Interview by Neil Macdonald (@scienceversuslife)
Photography by Alex


What were you doing at the time you got your first photo published in a magazine, the John Rattray lip slide in Aberdeen?

I was working at Jessops camera store, and I’d finished a two-year photography course at Aberdeen College, which didn’t really set me up too well for any kind of career, but I think the intention was that it was quite a practical course. I actually got a job when I came out of it, to my surprise. I worked in a portrait studio but I didn’t last very long because I realised that they wanted me to sell pictures and frame things, as well as doing photo retouching and studio work, and I wasn’t really game for that; I just wanted to be a ‘pure photographer’.


Neil Smith
I think this was an out-of-season trip to Majorca. I’d seen people come out of the transition before—where he’s ollieing into—so people had done tricks on the transition, but this is Smithy doing what Smithy does. I was pretty excited taking the photo; it was one of those, ‘I hope he fucking lands it, this is going to be good’ ones. You know you’ve got the photo so then you’re just really hoping he lands it. I’ve only had it happen a few times when I’ve been shooting and knowing it was something, but it hasn’t been landed.


Did you want to be a skateboard photographer?

I didn’t really have it on my radar. I was taking pictures of my friends and spending all my spare time printing them at college. Around that time when I was shooting skateboarding, I had to do all my stuff for college and I was doing the skateboarding stuff as well, so I was going in on my days off and staying late and printing stuff, and just trying to get my head round shutter speeds and lenses and camera formats and all that kind of stuff. So a lot of the other stuff I was taking photographs of was with what I would consider now inappropriate formats, inappropriate lenses and a poor selection of shutter speed, but I was really learning.

I was shooting a lot of photos with Seb Curtis, and my other pals Gary Bryce and Willie Moulding—they’re a bit younger than me but I skated with them a lot—and Glen Bolland, because Glen was killing it at that point. He was happy to jump down stuff, and is obviously stylish. I shot with those guys and a couple of things with John, but just here and there. Nothing substantial, I suppose. I was kind of on the periphery of the session taking photographs rather than being the photographer at the session. I wasn’t up to spec, I suppose, but I was the only one that was knocking about taking photographs at that point.


Chet Childress
It’s always a fridge at Kinning Park. You would go there and always be able to find a fridge, there was always someone throwing out a fridge. This was early-doors Nike, and Childress would have realised he had a budget and was solo tripping around the world. He was only up for five or six days but we shot quite a few photos together. Kinning Park’s a classic ‘take someone there’ spot but not really a spot spot.


Weren’t up to what spec? Whose photos were you comparing yours to?

My main substance of skate media at that point would have been Sidewalk and Document. We didn’t really get very many US mags up in Aberdeen. You’d see Slap really occasionally, or Transworld. Some of the photography in Transworld was good but it didn’t tick all of the boxes for me.

I always liked Document’s use of white space. I like the more artistically-inclined stuff, letting the photograph breathe a bit, and having the composition and the colour and the trick be forefront and not necessarily be rammed full of stuff. Having a bit more focus on the actual image rather than the content appealed to me but that was probably less common than I would have liked it to have been. I was seeing the value in that kind of stuff over something that was ‘cutting edge’, at the time.

I could see the value of a good photo over the trick. For me it was always about the framing, really. If it’s a well-framed photo with a bit of space around it, and it’s high-impact, I was into it. So I suppose I was comparing what I was doing to that kind of stuff and very much failing. But I was learning. I wasn’t achieving that, but I wanted to.


John Rattray


Was John’s lipslide shot with the intention of sending it to a mag?

That shot of John that I had published, it wasn’t a planned session as far as I can remember, but we all went there because John wanted to do it. I can’t remember if there was an awareness of me shooting it for a purpose, I was just there watching the traffic—badly, because I was trying to do the photography as well—but like I said, I was kind of on the periphery of a session rather than being the photographer at a session.

