So I guess we’ll start with the obvious question, how’s your lockdown been?
Well, I probably shouldn’t say this because it sounds bad, but personally, it’s been kinda great. Haha! Obviously, it’s horrible overall! The death toll in California has hit over 500,000 which is scary, not to mention how bad the economy has been and businesses struggling to stay open; it’s awful. But since I’m kind of a homebody anyway, Covid hasn’t got me down too much on that personal level. It did mess up my groove with skating and shooting of course. I had been slowing down on shooting anyway; I don’t work for a specific brand or company, so I go shoot who I want when I want. So once Covid hit, I didn’t go out for a while. A couple of months into it, I did go skating one day, but all the folk I was out skating with were like, “Covid is a hoax, it’s fake, who cares?!”, and I said to myself, “Okay! I’m not going out anymore, it’s too sketchy!”
I thought I was going to transition slowly back into skating and shooting once things calmed down a bit more, but then I was offered to go on a trip with some friends. It had been so long since I’d been out, and I was getting restless. After some thought, I said “fuck it, I’ll go!”. Once we left Philly, I had so much paranoia and anxiety about having Covid, I was like “what have I done?!”. Anyway, once I got home and scheduled a test immediately, and I was so relieved when it came back negative. I’d been so scared, thinking about spreading Covid and possibly infecting someone!
Antonio Durao - Switch FS Flip
Was it a tour you were on?
No, it was just a group of friends getting together: Reese Salken, Ed Duff, Ethan Loy, Kyle Walsh, Austin Leleu, Justin Dougherty, Pat Carmody, Chris Tams, and Kyle Walker was with us for a bit in Oklahoma. They called it the Diesel Degenerate/Phat House/WolfTrapRoad Trip, as we rode in Ed’s diesel truck, Phat House is their crew from Philly, and WolfTrapRoad is Reese’s musical stage name. Reese wanted to play some shows along the way, but Covid put the kibosh on that as well. Basically, most of us all had trips cancelled, so these dudes planned their own trip and asked me if I wanted to come. I was unsure at first with everything going on, but at the same time I felt like I needed it. I needed to get out and do something. I’d had a lot of photo trips planned for the summer I was supposed to go to China, Japan, Berlin, and Barcelona, as well as a handful of places in the States. All of that obviously got shut down, so it felt good to fill that void with a skate trip, and get out and shoot.
Yeah, I’d be bummed though, it’s definitely hard dealing with all the disappointment during this past year. How was the trip though, were you all feeling super cautious or was it more relaxed?
Yeah, the disappointment had definitely started to get to me. Don’t get me wrong, I maybe shouldn’t have gone, but I needed to get back out and shoot for my own sanity. I would say about half of the dudes on the trip were being super careful, using masks and stuff, and the other half were a little more loose. Honestly though, everything was closed up so you couldn’t really go out and do much anyway, nothing was open. We were all stuck together, but mostly outside skating, not going inside anywhere, so safety-wise it didn’t feel much different than being at home.
Axel Cruysberghs - BS Nosebluntslide
What were the restrictions like there? Over here you couldn’t be out in big groups, they were handing out fines and stuff.
We went across the whole country so there were different restrictions wherever we went. On the East Coast, you could go to restaurants but were required to wear masks except when eating. The South didn’t seem to give a fuck, haha! Then some places were outside seating only, and once you got all the way to California you could only get takeout. I don’t know what you see of North American news, but we have some of the most ignorant people in our country. In places like Florida, lots of people don’t want to stay home or wear masks. I just don’t get it, but I’m one to stay at home anyway. So although I was sad about the pandemic overall, personally, I was chillin’.
Yeah, if you’ve not got a 9 to 5 job, or an office or workplace to actually go to, it takes a while before it affects you, as a freelance photographer.
Yeah, the only thing that kind of messed me up was because I didn’t shoot for a while. I got out of practice, and fell out of the groove, you know? Still, even now, I’m trying to make the effort to shoot at least once a week. That’s not even about making money, that’s just about going out and doing what I like. I can feel lazy and tired, but once I’m out I’m always really glad I made the effort. A couple of years ago I was kind of spoiled because people would hit me up about going on a shoot, whereas now it’s more up to me to make it happen.
