Interview by Graham Tait
Photography by Dom



I just realised I don’t actually know anything about you! Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from and where are you now?

I was born and raised in a southwest suburb of Chicago - Plainfield - then after graduating college with an undergrad degree a few years back, I moved out of the homestead and into my own place in Oak Park. Which is roughly a 20 minute drive into the middle of Chicago.

What is your degree in?

I graduated with a Bachelors in Physics paired with a Minor in Mathematics. Lots of time spent nose deep in textbooks during the weekdays, then trying to get out as long as possible on the weekends. The most interesting class I took was called optics. We learned the fundamentals of lens design, ray tracing, and overall everything in the realm of our interaction with light. Perfect class for a photographer to nerd out in. 


Brett Weinstein - Kickflip


Damn that sounds full on! Did you have time for some classic USA college experiences at least?

Oh yeah of course! Let's just say I take pride in my time management skills. I turned 21 during peak lock down, so rather than hitting the bars for the first time, legally at least, I was enjoying a drink with my parents on their backyard patio. Maybe it was for the better.

I was always fascinated by college and university from what I saw in movies. Where did you go and was it like that?

I will say my school, Elmhurst University, was a smaller university, so it wasn't as wild as you'd see in like, Animal House or American Pie. Overall, I made the most of it, as everyone should, but made sure to prioritise my education. Which is a funny thing to say now, considering I'm not using my degree at the moment.


Chad Matthews


What are you doing at the moment?

I'm currently doing studio work for a furniture company as my good ole 9-5. I spend most of the day building sets, lighting it, styling it, shooting the product, then editing the final images. This is my first time ever being in an official studio, so everyday is a learning experience. A lot more chill than my previous job doing patent law junk for a company that specialised in granting patents for inventions around the US. Got way too hectic, and started working 12 hour days, remotely. And this was during peak skate season here, so I was missing out on valuable time to get out and shoot.

Were there any crazy patents you worked on? You must've seen some ridiculous stuff!

Yeah there was some interesting stuff. I can't get into a lot of details, because if I spill the details on something and you steal the idea or the property owner finds out, I can be subject to time in federal prison. Haha! Rarely ever do you grant someone a patent though. It is interesting to see how much shit has been thought of before or closely similar to another item. So if you're looking to build the next best gadget, you might have to reinvent the wheel.


Henry Woolever - Bs Tailslide


So if you don't work in photography and didn't study photography, how did you get into it?

My dad is a photographer, so I grew up with a camera directed at me. I initially took an interest in photography in my sophomore year of high school. I would go to a lot of car events around the Chicagoland area, and wanted to have photos of the cars I liked and see if I could make something similar in Forza on my Xbox. As I got more into it over the years I started to do media for an event called Final Bout which showcases the drifting scene in the US. So honestly my interest in photography started in the automotive world. 

One year I got an Opteka fisheye for my Canon T5i for Christmas but it sat for a while. My interest in skateboarding had been on and off since middle school, but I got back into it in college after finding some old magazines and reminiscing on when I had a subscription to The Skateboard Mag and Transworld back in middle school. I began to look through the old mags I found lying around my parents house still and analyze the photos in them. Searching for the photos crediting Blabac, Taketomo, Owens, Price, Barton, etc. In short, I had my "tearing out the pages and putting them on my wall" phase in college. I was a late bloomer. 

I dusted off the Opteka fisheye and got experimenting. First with just natural light, then using on camera flash. Soon after, I began to take a deeper look at images from the mags and bought some off camera speed lights. Next, I purchased Blabac's book "The Art of Skateboard Photography" and a bulk order of random mags from Look Back Library to get more inspiration. To this day, Blabac's book sits on my coffee table with the post-it notes on the pages of images I wanted to mimic. Most of which are his long exposure night shots.


Tylor Horton - Bs Smith


That's a great book! What happened next?

I realized that I wanted to take this seriously because I saw the joy it brought to my life. So I bought, in my mind, the perfect digital set up right off the bat, with major financial support from my parents. Canon 5D Mark III, 8-15 fisheye, 70-200 telephoto lens, 50 f/1.4 lens and a pair of AD360 strobe flashes. It was wild to see it all arrive in the mail. Definitely inspired me to really put everything into this new passion of mine. So much has happened since then, but the cliff notes are that I began to reach out to a bunch of local skaters as well as the local shops to shoot with them to just get practice.

The film side of everything is relatively new. It started with just a curiosity of "Can I shoot these photos the way they did back in the day?". My dad dug out his full Nikon F2 set up, I bought the 16mm fisheye, and just got to shooting. Lots of shitty rolls through that process, but I got the hang of it. Ended up selling that lens as well as some other old gear to help fund my Hasselblad set up. My love for 6x6 fisheye photos spawned from Blabac, Taketomo, Barton, Chami, and yourself. It's honestly a dream come true to even say I have this set up. The cost of entry is insane, but it helps when you have old shit to get rid of. Can you believe I got $500 off a bin of Pokémon cards I had lying around from when I was a kid? 

It is a true honor to have the trust of so many people around the city to capture these split seconds in time. There is never a weekend that goes by where I'm not out cruising or shooting.


Justin Noh - Fs Bluntslide


What photography does your dad do?

He's covered a lot of ground. Nowadays he does sports photography and yearbook stuff for some school districts out here, but still does a handful of freelance weddings and such on the side. One of his prior jobs was doing medical photography in the hospital he met my mom at. There's a funny juxtaposition between my mom and dad. My mom is very much the education type; has every degree up to a phd, while my dad is the more artsy type. Seems like I’m a happy medium of both. 

Has he tried to shoot skateboarding?