I’ve always like that one and I don’t know if that’s because it was my first picture published or because I genuinely like it, but I like a lipslide shot where it’s just about to be put into place.



I like that because there’s commitment in that. There’s something in that poise in the air that you don’t need the rest of the story to know it.


Div and Colin Adam
Div had this pit bike for a while, and he drove it like a spanner. I like this photo because he’s well young in it, and it’s got Colin in the background. That’s when I started hanging out with Div and Colin, and there was always lots of glaikit looks, riding motorbikes and causing mayhem.


You don’t have the original do you?

No. I’d like it, as a thing to have, but I’ve never really assigned too much value to work I’ve done, which sounds really negative but I don’t mean it in a negative way. I remember getting that issue of Document and going, ‘Oh, cool, I’ve got a photo in a mag’. I didn’t rest on my laurels, it was more, ‘OK, I’ll do more’. I always saw an artistic value in other people’s work but I’m not that sure I ever had that same kind of mind to my own work.

I don’t think I’ve ever shot ‘a classic’. I think the closest thing would be that wallride shot, the ride-away. Lots of people are kinda stoked on that one but it’s out of focus because it was manually focused on the wall where he was doing the wallride, because I had to get the wallride shot, and this was just a throwaway shot after it. I always cringe when Im printing the wallride one because I wish he was sharp, but I didnt have the kind of lenses that would have tracked the autofocus at that point.

That one and the lipslide shot kind of shit all over the idea of all the technical stress I was putting myself under. I wanted to know it, I wanted to make sure I was doing it right, and obviously that’s served me in the long run—being able to take photographs of skateboarding without fucking it up continually—but it’s interesting.

I shot the lipslide at 1/250th, which is way too slow but luckily because he’s kind of coming at the camera rather than going across it, you don’t get as much of the blur. I didn’t know that then, but in hindsight I was lucky. If I’d shot it from a slightly different angle it would never have been printed so that could have changed everything.


This was in my cross-processing days, when I worked at Jessops, when I could shoot on slide film and process it there. But it’s Mackey. What a fucking guy. I like the weirdness of this spot, the three-stair to a really skinny path. I can’t remember anything from this session apart from thinking, ‘What the fuck’s he doing?’ It came out really cool with the drag on it.


How did things progress after getting that first photo in Document, from not necessarily pursuing the idea of being a professional skateboard photographer, to becoming a professional skateboard photographer?

I was working in this Jessops camera store, I’d had that picture published and John was on Zero but he was coming back quite a lot. There was a rail in the west end of Aberdeen, this horrific kinked handrail, and I think he had it in his mind that he really wanted to do this gruesome rail. I wish he had because that would have been a Zero ad, easily, or a cover.

John was battling it quite a lot and we must have gone back a few times. I shot the first and the second attempt, and then the next time I went up on my lunch break from Jessops. They were up there trying it and I knew that if he did it, I had to get the photo.

I spoke to this guy Bob that I worked with in Jessops, and I said, “Look, I’m gonna level with you, I’m not coming back because I’m going to go and shoot this photo. Can you tell them I’m ill or something and I can’t come back?”, and he was quite a jobsworth and he told them straight up that I’d told him to lie for me. So I got in trouble at work for that, and unfortunately John didn’t do it, but at that point I realised that I wanted to do this seriously. That was when I was still in Aberdeen, and probably 19 or 20.


 Colin Kennedy
Colin did so much stuff on this rail. He could drive up to Aberdeen from Glasgow, solo session, do a trick, have a cup of tea and a cake, and drive back down to Glasgow. There was no fucking about with Colin, he was business. In a good way.


Shooting magazine-level skateboarding in Aberdeen back then is all very well when John’s home, but how were you imaging that plan would work out when he wasn’t around?

