FLORIAN "BURNY" HOPFENSPERGER INTERVIEW

Interview by Graham Tait
Photography by Burny
 

 

Hey Burny! Can’t believe you’ve never zoomed before!

Haha! Yeah I’ve never done it before, I just was on FaceTime during the pandemic. This seems old school! 

 

You’re lucky you missed out on the Zoom quiz pandemic. So let's get started, I don’t actually know where you’re calling me from?

I’m in Straubing, a city in lower Bavaria, close to the Austrian border and pretty much in the middle of nowhere! I grew up here, and I’ve travelled a lot but always primarily lived here. I’m happy having the family nearby, and it’s so convenient now that I have a kid. There’re loads of friends here, from outside skateboarding, and so I don’t think I’d really like to be anywhere else. 

 

Leonardo Bodelazzi - Switch FS Bluntslide pop out - Mexico City

 

What was it like, growing up in Straubing?

Growing up so far away from any big cities, I started skateboarding in the shittiest skateparks. But there were always like fifty other kids skating, and we had a good crew. There was a city about thirty minutes away that had a good shop and a decent skatepark – well it seemed cool at the time anyway, and I really appreciated it. The shop had a video camera, it was an OG handy cam with century optics baby death lens, and they would just lend it out to skaters. My skating was never at the level of my friends so I always picked up the camera and started filming them, and it just became the go-to thing you know, “Burny always does the filming!”.

When I was 16 I broke my right arm really badly. I broke my elbow and my arm, and it was so bent up it looked like a mini ramp. It was really bad, I was in the hospital for two weeks and I’ve got all these crazy scars still. I’m lucky it still all works. I had a big cast on for ages and couldn’t go out skating or hold a video camera, so I picked up my Dad’s still camera, a Nikon F75, and started taking photos around the house. I didn’t have any clue about shutter speed, about F-Stop, aperture, or anything like that. I started learning more and got really curious about all the guys I could see on the sidelines of all the skate videos I would watch, with their massive long lenses! I would be looking at all their equipment rather than watching the tricks! So I started seeking out more stuff, and it was crazy because the skate shop in this city in the middle of nowhere, actually had a proper archive of old videos and magazines. They had all these San Diego videos, super OG New York videos, it was great. I was just studying all these old copies of Transworld and trying to match up the photos with the tricks I saw in the videos. I would be fascinated by the people shooting and filming at the spot, and just ignoring the skating, people thought I was crazy. I was like “What does this flash do? Wow! What about this bit? Oh this camera is crazy it’s got a viewfinder and this remote control sticking out of the top and then BOOM it shoots the photo damn this is super sick!”. 

 

Charlie Munro - Switch Ollie - Dubai

 

That’s amazing, most people would be oblivious to all those details. I think around that time that Hasselblads were being used more - things were changing from that Medium Format Photography of the nineties. Videos were kicking off as well and these things were becoming proper productions. 

Don’t get me wrong, the tricks took priority when watching these videos but I was definitely a tiny little bit more interested in the camera angles! I was constantly inspired to find out more. And then obviously, skateboardphotography.com started then everything started to become more clear for me. The forums were great, people posting photos, you could post stuff and people would comment mad shit on your photos about how bad they were. Haha! But you learn from that you know? That feedback was important! 

 

Wilton Souza - FS 180 - Mexico City

 

Skateboardphotography.com was such a great resource, what did you use before that came around?

There was a Transworld Photo guide that came out around 2005 I think, it showed what different equipment was and what it did. I still have it! And then I bought an F100, second hand from an ad in the newspaper. These days pretty much anyone can buy themselves a decent set up, but back then, to have this calibre of equipment you had to be rich, professional or super super into photography. 

 

David Jakinda - Crooked Grind all the way - Stuttgart

 

I remember when I first started shooting, it was weird to see someone out with a big camera and now basically everyone has one. 

Which is dope, I love it! It’s great that everyone can shoot photos, tell a story, share it on Instagram or wherever. I like how everyone can share their own perspective of the world. I think it means there is a lot more creative freedom with the content you can create, whereas back in the day, there were certain rules to follow on how to shoot skateboarding and how to get your photo published in a magazine. I remember when I turned in my first submission, they would have to be either well shot 35mm or Hasselblad photos, they wouldn’t even take digital photos. 

