DAVE SWIFT INTERVIEW

Photography by Dave Swift
Interview by Graham Tait
Photo by Clay Kreiner

 

 

You've been shooting skateboarding for a long time, when did you shoot your first photo, and what made you pick up a camera?

So, as weird as this may sound, I shot my first skateboard photo in 1983 while I attended the Great Desert Ramp Battle. I was taking a photo class at the time so I shot a roll of film and processed it myself in the darkroom at my junior college. On the roll were shots of Neil Blender, Billy Ruff, Micke Alba, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, Lester Kasai, Tony Hawk, Tony Magnussen and Steve Caballero. Not long after the contest, the camera was stolen out of my pick-up truck while I was at work. I couldn’t afford to buy a new one so I just dropped the class and stopped learning about photography.

 

Al Brunelle - FS Hurricaine

 

Who were the photographers you looked up to when you started out and did anyone give you any advice?

I looked up to the OG’s of Skateboard Magazines like James Cassimus, Warren Bolster, Stecyck and Glen Friedman. They were the guys whose photos filled the mag in the days before I’d ever even seen a pro skateboarder. Seeing their photos of Jay Adams, Doug “Pineapple” Saladino, Brad Bowman, Alan Gelfand, Ray “Bones” Rodriquez and others was how I absorbed skateboarding. In the 1980s my favourite photographers were J. Grant Brittain and Mofo.

When I started working at TWS in 1989 as a writer, things seemed a little boring trying to write about skateboarding from an office far away from where people were riding. I had to get out, and taking photos was the best way to do that. I asked Grant if I could use one of his old camera set-ups, got a few tips and began to waste rolls of film as I learned what not to do through trial and error. Lucky for me the film and processing was free. In about three months I had my first photo run in TWS and the rest is history.

 

Alex Sorgente - BS Ollie

 

Was there ever a moment where you got a photo developed and thought 'damn, I could make a career of this'?

I guess that happened when I saw my first photo printed in the mag, or maybe it was when the buyout money was added to my pay-check! It all happened so fast that there really wasn’t time to think about it. I was interviewing pro skaters one minute and the next I was shooting photos of my friends who I skated with on a daily basis. After six months of working at TWS I got approved to take a road trip around the USA to shoot photos of local scenes wherever I found them. Grant helped me write a photography cheat sheet that gave me tips on different exposure settings that I’d look at whenever the situation had me baffled. Indoors, sunset, midday sun, cloudy, nighttime—all of that. A few mistakes were made on that trip but overall I did pretty good and had my first article printed on the pages of TWS. No turning back after that.

 

There have been so many eras in skateboarding that you've worked through, do you have a favourite?

My favourite time as a skateboarder was the years 1982-86. No one that didn’t skate gave a shit about skateboarding and every day brought excitement. I was just out of High School, going to college part-time, working a part-time job and the rest of my existence was spent riding a skateboard. Or at least that’s what it felt like.

 

 Alex Willms - BS Lipslide

 

Was that your favourite period for shooting too?

My favourite time as a photographer was the mid-nineties, which coincidentally was another time in skateboarding where only hardcore skaters existed. I was able to shoot the rise of modern street skating as it happened. Tricks were being invented right before my eyes and I captured the moment forever with my camera. Best of times.

 

CJ Collins - FS Noseblunt 

 

How did you get the initial writing job at Transworld?

I got word of mouth that they were looking to hire someone that was part of the local skate scene and knew how to write. I had written a few small articles for PowerEdge Magazine and had just finished a big write up on San Diego skating for Thrasher that hadn’t come out yet (it ended up coming out a few months after I started working at TWS and they put a fake name as the writer without even telling me). So, I had a friend help me with a resumé, turned it in with an application and got called back for an interview the next day. The managing editor at the time was a guy named Carl West and I guess I impressed him because I got the call saying I got the job the very next day. It was so lucky how it happened; I never expected to be working at a skateboard magazine but I knew I was going to do the most with the opportunity. On my first week of work (I had never used a computer at this point in my life) all of the staff were out of the office for the NSA finals in Ohio and before Carl left, he handed me three 90-minute cassettes with the audio for Eric Dressen’s pro spotlight. The copy editor at the time was called Celina and she set me up with the transcriber machine, headphones and got me sorted on the Mac with a Microsoft Word document. Luckily, I had keyboard skills because listening to that interview and putting the words in a file was hard work. Needless to say, after five days of transcribing, my computer skills were pretty damn good.

 

Cordano Russell - 50-50 

 

It must have been wild to see all these tricks go down. Who have been some of your favourite skaters to shoot?