Well, the secret was that I didn’t plan anything. I didn’t have plan and I just wanted to do it. There was stuff happening in Aberdeen, but I think until I moved away it was a bit of a flight of fancy. I think once I moved to Glasgow it became a lot more feasible, and maybe generally the level of skating was higher. Not to sound like a diss, but I think because there was more people, the level was just a bit higher than it was in Aberdeen. And a lot of people from Aberdeen were living down in Glasgow anyway, and in Edinburgh.


 Reese Forbes
Reese was on some Nike trip around Scandinavia and he was rarely skating. He was wearing a suit jacket the whole time. Reese Forbes has got such huge pop, and such good style, and he was dressing like someone’s dad. He’s a super nice guy, super funny, but he didn’t really skate very much on that trip. When I took that photo, that was the only time I saw him skate, but he’s twice the height of the thing.


And photography paid the rent?

For the first few years, it was cheap rent. It was £200 a month or something, and I think at that point you would get £80 for a full page in Document, and £60 in Sidewalk, so if you could get a couple of photos in each issue you could pay your rent. We used to live off the yellow-sticker stuff in the supermarkets. Buying chicken for 10p and ten o’clock at night, and sharing that.


 JJ Rousseau
I think this was on some Cliché trip, or maybe just something random in Lyon. I liked it because of the mirrors. JJ can be a pretty spicy character to be around; he definitely speaks his mind. He did this super quick, I think it’s one of three frames. It’s just a switch ollie but he didn’t know me from Adam so I’ve always appreciated the fact that he was happy to do it for me.


And you had no problem with submitting photos to both magazines?

There was that rivalry-not-rivalry going on, and I felt impressed upon by whatever forces—not the magazines—that you maybe had to pick a side, but that’s not very helpful if you’re trying to sell photos, so I would always send it to both of them. There might be conversations like, ‘Ah, have you sent this to Sidewalk too?’, but I’d have two piles, a Document pile and a Sidewalk pile.


That was taken at a comp that was held in Aberdeen. Ferg didn’t come up to Aberdeen much, but when he did I was always stoked because I don’t have to explain to you or any of the readers how good Ferg was, and probably still is, if he still skates. Style-wise he was one of the dopest Scottish skaters at that time. You’ve got Colin and John and Mark [Foster] who are super-stylish, but Ferg was next-level dope. I think that photo’s taken up at the nature reserve where Trump built his golf course.


What would you say the difference between a Document photo and a Sidewalk photo in the early-2000s was?

I wanted the photo to generate some excitement in the photo editor’s mind. I wanted them to be well-received and that comes from studying what they liked to have in the magazine. If you wanted a photo in Sidewalk, you kind of knew what would tick Horsley’s boxes. He’d really like something funny, or some kind of strange shape in there… I’d know what would work for Horsley and I would know to a lesser degree what would work for Document.

Sidewalk would like all the comp stuff covered, and Document wouldn’t, so I’d know I could go to Burnley or Manchester or Bolton and take photos at an indoor park and Sidewalk would be stoked on it but Document wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. That was a clear division. Sidewalk had the vast scene-coverage approach. Document would want coverage of trips, and random shots of fairly well-known people, composed properly.

It wasn’t a hard and fast rule but I kind of figured out who might want what, and on top of that I was doing trips into Europe and selling to magazines like Sugar and Dogway, that kind of stuff. If you were smart about it you could sell a photo to two or three different publishing houses in different countries and it wouldn’t affect the newness of it. It was always important that something was fresh, but no-one ever really saw Sugar in the UK so it was effectively fresh. I was always open about that; I’d tell them I was selling it to a French mag too, and no-one would care.


 Paul Silvester
Can you call that a plaza? St. Enoch’s Square. You used to be able to get a fish supper down there for £2, and there were always loads of pissed up gadgies commenting on the session. Paul only got going then after probably about eight cans, so this is about midnight. It’s a proper stylish switch crook and my flashes fucked up, so there’s a bit of delay. The eternal misfiring of the flash, and it never ran because of that, but here it is now.


Do you think working with, and getting to know, all the European mags put you on a good footing for your job at Kingpin?