Blake Carpenter - Nollie Heelflip Noseslide
How did you get into photography?
Oh wow, that’s a long story but I’ll try and speed it up! So, around 18, growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I wanted to be an automotive mechanic, even though I didn’t have a car and didn’t know anything about cars. I wanted to do the automotive technology class at Trade school, but my parents wouldn’t let me take it! So I took the printing press class instead, and in that class there were elements of photography. There was a darkroom, and we had to develop 8x10 negative sheets. I can’t remember why they had us doing that, but I was just really psyched being in that darkroom! As cheesy as it sounds, part of my love for photography isn’t so much actually taking the photos, it’s the process. I just like being on the back end messing around!
So I started with a little point and shoot, mostly with black and white film, processing all my own work. I never really thought, “I want to be a photographer” though. I wanted to be a pro skater! I was never that good, but for some reason, I thought that maybe when I turned 20 I would suddenly get really good. Haha! I was just a skate rat and all I wanted to do was skate.
But I enjoyed the class and ended up wanting to go to Columbia College Chicago, where all the kids from my high school art classes always talked about going. They were all really good at painting, drawing, design, etc. I couldn’t do that shit, but still wanted to make some sort of art, which drove me towards photography even more.
I ended up going to Community college for a year, and took the black and white class and the colour class. I just loved being in the lab with all the chemicals, getting dirty and stinky. We developed our own colour film then, I would never know how to do that now! The temperatures and the chemical dilutions have to be so perfect. This made me even more adamant to go to Columbia and study more. I was so persistent, my parents finally agreed to help pay for Columbia.
I was always really into the classes, but I kind of checked out for the first two years. I was in the city with all my friends, and there was a lot of partying and a lot of skating. My defining moment though, was when I was in my third year. I just kept getting injured skating, constantly hurting myself and not being able to skate for months. Something clicked, and I realised I had access to all these state of the art facilities and classes that I should be making the most of. So I got fully consumed by photography, taking all the classes I could.
At this point, I still wasn’t really sure how to shoot skating. My shutter speed was never right and I just didn’t get it. I didn’t even have my own camera and so I had to borrow the school cameras. Have you ever used a 4x5 camera? It’s a hassle! But I was using it so much that I kind of got it down. I didn’t have lights or anything though, I was just winging it.
During this time I became good friends with Adam Conway. He’d bought the Nikon F-Something SLR, a fisheye and a couple of lights, and he was shooting on Velvia and kinda had it down. He was younger than me, but really inspired me to get my shit together! I always asked him a ton of questions and he was really helpful, because, although I was learning plenty at college, they weren’t teaching me to shoot skate photos you know? And this was around 2003, you couldn’t just look things up on Youtube!
Trevor McClung - FS 360
Yeah it was hard getting hold of that knowledge back then. I remember asking a lot of UK photographers for help, and most people were cool but some people didn’t wanna give up any information! And on Skateboardphotography.com, people would be so tight-lipped about sharing any tips. I guess they’d spent so much time figuring it all out they didn’t want to make it easy for anyone. But I learnt a lot from there. I actually remember Adam Conway from that site too.
Dude, we must have been on there at the same time!
I was on there all the time from about 2002 until it went offline. This was before Social Media too, it was amazing! I didn’t have a scanner back then so I was just a lurker. Haha!
That was the first place I ever posted any of my photos. I remember Jiggliemon, Chase Wilson, Matt Price, those dudes would talk shit on my photos all the time. Haha! Price was KungFlurry, and he would only ever write “Hit” or “Miss” on my photos.
Chris Colburn - Crook
Haha! He was the Hit or Miss guy, he was a big deal on that website!
Well he had a couple of lights, a fisheye and a Hasselblad, so he had it down. I knew at the time that I wasn’t the best at it, but I was willing to put it all out there and try at least.
Was Adam Conway the first person you saw shooting skate photos?
No, there was this guy, Rob Winner, who was actually shooting photos back in the 90s. People often mention Oliver Barton and Brian Gaberman as inspirations. They were mine too, but I always count Rob Winner, this random dude from the Midwest, as one of mine. There was this dude Snap Cult and Chris Anderson who were both shooting skating too. I saw these guys’ stuff and was like, I wanna do that man!
