So you’ve just got back from vacation?
I was up in Santa Cruz county, my girlfriend’s family is from there. We wanted to get a break from Long Beach and see some nature, everything down here is either burnt down or contaminated with oil right now. I didn’t really know what it was like up there, but Northern California has just got these big beautiful National Parks with huge redwoods. We hiked and saw these amazing watering holes with these hundred-foot trees all around, that have been there for centuries. It was a nice change from going on skate trips all the time. Kinda cool to see a different side to California than just beaches, and it was so green. I’m from Pennsylvania so I’m used to seeing all four seasons, a rainy spring and a lush green summer, but you don’t see the difference here because it doesn’t really rain and it’s so hot.
Ethan Loy - No Comply Pole Jam
I wouldn’t be able to cope, It’s been so hot here recently and I’ve been struggling! So did you move to California to work?
Yeah so I got into shooting photos in high school and knew I wanted to pursue it because I didn’t really have anything else going on. I enrolled in this small Art School in Pittsburgh for photojournalism. I’d already had a few photos published in Skate Jawn and this East Coast magazine called Focus, and throughout the first year of college I was slowly getting better and getting a few more things out there. The first time I visited California was for a couple of weeks during winter break. I stayed with a friend in San Diego. I was so confused as to why the weather was so nice, it was so sunny and beautiful in December and I was just used to shit weather, so I thought oh man I gotta come back out here. So the following summer I did a road trip with a couple of friends, from San Diego to Seattle for about a month, and basically saw all of California. By that time I had shot a few more photos that were getting used, and I’d been paid about £300 for one photo, so I was just like “If I just do this like ten times, I can make some money!”.
One of my friends, his dad is Grant Brittain, so I was hanging at his house, and then going to The Skateboard Mag during the day and meeting Grant and Dave Swift and all the guys that worked there. I was already emailing with Matt Price, and I had this Jake Johnson photo that I could not get ran anywhere for some reason, but eventually The Skateboard Mag ended up running it, which came out when I just started my second year at college. I was 19 and at this point my dream was to just live in California and work at Skateboard Mag, and be like Atiba! So I dropped out of college. I remember telling my advisors and they were just like, “eh, good luck man, I don’t know what to tell ya, if you think you can move out to California and make money because your friend's dad owns a magazine then good luck.” Haha. This was 2014, so I think they were thinking that print was dead, but I was like “nah I’ll show you!”. So I saved a couple thousand dollars and moved to San Diego.
The day I moved out, it was announced that The Berrics was buying The Skateboard Mag, and I fucking hate The Berrics, so I was like oh well, that one’s a wrap. And then on like, day five, for some reason I tried to skate a ten stair and broke my ankle. I couldn’t walk so I was just stuck at my friend's house, and he had started college so it was just me and his parents. They took care of me great, but after a couple of months I was just like, dude what am I doing! I’d been speaking to my friend Derek, who was a photographer in Long Beach. He was constantly shooting pros and he was starting to get photos in Transworld and stuff, and I was seeing more and more of it. So I asked him like, dude how are you getting photos of these people? He was like, “Daniel Lutheran is my next door neighbour, I see Geoff Rowley getting coffee every morning, like, you gotta move to Long Beach!” . And so he told me about a guy he knew, Matt Militano, who was looking for a roommate. It was $300 a month to share this shitty one bedroom apartment. Matt and his girlfriend were sharing the bedroom, this dude Dylan was living in this closet room, the sorta thing Harry Potter had going on, and so I had the living room. I already kinda knew Matt but had never actually met him. He was going back to Pennsylvania for a week and said I could move in when he got back, but then, a week later he phoned me and was like “dude you won’t believe this” and basically that guy Derek had started sleeping with Matt’s girlfriend when he was out of town, and the two of them were running off together. The plan had been that she was going to pay the security deposit, and pay for half the room, so Matt was left high and dry, and I had to put down the security deposit on the spot. It was about $500 and had less than $1000 to my name at this point but I just thought fuck it I need to get out of San Diego.
I planned on being there for a few months just to feel it out, but ended up there for about 4 years, and have now lived down the street for another 3 or 4 years. It’s been kind of a wild ride. Matt was a good friend but we really butted heads living together! We were both broke and nothing was really working out for a little bit. We got broken into twice while we were there, and our laptops and basically all our possessions got taken, so tensions were running high!
Sammy Montano - Bluntslide
Oh shit, did your camera gear get taken?