The first three years I shot photos I wasn’t really allowed access to the top pros of the time (older and more experienced photographers had those dudes on lockdown) so I had to make use of my friends who were good at skating. Guys like Mike Youssefpour, Buster Halterman, Paul Wisniewski, Owen Nieder, Josh Nelson, Jordan Richter and Peter Hewitt come to mind as some of my early subjects. Thanks guys for letting me blow it so many times.

Looking back, my favourite skaters that I’ve shot were Jeremy Klein, Ron Chatman, Heath Kirchart, Eric Koston, Tom Penny, Geoff Rowley, Chad Muska, Rune Glifberg, Danny Way, Steve Berra, Bob Burnquist, Darren Navarrette, Peter Hewitt, Jeff Grosso, Lance Mountain, Chris Miller, Steve Caballero, Christian Hosoi, Ben Raybourn, Al Partanen, Brad McClain, Tristan Rennie, John Worthington, Sky Brown, Bucky Lasek, Tony Hawk,

Jamie Thomas, Alex Willms, CJ Collins, Frank Hirata, Rob Dyrdek, Kris Markovich, Jesse Lindloff, Cody Lockwood and many more.

 

Brad McClain - BS Ollie

 

As skating became more mainstream in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Transworld was the magazine to be in. Did you find it hard to fill the pages of the mag? I mean, those issues were big!

Those big issues in the early 2000s were fucking bonkers. I think the biggest was somewhere around 460 pages and 40% of that was editorial. At the time I was the editor and luckily I had a great staff of writers and editors that were doing their best to turn shit in on time. I don’t believe we ever met any editorial deadlines but we never missed a print date.

The adjustment I made in those huge issues was to run all the photos as big as possible. In previous years we’d squeeze a bunch of small photos into a layout and a lot of the times they were super sick photographs that could’ve been way bigger. It was nice to have the space to go huge with photography but there was a point when it got a little out of control. 40 page Pro Spotlights and Europe tours? We did our best to make each and every page count to the fans of skateboarding. I used to hear so many complaints about the ads (Milk, Army, Juicy Fruit Gum, video games etc . . .) but there were so many great skate ads that filled each issue that were just as good as the magazine editorial. Companies like Etnies, Vans, DC all had multiple spreads in each issue which is amazing to think about it now. Advertising dollars for many of those issues were about one-million dollars—cha-ching!

 

Dalton Dern - Feeble 

 

What was the process of becoming a staff photographer for Transworld during that time?

Because I was already on the staff as an Editorial Assistant/Writer, the opportunity was there to also shoot photographs. Grant Brittain really helped me out by giving me tips and things but he didn’t make it simple. I had to earn it through trial and error, and he’d comment on how I was shooting but the way he critiqued left it up to me to figure out exactly how to correct it. I had to use my brain and figure out exposures, shutter speeds, horizons, ASA/ISO, when and how to shoot colour film, flashes and even how to develop and print b&w film. I spent a lot of extra hours shooting photos that weren’t part of my salary but in the end, it all worked out.

At first, I was just a Contributing Photographer on the masthead but about a year later I graduated to Staff Photographer and even got new business cards with both my titles at the time (Associate Editor/Staff Photographer).

 

Gavin Botger - Slob Fastplant

 

You must have been hounded for internships when skateboarding exploded. Did you ever mentor any up and coming photographers?

Grant usually handled the up and coming photographers at TWS and I dealt with Editorial interns that applied. When we left TWS and started The Skateboard Mag I got to work with budding photographers like Matt Price, Sam McGuire, Bart Jones, Rodent, Adam Conway, Jacob Messex and Anthony Acosta. All of those guys would become mag staffers and all-around great skate photographers in their own rights. Thanks guys for killing it!

 

What was your favourite part of being the Editor of Transworld at such an iconic time in skateboarding?

Being able to take part in the progression of skateboarding when magazines were such an important portal to the youth cannot be understated. In 1992 TWS was an international monthly publication and an issue was around 72 pages. By the end of the decade, it grew to over 400 pages and we did 14 issues a year (12 monthly and 2 Specials) and had one of the best-selling video franchises of the time. As staff, we complained that we were overworked and that skateboarding was being exploited but those were some great times I had at TWS. It was amazing being able to work with so many great people like Grant, O, Ty Evans, Skin Phillips, Ted Newsome, Atiba Jefferson, Chris Ortiz, Greg Hunt, Jon Holland, Tanya Moyran, Joel Patterson, Shad Lambert, Eric Sentianin, Aaron Regan, Miki Vuckovich, Lance Dalgart, Jon Humphries, Jody Morris, Ewan Bowman, Dwayne Carter, Wig Worland, Garry Scott Davis, Kevin Wilkins, Pete Thompson, and countless others over the 15 years I was there.