My first submission was to Playboard, because it was a magazine I could easily get hold of locally. I sent in a slide; I’ve always preferred slides, because that’s what I saw in the Photo Guide. I love the colours on the Fuji Provia film. The photo was a front board down an 8 stair rail, I was so happy when it got printed. It was so tiny though haha, just a small photo in the Reader’s Submission column, but I thought it was so sick.

I started building a good collection of equipment, and I was super thankful to my family at the time, who were really supportive and got me a lot of my first set up. Where I’m from, when you turn 16, you can get a license to ride a scooter, so every single kid asks for that for their birthday. Haha! But I just begged my family not to get me the scooter + license, I wanted a set up! 

So after I got the first photo in Playboard, I kept pushing to find out how to get properly published. I called them up, and I just asked them lots of questions and got some advice. I would get so many magazines, German magazines like Monster, Limited, but my goal was Transworld, I was so hyped on the colours, I wanted to learn exactly how to produce a photo like that. 

 

Kevin Oczan - Wallride - Zaragoza

 

I was the same! I would get Transworld on the day it came out, and would just look at it and study it every single day until the next one came out.

Yes! And then when I started going on skateboardphotography.com, there would be people in the forums who had had photos published in Transworld, discussing how they did it. 

 

Marina Gabriela - 50-50 gap out - Guadalajara

 

It would blow my mind because not only was I getting this insider information, but I would also be interacting with these published photographers doing the type of work that I aspired to. For me it was the first ever social media. 

It was exciting to see the names that you’d seen in the magazines posting on the website, and you could actually connect with them, you could comment, send a message, write to them and ask them how they set up these shots. An amazing insight. It was definitely early Social Media. 

 

Jasper Dohrs - Pole Jam - Bangkok

 

After it went down, I remember checking every day for about a year to see if it came back on. I was so devastated. 

It was actually a German guy who started it, Bastian Ehl. I’m not entirely sure why it stopped?

 

Not sure, but it was certainly formative for a lot of us. So, other than consulting that website, how else did you begin to take it to the next level?

Well I was doing this while training and working as a teacher for people with learning difficulties, so I didn’t have time to do any formal education regarding photography. I continued just travelling when I could, and learning on the road. You know how it is, with each skill, you just keep trying and one day it clicks and you get it. It was challenging balancing the two careers, but my parents really wanted me to do the training, and it’s always good to have a back up. 

Once I finished the education training, I moved to Barcelona and stayed there for three years. I met so many good people, but when I moved there I only knew Denny Pham, one of my best boys. We hung out a lot and shot a lot of photos together, we got into Monster Magazine, and I shot an interview with him there too. I was always busy and would always be down for travelling. Doing big trips was normal for me, I was used to it from growing up so far away from everywhere. I think if you’re from a big city you might just get used to always skating and shooting in the same place? But I love being on the move, and I meet so many more people that way. 

And then the more you travel the more content you have to share, people like your posts, get in touch, invite you on more trips. The cycle continues! 

 

Pedro Biagio - Ollie - Mexico City

 

Were you freelancing the whole time?

I was on staff for Playboard for about a year, and after that worked for Place for three years. I was so grateful getting my start with Playboard, they ran my first photos, but Place were offering lots more trips and of course, I love to travel, so I had to take that opportunity. For me, travelling is the key to self development. I actually met my wife on a trip! Thailand, 2011. So after that, for a few years I would spend my summers in Europe and Winters in Thailand. The whole place is actually so meaningful to me, as I also met two other very inspiring people in my life. First day in Bangkok I met Anthony Claravall and Patrick Wallner, they showed me how small the world is. They had travelled so much and I guess showed me it was possible to live a global life. Those six months each year in Thailand, so much would happen. I travelled a lot around Asia and began to know it well, so then when people would come over for trips I would show them around. I showed the guys from Fallen around, for the Road Less Travelled video, so I got to shoot loads of photos then. I shot Tom Karangelov, Jack Curtin, and Marquise Henry in Taiwan, I went to China, so many amazing trips. I ended up meeting well know skaters and got the opportunity to shoot them.