No thankfully the camera gear was good, but it did actually get stolen a couple of months later! I was at Venice Beach, and I stupidly left my shit out when I shouldn’t have, it was really dumb. But it’s all eventually panned out for us I guess; Matt’s killing it in Philly right now, he has a thrift business that’s doing really well. There were tough times though, and it was really hard to get into the whole skate thing. There’s a bunch of people fighting for it, and there’s not a ton of money to be made; it’s not like it was before.
Rowan Davis - FS Flip
There were more publications back in the day, and then the big shoe brands got involved and there was a lot of money being thrown around for a while. It’s definitely a bit different now.
Totally, I just count my blessings that I got involved in Thrasher when I did, because obviously it’s the only kinda big magazine left and Burnett takes really good care of me. He sends me on trips and hooks me up with people to shoot, so I’m super grateful to be able to travel and skate with these people. But it’s still hard because there’s gotta be over a dozen photographers that really want it, and in his role you have to be able to pass these opportunities around fairly I guess. Back in the day there was a set group of dudes that were shooting all the photos. Transworld around 2010 had such a stacked crew, Oliver, O’Meally, Sam Muller, all these guys that were the best photographers in the game working together to create a magazine, and it really showed. These days there’s more of a hodgepodge because you’ve got like, so many cooks in the kitchen, and it’s hard to get that same cohesive feeling in each publication. I guess it’s hard to feed all the mouths out there.
Thrasher, Transworld, The Skateboard Mag and Skateboarder were all around at that time too. So you had the choice of what kind of photography and layout you were into, that suited your style. And now there’s just one magazine that you might feel like you have to adapt your style to.
I can imagine it’s so hard to make a magazine now. Trying to get advertisers on board and fighting for content, against someone like Thrasher, who kind of runs the whole thing. But they are doing so much for skateboarding, so I feel like I want to give them first dibs for photos. They help me and a lot of my friends out, and they are giving me a voice in skateboarding that I might not have otherwise, so I’m always keen to back what they’re doing. Man, putting out 12 magazines a year has gotta be fucking exhausting.
Doing what I do is a hustle, and I have a few other things going on outside of skateboarding that help me make money for having fun with. Summertime is usually super hectic for me and then somehow usually have all of July off for travelling. But by August I’ll be on a trip for 2 weeks, back home for a day and then another trip straight after. I’m doing a trip for Lakai, starting in New York, and then Philly and Pittsburgh, and then an event in Indianapolis. I’m excited to show everyone all my favourite fucked up food spots in my hometown. Skate spots are cool but food spots are better! And then I’m going on an Uma trip with Evan Smith and their whole posse, up through the Pacific Northwest. The whole team’s coming out from Europe too so it’s going to be a real fun trip.
I see you’ve been shooting a lot with the Girl and Chocolate guys.
Yeah I just did a trip with Girl a few months ago, we had a sick ass squad of dudes and I got a good amount of photos. It works out well for me, as I live with John Marello, the filmer for Girl and James Capps who is pro for Chocolate and Lakai. James’s room is the office that we all kind of work from. And before he was in there, Neils Bennet was there, who also turned pro for Girl while living in the office, so now we’re like hmm, who can we hook up next. Haha! Actually, my plan is to move to LA later this year, so Rowan Davis is going to take the office. He’s crushing it right now, he stayed with us for a few months before, sleeping on our couch. He’s the best, and he’s so young so he’s got so much juice in him. For me living with a filmer and a skater is such a wrap because everyday we would just be able to go check out a spot together and get shit done. It’s a nice little regime to have, and we’ve had this dynamic going on here for a little while now. It’s kind of assumed that anyone visiting will stay on our couch while they’re in town, meaning we’ve had access to some super cool dudes which I’m so thankful for, because they’re all so fun to shoot with. Girl and Chocolate are two of the most iconic board brands and it’s cool to be working with them.
We did a zine for the Bunnyhop video and I shot pretty much all of that, and Blabac shot a couple of the skates. So I was going back and forth with Rick Howard, and he was like “should we include the Blabac stuff?” And was like “Hell yeah, I don’t want this all to be me”, so when it got printed it said, “Photography by Alex Papke” and then super small underneath it “And Mike Blabac”, so I was like woah that’s a trip!
Conor Charleson - FS Crook Fakie
I bought Girl and Chocolate decks for years, they are so Iconic. Bunnyhop was sick, I’m a big fan of Trahan. I always felt like Girl and Chocolate always slept on non-US skaters, so I’m so stoked to see Rowan is fully on board. I remember seeing him in those Australian Nike SB edits, so when I saw him riding the Girls Decks I was really hoping it was going somewhere.