Eventually, I was making some money working odd jobs, and I got the Nikon F100, some Pocket Wizards, a light meter, a Sunpack triple 5, and a Nikon SB-28 flash. I was getting pretty good at metering everything and shooting it right. I ended up doing well in college and was just shooting friends mostly. But once I left school I didn’t have a darkroom, or scanners or any of that equipment anymore.
Reese Salken - Feeble Transfer
When did you get your first photo published?
We had this newsprint magazine in the Midwest called Stuck, and it had snowboarding, surfing, and wakeboarding, it was kinda goofy, I don’t think they knew much about skateboarding, but they were down to run photos. So I had a ton of photos in that, which was so cool, because I could just shoot an interview with a random friend and they’d publish it no problem! And then... do you remember a magazine called Concussion? The guy, Jonathan Hay, now does a magazine out of Germany called Confusion, but when he was in California doing Concussion, I had a bunch of photos in there. Also, this other ‘Zine out of California called Paying In Pain.
My first legit published photo was of Neen Williams. Jamie Owens wanted a “Who’s Hot” for Skateboarder and I ended up shooting that. I was a grown ass man but I was excited like a little kid! Honestly, I was so hyped! I didn’t even have a scanner then so I shot the photos and ended up sending Jamie the slides in the post. Whenever I see Jamie, he’s like, “Remember I got your first photo ran!”.
Sending Negatives in the post is scary!
I was living in Chicago then, and I was photographing random stuff: weddings, hockey, and softball games. I just got these jobs from ads I saw in the newspaper. I was also working full time delivering food, and then shooting skating just for fun. I was living with a girlfriend I’d been with for a few years, and she suddenly broke up with me. At the time, I was not emotionally equipped and/or prepared for that! So I moved back in with my parents, and then I had to have knee surgery, so I wasn’t working, and I was just in a bad place. I spoke to my friend Tim Ward who had moved out to Phoenix, Arizona, and he offered for me to come stay with him. For being 25 years old, I actually hadn’t travelled around that much. It was wintertime, so I drove from the snow, into the hot desert. I’d never experienced anything like that. Once I moved out there I just started shooting everybody, just friends and random people but I was non-stop. I wanted to be foolproof - I bought a generator and lights, and had a friend help me build a shelf in my van for boards and all the equipment. I had all the tools for fixing spots, and I went out there with a plan.
Forrest Edwards - BS Nosebluntslide
That must’ve been a big change.
I didn’t really like Arizona though, it was too hot and dry! I was there for about a year, and then a friend contacted me about working at a skate camp. I’d worked at skate camp for a few summers out in Pennsylvania when I was younger, but now they were opening one out West, and my friend Buzzy was the director. He suggested that I come out for the summer; live, work, help him direct, take photos for the camp and stuff. So I went out to California to do that. They had visiting pros, so I would ask to shoot them, awkwardly! It was a lot of vert stuff, not what I was used to.
After that, I was going between Arizona and California, and I managed to get some money saved from the summer. I went and stayed with friends who had a house in Orange County, and got a job doing the night shift at a hotel. I did that for a year, and I was a total zombie. Some days I would work 11pm-8am then just go out and skate, without sleeping.
There was this silly contest series here called Hometown Heroes; all the people that worked it were kind of up and comers at the time. David Reyes was one of them you’d maybe know. We would drive cross country setting up these comps. The dude in charge didn’t really skate, but he was down to take us wherever we wanted to go. I took a load of photos on that trip, and I got a few “Who’s Hot”s and Transworld “Check-Out”s, and a couple other random photos ran. I was sending stuff to Thrasher, Slap, all the magazines, just giving it a whirl. Back then, I was sending them random photos of unknown dudes, and these days I’m sending good photos of the best dudes, yet it feels like they were more down back then than they are now! It’s a sign of the times though. There are less magazines, less pages, less advertising, etc.
It would have been easier with more mags back then too.