I’m not sure how much of an impact that really made. Maybe certain people were familiar with my name, but that definitely came through Ben Powell having been consulted, when Niall [Neeson] said he was leaving. It was probably on Ben’s radar that I was working on European stuff, but I think that was probably the extent of it. I’m not sure if it was ever a massive deciding factor. I think me being able to write an article, take the photos and deliver it was just easier.


Cubic was the one who got me to all those Northern England comps. Cubic was a huge influence, and would always put me up if I didn’t have somewhere to stay. He’s a real, true gent, Cubic. We didn’t ever shoot that many photos together because maybe Cubic wasn’t skating anything other than vert and there wasn’t much vert, but I went on a trip to the US and stayed with Cubic again because Cubic just loves offering up his floor. This was in Portland, when he was living there.


Was there a bit of a culture shock going from contributing photos to editing a magazine?

When I started there I had to do the magazine and I didn’t know what I was doing, and it took a while to get my bearings, and as soon as I did I realised I was working in an office six days a week. I was stressing about deadlines, and getting things in, and editing articles. It’s a different story when you’re writing something and it’s got grammatical errors and all sorts of things wrong with it and you send it off to a magazine and they fix it all, but now I was the one getting all this badly-written stuff sent to me, and it was me who had to go through it. To be blunt about it, I wasn’t doing a fantastic job of that. I had no training in it.

I realised after three moths or something that I wasn’t shooting any photos, so I’d force myself to go and do a trip each month to get out of the office and shoot, and then I found that I was using myself as maybe I would have used a freelancer, but I wasn’t getting paid any extra. I’d shoot the article, do any photo retouching that needed to be done, I’d write the article and lay it out with the art director Matt, and that felt more like something I could do because it was a lot less unknown. So it became a functional thing; I could go and shoot the article and know I’ve got it before deadline and that would reduce the stress a bit, but then you run the risk of it looking like I just wanted to have my own stuff in the magazine.

Kingpin was a bit of an awakening that I enjoyed shooting the photos more because all the monetary pressure was gone because I was getting my wage for editing it and I was doing everything I could to not be in the office, and there was no financial incentive to shoot this or that. I always wanted to keep shooting photos while I was there; I didn’t want to just be sat at a desk editing bad stories about skateboarding. That’s not really that appealing.


 Neil Smith
If you’ve been there you know this is pretty fucking tall, but Smithy was pretty badman at spots like that. I think this one was the make. I don’t remember much about that session but I know every time I go to that spot, I struggle to light it. It’s quite a tight enclosed space, and there’s a bit of wood for run-up down some stairs, and it’s a bit hectic. Smithy can handle awkward skate-media sessions, like if you’re in the way he can focus and get through it.


You left Kingpin before it finished, right?

It was a year or two before. Will [Harmon] and Sam [Ashley] took over. Arthur [Derrien] was already there when I was there. There wasn’t any animosity or anything when I left. The bosses had been getting me to do more pitches to energy drink companies and things like that, basically trying to bolster the advertising revenue by doing bespoke projects. ‘Consultancy’, you might call it… Like, ‘We can do this, we’ll produce the video, we’ll produce the photo package, we can put the branding here, you can consult on the name, we’ll take care of the media side of it and get you basically this twelve-page advert’. They were asking me to do that and they were reluctant to pay me, and I felt like I was selling out. I sold out anyway, started an agency, and got closer to the teat, as it were… I did that for a couple of years. Not my finest hour, I’m not gonna lie. It wasn’t something I wanted to do forever, hence I didn’t do it forever, but at least I managed to direct some money towards skateboarders rather than towards a publishing house, I suppose.


 John Rattray
I don’t know if this ever saw the light of day or not. John did a gap-to-lipslide down there in the brown leather jacket for Ollie Barton, and I shot a gap-to-Smith sequence—that was a poor photographic choice—at that same rail. There used to be a guy at that handrail that’d come out and go apeshit so it was always a ‘three tries and you’re done’ spot, and it was classic Aberdeen: shit run-up and shit landing. It probably didn’t run because it’s just a kickflip down a double set, but it’s a good catch and John does a good kickflip.