Yeah he’s the epitome of natural talent, and it’s a cool energy to be around. I’m really stoked on everything that Girl and Chocolate are doing. For a brand to be going for that long, there’s always going to be ups and down, and they’ve now got so many good guys getting involved. It feels so cool to have grown up watching all this stuff, to then have Rick hitting me up to wish me a happy birthday! They’re such a nice, thoughtful bunch of guys. I’ve still never actually shot a photo with Rick!
Austyn Gillette - Wallride
Make it happen! There’s not enough Rick. Every time there’s a Girl or Chocolate edit I’m always praying for Rick footage.
Well I’m 28 and I’m constantly sore all the time, with no motivation to skate, so I can’t imagine being in your forties and being like, I really wanna go film a trick today. Haha! But yeah, I love working with those guys. I’m actually just really grateful to all the brands I work with for helping me out. I have to work for a lot of people to be able to make the skateboarding thing happen. I think back in the day, everybody was almost assigned a brand, a bit more cut-and-dried.
Whereas now you’ve gotta spread it a bit wider. Luckily people are getting in touch with me more, rather than the other way round. I’ve been on a retainer with Globe for the last few years, doing catalogue lookbook stuff, as well as a few skate trips with Austin ever since he came on board which has been fun. We just got back from a trip to Italy, and I liked it because I wasn’t just shooting skate photos the whole time. I got to shoot a lot more of the guys just hanging out, which I really like doing because that’s what I wanna look back and remember in twenty year’s time you know? Looking at a skate photo you took twenty years ago is cool and all, but what you really wanna remember is the time you spent there.
Felipe Gustavo - BS Nosebluntslide
Yeah, I’m really bad at remembering to shoot incidentals and portraits of people. Looking back at old photos I always wish I’d taken more photos of all the people that were there hanging out that day.
It’s cool to add more context to the photos. I don’t wanna say that the period of iconic skate photos is over, but you really have to make something special you know? Like T Funk at China Banks, that shit is in your head for a long time. There’s a bajillion photos in Thrasher every month, and there's a few that will stick out for sure, but people’s attention spans are so short that it’s hard to create something memorable. Now people just scroll through Instagram and will be like “oh that’s a cool kickflip front 50 down the staple centre hubba, next”.
I always wanna do skateboarding stuff, but I’m also trying to get my foot in the door of a few other things too. I always set myself up thinking “all I ever wanna do is shoot skate photos” but I also never actually thought I would make it this far either. To have a shot a cover for Thrasher is huge for me, a personal goal for me that I actually reached. And so if that’s possible, then what else is possible? I’ve been trying to chase that feeling of shooting a good skate photo, but in other places. Because there’s nothing like that rush of just getting that shot and thinking wow that’s it, that’s exactly what was in my head. It’s even more rewarding shooting on film for this feature. It’s really opened my eyes to how fucking good these guys were back in the 90s. I have a new appreciation for all those iconic photos from back in the day. It is so fucking hard to shoot this stuff on film. I’ve been trying to shoot this for you for about six months now. I’m such a perfectionist, if I shoot something and it’s not exactly how I want it I’m like, this is never seeing the light of day. So, I’m going through all these photos that are close but not quite there, and I don’t wanna settle for something that’s not perfect, so it’s been a struggle. It’s a blow to the ego because you realise you’re not as good as you think you are! With digital you can check your photos and adjust what you need to as you go, but with film, you’re just praying that it’s worked and you’ll find out in a few days if it turned out OK.
I was actually shooting with the Adidas team in downtown LA, and got some free time so I thought I’d try working on this North thing. Kevin White called me and said Reda’s showing up at some point so you know, “You guys talk it out” sorta thing. So I’ve never met Reda before, and when he arrives I just explain like, “Go ahead and tap in whenever you want, I’m just learning how to shoot film photos today” which is obviously, something he was so good at back in the day. And so, he didn’t know who I was, and I guess he thought I was telling him I was learning how to shoot skate photos. So he jumps in there and starts giving me all these pointers on how to be a skate photographer. You know, with his thick New York accent, exactly how I thought Reda would be, and he’s like “Man if you wanna get the shot, you wanna be in the way, you wanna be getting hit with the boards. If you’re not getting hit with the boards something’s wrong!” And I was standing next to the filmer who was like “he definitely doesn’t know you shoot skate photos for a living does he”. He kept giving me pointers all day and I didn’t have the balls to say anything to him! So we drove to another spot and he comes out of the car and says “Dude, I’ve just looked you up on Instagram and I feel like kind of an idiot for telling you how to do your job all day”. Haha! So he ended up venting to me about the good old days, and I just have this whole other level of respect for these guys, because they were trusted with shooting these photos on film, with no idea of how it’s gonna turn out, and it’s so difficult. Like you might shoot some insane, iconic Andrew Reynolds trick and you get the film back and see that it’s a little out of focus, or like, the flash didn’t fire on the best catch, and it’s just shit like that that makes me think, how do you guys fucking do this?!