At that time, Slap was running a contest for photo entries, and the winner would get a staff photographer position at the magazine. I’d been sending photos to them for quite a while, and the editor Mark Whitely said I should enter. I was 27 and I thought I was too old. But I went ahead and entered a bunch of photos anyways. I hadn’t heard anything for months after I entered, but suddenly I started getting all these texts saying “Dude, you got the cover of Slap!” and that was the most amazing feeling ever! The shot was of Greg Piloto, this dude from my hometown. We went out to the Utah Salt flats, and he’s doing a Blunt Nose-Grab, not the most tasteful trick, but whatever! It was shot on film, and Conway helped me edit and retouch that photo, and that’s credit where credit’s due - without his help it would’ve looked like crap, haha! So even then, I was still learning.
During this time, I was out in Denver shooting with friends, and Conway was working on a Skateboard Mag trip with Blackbox Distribution. They were in Houston Texas, and he called me saying he couldn’t finish the trip, and could I be in San Diego to meet a van that was picking up some trip provisions, and join them. So I drove 15 hours from Denver to San Diego, to hop in the van and drive another 15 hours towards Texas. I wanted to make it happen! I was super nervous. I didn’t know anyone on the trip apart from Marisa Dal Santo, but after a couple of days I hit it off with everyone and it was super fun.
I got my first taste of the skate politics after that trip though –- I shot Pat Burke Crook this famous C-rail spot in New Mexico, and when we got back, Burnett at Thrasher hit me up and said “Hey, so, I just shot Slash Boardslide that and Ryan Bobier Grind it, so could you let me get those out first? Also, we’ll take that crook photo.” Of course I was like “sure, okay!” on the waiting it out part, but I couldn’t provide the photo of Pat. It was awkward and a bummer because I looked up to Burnett and I loved Thrasher, but I couldn’t do that because technically I’d shot it on a Skateboard Mag trip.
It was a wild time that got even more wild when Tum Yeto hit me up to ask if I wanted to be their staff photographer, but I was still in the running for the Slap contest! And then Swift hits me up at The Skateboard Mag, asking if I wanted to get on their retainer. Honestly, at no point did I have that much confidence in myself, I still think there was a lot of luck involved in this situation! I was looking at photos from Gaberman, Shigeo, O’Meally, Chami, and so many others and thinking, my photos do not look this good! Making this decision, my anxiety was through the roof, and it still eats me up today! I didn’t want to let anyone down, I looked up to all those guys, but ultimately I had to choose, and I went with The Skateboard Mag.
That must have been a difficult decision to make. Did you feel it was the right decision though, in the end?
Man, it’s probably not even a big deal as I’m making it out to be, I’m overly dramatic! But I still wonder if some of the dudes at Slap disliked me or just thought I was lame for turning down the offer to work for them. I think that contest was already a hassle for the guys at Slap, and I just complicated it even more by turning them down. But I had to choose what I thought was going to be most beneficial for me. And it seems stupid because it’s skateboard photography, like, I wasn’t going to be making a lot of money either way! I wasn’t in it for the money though, I was 28, and I just wanted to see the world, party, skate, and shoot.
I started at Skateboard Mag in 2008, recession time, so it was already getting thinner. In 2010 I got on retainer for C1rca Shoes too. Looking back, I put a lot of time and work in there but it was hard to find people who could match my enthusiasm. Trying to get people out and shoot was hard sometimes. Around that time, Dennis Durrant became one of my favourite skaters, he was trying so hard to do the most ridiculous stuff. I remember one time he had been trying for a while to land Fakie Flip Switch Crook on a rail! He finally landed it on the one day I wasn’t there!
Man, I remember watching his parts in “It’s Time” hitting all these crazy spots in Sydney, it was sick.
Yeah, he’s still killing it!
So did working for both companies ever create tensions?
Well, the politics came back into play here. Swift and Grant at the Skateboard Mag said that back in the day, whoever was advertising with them, really had nothing to do with what they ran in the magazine, but by the time I started working for them, it had everything to do with it. I was trying to go out with the C1rca dudes most of the time, but they didn’t advertise in the Skateboard Mag. So even though I’d have all these good photos, the mag wasn’t down for it. It kinda screwed me with getting C1rca hooked up, and for getting my own images ran. It was frustrating. I begged C1rca to just advertise in the mag but they wouldn’t do it. And on top of that - now, this is not fact checked - but I heard that the marketing guys from both sides had some old school San Diego surf beef, so they weren’t willing to collaborate! Either way, the trickle down with the lack of advertising really screwed me in the end.