Not that I know of. Haha! Actually no, he has, and it was me doing a flat ground shove on a street behind our house in middle school. But yeah, almost everything I learned with respect to this 'genre' has been self taught from trial and error or dissecting already existing content. Analyzing flash placement based on casted shadows, rewatching that In Focus series that RIDE channel put out on Youtube multiple times, and seeing where photographers would position themselves when they are in clips shooting fisheye. He taught me the basics, and I took it from there. 


Nick Matthews - Bs 50-50


Can you take any of the lighting you've learned from skateboarding to your day job, or vice versa?

They're honestly completely different ways of lighting a scene. With what we do, we want that direct light on the skaters to freeze them perfectly and illuminate them, whereas with these room scenes in the studio, you want soft lighting by bouncing the light from the strobes off walls and/or cards. The only time we aim a strobe towards a product is when we want to create a fake sun ray effect. Not to mention the strobes in the studio go up to 1200 w/s, more than 3 times the power of my strobes. That being said, I have used a flash technique from the studio on a shoot once. It was with some of my snowboarding buddies at this big kink rail located at a train stop. The area was tight and I was only able to fit one flash out of frame, so I cranked my flash up and bounced it off the tiled wall that was parallel to his frontside. Worked pretty well!

How are you finding shooting with the Hasselblad? 12 shots per film can be a big change when you're used to endless digital frames.

It's a blast. Square format when used at a proper scene is unmatched. Like anything film, the limited frames are a bit daunting, but as every cliché Youtube and Instagram film influencer would say - 'it forces me to be more selective in what I shoot'. Although I am willing to blow through negative film without hesitation to ensure I get 'the one', when I'm loaded up with Velvia or Ektachrome, my right index finger has some good discipline as to when I should be snapping a frame. Slide is too precious to be wasting on botched attempts. I also test all my lighting and exposure settings on digital before shooting too. It's almost like a rough draft equivalent. To get an outline of what the scene will look like, test my settings, and figure the best angle before firing through those 12 exposures. Film and developing expenses have now become an extension of my monthly budget. 


Randy Benko - Bs 180 Nosegrind back to straight


What's been happening over the summer in Chicago?

Earlier in June I was away, traveling in Rome. My mom was there on business and was able to bring me, so that was sick. I was able to see their Go Skate Day event that 7Hills put on, as well as watch and shoot some of the World Skate tour stop in Rome. I was able to wiggle my way in to some media only points around the course with my long lens and get some decent stuff. When I got back, the homies that make up Deep Dish premiered their latest video, Variant, which is always a blessing to the Chicago scene. Everyone had the venue shaking with excitement that night. 

Later that month, I released the second instalment of my personal skate mag / zine project, Inner Fulfillment, and hosted a little get together event at Uprise to celebrate. It was a year and a half in the making, curating photos around the Chicago area in that time frame. 112 pages worth of photos, and only 1 page where reading is required. I've also been spending the summer learning the ropes with the Hassy and getting the shots you're seeing throughout this piece. 

The biggest highlight of the summer though, has been pushing around with Neen Williams. He's in town for the summer filming for his next part and we've been stacking up some shots. Always insane being able to photograph these guys I watched back in the day. For instance, I'm still in awe that one of my first photos in a major publication was of Josh Kalis, who was my idol back in middle school, for his interview in Closer Skateboarding #3. Can't thank Jaime, Josh, and Blabac enough for that opportunity. 

I've also enjoyed seeing more crews coming to the city -  the New Balance team earlier this summer, the Theories crew who were here for a day a couple weeks ago, then Alien and Habitat who were here last weekend. This beautiful city is getting its spotlight!


Rick Huerta - Crook


How did you find the process of putting a zine together?

A lot more extensive than I thought. I was a bit sloppy with my first issue back in 2021. Shitty bleeds, photos in the gutter, some photos not pairing well together on the same spread, and I didn't account for minor colour shifts when printed. I went through issue two a lot slower and with a nit-picky attitude, learning from my mistakes in issue one. I was determined to have an easy flowing layout with the photos this time, meaning something that is visually interesting so that you take a second to enjoy the spread, but also something that doesn't look like a messy photo dump. I'm no InDesign genius and probably use 1% of what the program is capable of, but my design is simple. Skate photo placed on top of a black and white architectural photo of the beautiful buildings within the city, most of which are within the same block or even same spot where the skate photo was taken. I don't know, maybe it's a lazy design, but I just want the photos to stand out. Straight to the point, no BS. Let the talent of the skaters shine.


Will Morton


It's definitely a learning experience, I can't even look at the earlier issues of the mag. Haha! I enjoy a 'less is more' approach to magazine layout too. Are you working on a third issue?

We are our own worst critics, aren't we? You know it! The first photo for issue three was shot the day after I had the release event. Haha! This time around I'm pushing myself to incorporate more candid moments from the sessions. I've noticed that I'm so locked in on getting the skate shot that I neglect the moments where we are all just chilling and growing our friendships, as corny as that sounds. To help with that I picked up one of those Fuji X100's, and honestly, it's helped a lot! It's enjoyable taking shots that aren't serious, but depict us being ourselves. I also want the cover of the next issue to be shot on the Hassy. I don't know where or what, but when it comes to me, it’ll be on a roll of 120 with a one by one ratio.


Will Kromer - Fs Noseslide


I look forward to seeing that. Anything else coming up over winter?

Winter's our hiatus. There's a handful of indoor parks in the state if we are really feening to get a session in, otherwise it's not really active. For me, winter time is when I do a lot of my architectural photo work. Not a lot of people are out around the city. Just me bundled up with headphones in and wandering around with my eyes up to the sky for a couple hours. Always looking for a cool pattern, reflection, or contrasting scene. But on the rare occasion we get a tolerable sunny day, that will flush us outside of our homes and into the streets. I might also make a trip back to Italy for fun around late November, but that's still in the air.


Published in North 38

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