It’s a lot of pressure!
Yeah there’s already so much pressure anyway. You can be shooting some dude who you know is going to land this trick in a few tries, and you have to create the most aesthetically pleasing photo, and make the trick look really hard, and totally nail it otherwise you’re not gonna get another call from this guy to shoot another photo - and then you add the pressure of shooting on film, where you have no idea of whether you’re gonna actually get it or not? That’s crazy to me.
Bobby Worrest - Switch Backtail
I’ll always shoot digital to just check lighting and stuff, and at the time I’ll alway think, why don’t I do this all the time? I’ve got the photo now, I’m done! But then I get the film photos back from the lab, and they just look amazing. It’s totally worth the effort.
It’s worth it if it turns out well for you! It’s still a learning curve for me. I think I shot one decent photo with flashes, which was the Rowan crook pop over. But even that wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to be, because to be completely honest with you, I thought I was shooting on colour the whole time until I got it back from the lab and saw it was in black and white. I was like, dang it.
Giorgio Villone - Switch FS Crook
I learnt on film, and have been shooting for years, but I still doubt myself and make plenty mistakes. Luckily all the trips I’ve done, everything’s turned out. The thought of the X-ray machines at the airports always freak me out.
Oh man this last trip I was on for Globe, we went on ten flights over two weeks. I was trying to shoot a lot of stuff on film, including Copenhagen Open for Monster Children. I shot about 40 rolls, and I got some rolls processed over there but had about 20 in my luggage, which got x-rayed about 7 times. I thought they were gonna be absolutely torched but luckily they turned out OK. So anyway, I’m totally stressed, but there’s this guy shooting for Globe who exclusively shoots on 16mm, and his stress must be on a whole other level. I just see him fighting with TSA all the time.
There’s a story about Blabac travelling back from Japan, and they hand checked his luggage and just started opening the rolls of film. I think he managed to stop them eventually but there were about 3 or 4 rolls of film with what you can imagine would have been iconic photos from this trip, just ruined.
I think it’s great you can make a magazine where it’s pretty much all film. I bought this camera especially so I could just try and shoot photos for North. I’ll give it to you, you gave me a really good challenge for the last few months, but I am so stoked to not have to use this camera any more! I have so much respect for all these guys still doing this. Like, all the stuff that Zander Taketomo does, he is a fucking God to me, because he is so consistently good at shooting on film.
Rowan Davis - Crook Pop Over
He is insanely precise. I bumped into him in Philly and he was shooting a photo at that horrible pool spot; his set up is incredible, it’s twice the amount of gear that I use, it’s amazing.
I’d say Zander was one of my biggest influences when I started. He was living in PA at the time, and I remember seeing his photos on Skate Perception and I would be like “I’m gonna crop my fisheyes to be square, because that’s what he does!”. I didn’t even realise at first that he was shooting on film. And obviously, I was influenced by Oliver Barton and all the OG dudes. The shit that Bryce Kanights was doing in the 80’s and 90’s, and everything Grant Brittain did, it’s insane. All these dudes are some of the most talented people at their crafts and it’s really impressive looking back at all the archives on their websites. I worked in the dark room in college and I would try and shoot skate photos with flashes using a Bronica SQA, and I couldn’t figure it out then, and I can’t figure it out now. Haha!
Sammy Montano - Wallride
I really appreciate you sticking with it! I know you said you’d never use a film camera again but hopefully you were joking…
There’s really nothing that compares to getting that roll of film back from the lab, and you're looking at the photos and thinking, oh my God I got it. The first one I got that I was stoked on was the photo of Connor Charleson that I gave to you, the front crook fake on the Jersey Barrier. I wanted a clean photo, a skater in the light wearing dark clothes, good contrast, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be in focus, but it worked out. Which kind of got me fired up to continue with it and not give up after those first two or three rolls of failed attempts.
It definitely isn’t always easy. Well it was a pleasure to get to chat. To end it, is there anyone you would like to thank?
Honestly, anyone who has every trusted me to shoot a photo for them or with them. That shit always means the world
Sammy & Dela
Published in North 34