I began to figure out that the C1rca thing wasn’t going to work out, and at that same time Lee Dupont, the filmer for C1rca, and Mario Miller the team manager, both hit me up saying that they had both been let go, and that I was next. They had inside information that they were going to try not to pay me, and at this time they still owed me about $5000. They told me to take Lee’s camera, that C1rca owned, and to hold onto it until they paid me! They were looking out for me, but I was worried because it sounded so shady!
Ryan Reyes - BS Crailslide
Haha, I would have done it for sure!
Well, they convinced me, and I’m glad I did it! I was such a shithead and was just playing the game with them, when they would call and say “Uh, can we get a hold of that camera?”, I’d be like “Sure, sure, maybe I could pick up my cheque when I drop it off?” Haha! This went on for months. Eventually, Mark Brandstetter hit me up asking for the camera as he was filming for C1rca at the time. I was just ignoring his messages because I’d met him once, and I just thought I was never going to run into him. Then sure enough, I went to this spot to meet a bunch of skaters one day, and guess who’s there filming. I was like…oh-no! I didn’t know what to do so I was just keeping a low profile, until he came up to me and said, ”Look, I know what you’re up to, and I know what you’re doing. But I don’t blame you at all, you need to get paid.” I just started laughing, he knew what the fuck was going on! We really hit it off then, so we’re sitting talking, and I’m complaining about C1rca and all the other stuff going on in my life, when out of nowhere, this girl on a moped just plows into my parked car, right in front of our eyes! She was okay but she really jacked up my car! He must have felt sorry for me because he went to C1rca and told them to pay me, so I got my money eventually.
That’s good, were you still at the Skateboard Mag at that time?
I was, until 2013 when they let me know they were cutting my retainer. I had just gotten back on my feet after recovering from a second knee surgery at my parents, so it was not what I wanted to hear! It was weird, because they still wanted my name in the magazine, and to consider me as staff, but they couldn’t pay me regularly. They also said that they’d like to see my photos first, but that I could give them to other publications now.
I understood the situation, they were losing advertising and the magazine was getting smaller. But I wasn’t given any warning at all, so that kinda hurt. But I was feeling positive, so I just started shooting a bunch, and I was sending stuff to Transworld and Thrasher again. Even though The Skateboard Mag had asked to see my best stuff first, I was just sending stuff to whoever I thought wanted it, wherever it just kind of fit best.
Nick Matthews - Switch BS Heelflip
So have you been freelance ever since?
Pretty much. Even though I had lost my retainer with The Skateboard Mag, I still contributed regularly and enjoyed the freedom they gave me to come up with ideas for articles, layouts, etc. I continued to go out shooting constantly, just scraping by. Then I spoke to Paul Zitzer, ex-pro skateboarder for Birdhouse. He’d worked for The Skateboard Mag as a writer before and now worked at the Tampa park organising their events. I told him my sob story, so he got me out shooting as their contest guy. I wasn’t too proud, I was down! There’s the Tampa Am and the Tampa Pro contest, and then throughout the summer they have about ten amateur contests so I was flying all over the place for those, plus still going on skate trips and stuff. The pandemic hitting was a huge bummer for the contests, because there had been big plans for getting more trips lined up, bigger sponsors and new contests for Tampa. But even before Covid, it’s been a funny few years in the industry. Once Transworld stopped printing back in 2019 I did think to myself, “Oh man I should have come up with a better backup plan”.
I think all photographers think that from time to time, but most of us just wing it and figure something out!
Totally! When I was younger I had such a gung-ho attitude, and I remember thinking “I’m never going to stop doing this, I don’t care if I don’t get paid, I’ll just live out of my van and skate and shoot every day because this is what I love!”. But now I’m 40 and a bit more domesticated, I’m thinking maybe I’ll look into pursuing other options. That being said, I know I’ll never stop shooting skate photos!
Published in North 29