moved here I don't want to look at that stuff. It was like a changing in my life and I just want that stuff to sit in boxes for now. Out of all the stuff I had in life, I only needed like 5% of the stuff that was in front of me. I just need my cameras, my laptop and some t-shirts. I have so much stuff. Bricks from Embarcadero, so much weird stuff. A signed Jamie Thomas' board from a session, Brian Anderson's board from that photo shoot... I realised I had accumulated a lot of stuff in life and it was a real eye-opener. What do you really need in this world?
You've been in amongst it for so long, and it's not like you're exactly slowing down or anything.
I feel super fortunate to be where I'm at. I speak to Lance Dawes and Mark Whiteley and they're like, "Don't ever stop doing what you do!" and I don't think I want to do anything else anyway. I don't feel like I'm milking it, I'm out there shooting photos, trying to find new spots and making shit happen. I wish I could turn back time and be 21 again, I really do. I love doing what I'm doing. It's different every day, a different place and different people and I really enjoy that. I've worked jobs where you go to the same place every day and do the same thing every day but I can't do that. My wife knows that if I had to get a real job I'd fuckin' lose my mind. It's wandering, dude. I love to wander, mentally and physically. Haha!
You can't wander far with boxes of magazines.
I do cherish that stuff. Old magazines and old videos bring up so many memories of times and of people. I met Dan Sturt a long time ago, and I was scared of him. I knew he shot photos and I knew he shot my favourite photo, but when I met him I was really intimidated! He's a really intimidating guy and he's really intense, but after we met a few times and had some phone conversations... I dunno man, skateboarding is just such a trip.
What's your favourite photo? Hensley on the cowboy hat roof?
It is, for sure. It's funny, Dan started skating again, and I kinda know where he lives, so I asked if he ever skated Bob's ramp, and he was all, "What are you talking about?!" But then he called me up and said it was my fault that he started skating again. I told him it was his photos that made me want to start shooting photos. All his old photos, photos of Hensley etc., are the reason I wanted to start shooting photos, so it's his fault that I'm doing this. I feel like I've had a lot of support from the people at Thrasher and at High Speed to keep me doing this. When teams call Burnett and say they're going on a trip and they want to bring Joe, that's what keeps me going. If people didn't want to bring me any more I would be done. It'd be over. Skateboarding is like one big family. I'm just super excited to still be here. I'm not here to trash talk anyone, I mean everybody that films a video part is putting their life on the line and put their best foot forward to do these things and you gotta appreciate what everyone is doing in skateboarding. Skateboarding is a melting pot of people, of tricks and of styles. It's just such a rad thing in general. It's crazy to think that people get paid to ride a skateboard, and it's crazy to think that I get paid to shoot photos of people riding skateboards. It was kind of dumb luck to get to where I'm at but this is all that I want to do. I worked crappy jobs and I suffered. I remember Ewan Bowman was coming up as a filmer when I was coming up as a photographer and we'd always talk about how hard it was. "Oh man, $7.50 to get a roll of film processed, and I don't even have enough money for a burrito!" The hustle of skateboarding. Your friend works at a pizza place? That's where you go for free pizza. I'm just so glad I sacrificed a lot of stuff to get to be able to enjoy what I'm doing. Even if it ends tomorrow, I wouldn't be sad. Skateboarding has given me 30 years of freedom. I lived a life I could never have imagined! Skateboarding shrank the world to the size of a tennis ball. It made everything so accessible to me. There's nothing like it.
Interview by @sciencevslife