How did Of London come about?

In reaction to what I was doing not being ‘core’ skateboarding—which had basically been my raison d’être for twenty years up until that point—and sitting in meetings listening to people talk about budgets and hanging out with wankers, I took on whatever ‘core’ work I could. Shooting photography for anything not to do with that.

At that point skateboarding was still in the era where it had to be the freshest shit. No-one could even have seen the photo. It’s got to be straight from the skater’s session to the magazine, nothing getting in the way. No filmer putting it out there, not even alluding to it. All that real gatekeeping stuff.

Every Downtown Showdown or Go Skateboarding Day would end up in a magazine somewhere under a commercial pretence. It was basically marketing for a company and we had to run it. Maybe I’m being cynical there but I know from having been in the editor role that there is a pressure to do that and you make concessions. Sometimes it’s a genuinely good thing that has a wacky sponsor and you’d want to run it, but they’re few and far between.

You could take a picture of the crowd at Bay 66 and it’d go in postage stamp sized and no-one would ever care about it, but Of London was a format where that could be front and centre, a double-page spread. Basically cementing that moment in time and putting it in a totally different context. The Of London project was about the culture, the random shots as well as the skate shots. Basically what a snapshot of a year of skateboarding looks like. What was happening in this culture at that point in time, and to me that was revelatory; I thought it was ridiculous that no-one had done that before, and why that wasn’t part of skate culture, I don’t know.

The second point of difference with Of London was that it could be a random person. It could be Bob from down the road who skates, shot by someone who’s not an established skate photographer. There’s this variety of ability or professionalism among the photography that’s there. There’s this mix of knowns and unknowns, there’s this cultural overview, and then there’s stuff that’s run somewhere else, because, so what?

I thought it was a great project and I’m proud to be a part of it. More so than my time at Kingpin and anything subsequent to that I was involved in in skateboarding. It’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve been a part of and I’d go on record as saying that.


 Mike Rusczyk
This yellow bank was probably already a tired spot by this time, but I think that was his first trip to Barcelona so he was pretty wide-eyed. He’s got fucking good no-complies so it’s hard not to make it look good. We smoked a lot of hash and skated a lot of what would have been at that point passé Barcelona spots on that trip. It was a good week.


You started an Instagram account for your old skate photos last year [@alx_irv_photo]. Do you feel like you need to be showing people these things, or is it more that people need to see them?

I battled with the idea of doing it, a little bit, because I’d been out of skateboard photography for quite a long time. I was probably influenced by other people reminiscing about their photo work. My catalogue’s a mess, but I started going through it and I think I amassed a total of five photos… I thought I’d post those ones, with the intention of making the captions quite wordy. I always liked captions.

There was never any rulebook in terms of how you were expected to submit photos to a skate publication, at least not one I was ever made party to. At some point I started trying to write my own captions and I’m not sure if that was the done thing. Sometimes they would make it into print, sometimes the magazine would do what they wanted, but I always like a good caption.

So with the Instagram thing, I wanted to make the caption a bit more about something, whether it was directly related to the photo or not, or something that was related to the time. Or if you’ve got nothing interesting to say you can just go fucking weird and talk about something you were thinking about when you were looking at it.


Burning Car
That could be enhanced by having a skateboarder in the frame doing a trick, but still, a burning car’s a burning car. You don’t see that too often, so maybe it’s indicative of skateboarding taking you places where things like that might be possible. You’re hanging out in car parks and sketchy estates and weird parts of the world where nobody’s particularly bothered about there being a burning car. There wasn’t anybody screaming because there was a car on fire, there wasn’t even anybody knocking about. I think skateboarding puts you in places where that shit is kinda normal.



Published in North 38


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