At the time I didn’t realize that the magazine would impact so many people but years later I get DM’s on Instagram talking about a photo I shot and how it influenced them as a skateboarder. I was just caught up in it all and had no idea that any of it would matter. It mattered to me but I came from a time when those of us that rode skateboards were looked upon as losers and vandals and nowadays it’s so mainstream. Maybe I’m happy and sad at the same time.

And lastly, the 1990s was a time when skateboarders owned everything to do with skateboarding. From the pros that were in all the videos and mags to the mostly self-taught industry. All of these people did it for the love of skateboarding and in turn, were rewarded financially. I’m proud to have played a part in all of that. Thank you skateboarding!

 

 Jamie Foy - Fakie Crook

 

How did you find the change from film photography to digital?

At the time (2002), I was in charge of all editorial budgets at TransWorld Skateboarding and I’d constantly have conversations with the General Manager about the film/processing expenses. I think we were spending more than $9,000 on film and around $15,000 per month on processing film for all the photographers. The best digital cameras were quite expensive and they still hadn’t reached the point where quality was print-ready, I just had to keep telling him we can’t do anything about it with the size of every issue being 350-450 pages. In those days we were printing so many sequences and the cost of film for those was enormous (not many skaters landed anything in one roll) because you’d only get three tries per roll. By the end of 2002, we got a Canon EOS 1D that Grant and I shared to shoot sequences just to see how they’d print. Ended up being good enough to use and we encouraged the staff photographers to jump on the bandwagon and most did. I do remember Grant and I having a conversation that we’d never use a digital camera for still photos and within five years neither of us were shooting film anymore for the magazine. 

It was at this point I sold my Hasselblad and Zeiss 30mm because I figured I could still get top dollar before everyone crossed over to the digital side. Looking back, I wish I would have kept it, but I probably needed the money for something. The Skateboard Mag in 2008 was trying to figure out ways to save money (we were an independent publisher in a time when print media was rapidly shrinking) and not buying/scanning film was a huge dollar saver at the time. Digital cameras were good enough to use as magazine spreads without sacrificing quality, but the different look was very noticeable. And admittedly I was open to the change as a photographer. In the past I never touched my photos for publication, it was always the Art Director that did post on the scans. With digital, I had to learn how to do post on RAW files in Photoshop which nowadays is practically as important as shooting the photo. With digital, I feel I became a better photographer because instead of shooting one angle until the skater landed the trick I could view a frame and decide whether or not to compose differently, use a different lens, move my lights etc . . . With film I just shot one angle (and prayed for positive results) and maybe switched to a different view to shoot the sequence.

 

Jesse Lindloff - Texas Plant

 

You've been shooting film again recently, which is sick! What made you go back to your roots?

I began shooting film again around 2009 when Heath Kirchart returned my original Nikon FM2 and fisheye lens to me (he bought it off me in 1994 when I switched over to Canon but that’s a whole other story). I took it to a camera repair shop to get it all tuned up and bought a couple of Nikon lenses but the first day I used it to shoot I dropped it and broke the body. I searched through all my old camera stuff and found a Nikon F4 (it was Pete Thompson’s that had also been dropped) and tried to get it working again. I figured out there was a corrosion issue in the battery compartment, so I did my best to fix it by using a wire brush and some baking soda solution. I also bought a new battery holder and got it working—at least temporarily.

I was using it on the Baker summer tour of 2015 and it was turning on and off all the time but I did manage to shoot two rolls with it! Not long after, I bought Lance Mountain’s camera bag that had all sorts of shit (at the time all I needed was the Canon fisheye) and inside was a near mint Canon EOS 1 and that’s the camera I keep in my bag nowadays. I try to shoot one or two frames of film every time I go out and shoot, that is if I actually

have a roll of film in the camera or in my bag. It usually takes a month or so to finish a roll and I love getting them back from processing and seeing all these different shots on one roll of film. The only downside to film for me is getting proper scans, because either they are too expensive or just plain suck. I wish someone in SoCal had a working drum scanner that I could use because scans these days don’t look as good.

 

Sky Brown - FS Air

 

Well, it's a pleasure receiving your new film photos! The world is a bit of a mess at the moment, but do you have any plans for 2021?

Being a freelance photographer makes planning anything super difficult. Hopefully the world will open up and I’ll get to travel for some shoots. I know I’ll be riding my skateboard four or five days a week and shooting the odd backyard pool, unique street spot or whatever pops up and calls my name. Would love to start a publication similar to yours, so maybe that’s the goal for 2021! Thanks for the space and keeping the print world alive, I’m sure I’ll have more for you soon enough.

 

Steve Caballero - Layback

 

 

Published in North Issue 28