A very special trip to me was a Kingpin Trip, Samu Karvonen, Willow, Lucas Fielderling, Axel Cruysberghs, Ross McGouran, almost the whole ‘Where We Come From’ video crew. I was the guide and the photographer, it was the best time ever. I got to be really creative as well, I would pitch to Place and they would be up for it - I did a China trip, the spots in Shenzhen are unbelievably dope. I got Denny Pham, Wilko Grüning RIP, a couple people from a crew in Thailand, and Place would be super down for it and publish a 20 page article on the trip. 

I got to know the New Balance guys, Anthony Claravall built the program for the Asia division and built a team in Thailand, Philippines, Korea, Japan, Taiwan. And he would invite me on trips. So he opened a lot of doors for me. He always backed me and hyped me up! I remember telling him about it when I met my wife, and I was worrying about how to make it work, and he was just like “It’s just an 8 hour flight right? It’s not a big distance, it would take you 8 hours to drive from Germany to Croatia.” Haha, it made me realise how small the world is. 11 of years of friendship since then, he was the first guy I met at the first spot when I arrived in Thailand. 

Tiago Lemos - Frontside Nosegrind - Rio De Janeiro

 

Sounds amazing. So when did you start Pocket magazine?

2017, the website launched the day after my son was born! I’ve known Johannes for over ten years, and he’d been saying for years, come on let's do our own thing. We both had so many ideas, and working with the magazines there were always lots of logistics to consider, and these ideas would sometimes take a few years to get going. So I decided to start Pocket, and Johannes suggested doing it like a book, publishing an issue twice a year. We wanted to do lots online too, so the website is a great space for the mini features and all that sort of stuff, and then the book goes in depth with a topic and theme each time. Johannes works in marketing and distribution so this was a big help, Mosaic distribution supported us from day one. 

Giovanni Vianna - Heelflip BS Lipslide - New York

 

 

The quality of each issue is so slick. It’s clear a lot of thought has been put into curating the content. 

Johannes and I are full of ideas, and we have three freelance guys with us, who also have so much to contribute. So the themes work as a great template to collect the ideas together in a way that will work, and it’s compiled like a book but still has the character of a magazine. The squad has just built from issue to issue, there’s always someone from one trip that wants to do the next one, and so it grows and grows, and now we really are like a family. Everyone who has ever done something for us, to me, is like a family member! I always appreciate anyone who is down to contribute towards my magazine, my dream! 

I’m not quite sure what we have planned for the next one, so far we’ve done Los Angeles, Georgia, Northbound (every trip started in the south and travelled up), UAE, we went to Mexico, oh man who knows what’s next! It’s been tough with all these recent travel restrictions but I’m planning a big trip soon, hopefully somewhere far away! Once these quarantine rules are over then I’d definitely love to do an Asia trip.

Kaue Cossa - PoleJam 50-50 - New York

 

Do you have one favourite trip you’ve been on? 

That’s so hard, there’s so many man! I think the New York trip with Primitive was my favourite. I’d never been to New York before, and Oliver wrote me a message, ten days before the trip, “Are you able to go to a magical place with a magical squad?” And of course, if Oliver invites you, you have to go! I’m a super big fan, so I said yes immediately. I didn’t know the trip was to New York until he sent me the ticket. I went with Tiago, Gio, Frankie Villani, it was for the last filming process of the Encore Video. It was the first time I’d shot a photo of the video ender, the last trick of the video; Tiago’s Nollie 50 over the rail in Chinatown, legendary spot. That was one of the biggest moments of my career. There is no one like Tiago, he’s my favourite skater, he’s everyone’s favourite skater. Haha! New York blew my mind, the best trip of my life. 

 

Andrew Verde - FS Bluntslide pop out - Guadalajara

 

Fingers crossed you can get travelling soon. So, last question, and it’s an important one; How’d you get the nickname Burny? 

Just this one dude, who was at my local skatepark one day, and I had never seen him before and I haven’t seen him since, he just says “Yo who are you? You look like a Burny.” And from that day on everyone called me Burny haha. And then when I first got Instagram, my name on that was Burny Diego, because the first time I went to America, I went on a trip with a good friend, from Salt Lake City to San Diego. We drove through the desert and he would call me Burny Diego the Desert Fox. My homie passed away a few years after so I kept that name close to my heart. I’ve been using this name now forever and I think lots of people think it’s my real name! It’s easier than pronouncing my real name so I’m thankful. Haha!

 

Published in North 31