TAL ROBERTS INTERVIEW

Interview by Graham Tait
Photography by Tal

 

I was blown away by the number of photos you sent me, how long have you been shooting?

I started shooting in 2002, so that would be about 17 years at this point. All the photos I sent over are from the past three years though.

 

All the photos you sent through were black and white, was that a coincidence?

I shoot mostly black and white film these days. I used to shoot lots of slide film but colour hasn't been getting loaded in the cameras too much recently.

Brent Atchley - Ollie - Burnside, Portland OR

 

Has the price got anything to do with that? It’s pretty much tripled in price over the last few years.

Nah, not because of the cost, but I do keep the cost down by processing and scanning my film at home. I've always loved shooting black and white and feel like when I'm looking for photos to shoot I'm usually picturing them in black and white.

 

That’s sick that you process your own film. Do you find that stressful? What’s the margin for error doing that at home?

I don't stress on it too much, just try to be prepared with everything in line and ready before pouring the developer in. There isn't much room for error with developer so you need to nail the temperature and the amount of time the film is in it, but the rest of the steps you can run a little looser.

 

How did you get into photography? 

I knew a guy from the park I grew up skating in Tacoma who was into photography and worked at a camera shop. I told him I was interested in getting a camera and he had me come to the shop and helped pick one out. But what was really cool was that he developed all my film for free for a few months and gave me tips and feedback on why the shots turned out however they did. I got to learn a lot and shoot more than I could afford to.

Frank Shaw - FS Grind to Flat - Portland, OR

 

That's really cool, what a great way to learn. What camera did you pick out?

It was a Nikon N65 and an entry level Nikon wide zoom lens.

 

Was that your first camera ever?

Well, it wasn't the first camera I ever used... I actually took a couple black and white photo classes in middle school. For those I used an old Olympus that my parents had, but I didn't stick with it after the classes ended. So the Nikon was the first camera I owned and the one I started to take learning photography seriously with.

 

Where did you start shooting? Were there any local skate photographers in your area that you could ‘shadow’ or annoy with questions? Did your friend at the shop shoot any skating?

When I got that first camera I lived in Gig Harbor, Washington. My friend at the camera shop helped with so many of my questions and was really, really helpful. He didn't shoot skating though, so a lot of that I learned through the internet and by studying the shots in the magazines. I also remember TWS doing photo annuals that had photography articles with skate specific tips.

Johnny Turgeson - BS Air - Marginal Way, Seattle, WA

Adam Soles - Indy - Burnside - Potrland , OR

 

Transworld Photo Annuals were the best! Whose photography inspired you when you first started and who inspires you today?

Early on I started to notice the difference between a skate shot that simply documents the trick and one that is really interesting in composition and photographic technique, images from photographers like Brian Gaberman and Dan Sturt stood out. Their shots made you look twice and really examine what was happening. I've always appreciated the ones who were doing things a little differently. These days most of my inspiration comes from outside of skateboarding, from photographers like Frank Ockenfels, Anton Corbijn, and Danny Clinch. I'm a big fan of photo books too, I just picked up a really cool one by Jim Harrington called The Climbers, it's full of beautiful portraits of legendary mountaineers all shot on black and white film, in a variety of formats.

 

Talk us through some of your camera gear. Looks like you shoot a lot with natural light.

I do shoot a lot with natural light when shooting film, some of that has to do with the cameras I'm using. I have an Xpan and a Leica M6, and I barely ever shoot those with strobes, but I'll use them a lot when I shoot action with my Hasselblad 503. I also have a Hasselblad 2000fc which is the model that has a shutter in the body so it can shoot up to 1/2000 sec. That has been fun to shoot using natural light, it's the only medium format camera I've had that can fire that fast.

John Morgan

 

You shoot a lot of portraits, do you think they’re just as important as the actual ‘action’ shot?

Yes. A portrait gives so much opportunity to show a subject's personality, and there's so much room to get creative. I also think there are lots of moments around the action that make really interesting photos too and are great to piece together a story. I focus on shooting that stuff a lot more than I used to.

 

It’s something I tend to forget about at the time because of setting up flashes, worrying about security etc. But they’re just as important, especially when looking back at old images. What do you do for a living?

I do photography full time. Most of my work is shooting ad campaigns for brands that make gear for use in the outdoors, so a lot of ski and snowboard, biking, fly fishing, etc. When I'm not on an assignment I try to shoot for editorial submissions with some of my friends who are athletes in those activities. The skate stuff is mostly a passion project, I'm still out skating a lot and most of the guys in these photos are friends I would be skating with anyway.

Josh Love - Kickflip - Portland, OR

 

Do you still live in Washington? Where are you originally from?

I grew up in Gig Harbor, Washington but haven't lived there for a long time. I was still living there the first couple years I was shooting but then moved to Ketchum, Idaho for about ten years and that's where I got the opportunity to start working as a photographer. My good friend and roommate at the time, Chatham Baker, was always encouraging me to take photography more seriously and at the same time was working his way from freelancing a little graphic design for Smith Optics to becoming their creative director along the way gave me the chance to shoot for that brand which I still shoot for today. These days I live in Portland, Oregon.

 

What was Idaho like? I don't know much about the skate scene there.

The area I lived in is amazing! It's a small town surrounded by mountains and rivers with a super active community and unbeatable access to the outdoors. One of my favourite parts of living there was that you could get out of the town and be camping in the middle of nowhere so quickly. The skate scene was small, but a good group of friends and there are two rad parks, Ketchum and Hailey. There weren't many street spots but Boise is a three hour drive away so I would take trips down there pretty regularly, especially in the winter when the local parks were filled with snow.

Klay Andersen - Polejam Indy - Portand, OR

Leo Romero - 50-50 - Portand, OR

Nick Propios - Kickflip - Barcelona, Spain

 

Napoleon Dynamite is one of my favourite films and that's set in Idaho, I've always wanted to check it out! Haha!

Haha! Yeah that's a great movie and a pretty good depiction of that part of the state. Just a couple years ago I was down in that area and learned the story about the ligers he likes. In the 90's there was a place called Ligertown where a sketchy guy had a compound full of African lions and hybrid wolves, and he had cross bred lions and tigers to make ligers. One night a bunch of the lions escaped and came down to the little town and farms. So the cops and townspeople went to war and had to shoot like 20 of them. Then they went up to the compound and rescued the rest of them from the shitty conditions the guy kept them in, and burned the place to the ground.

 

Michael - Burnside - Portland, OR

 

Damn that's crazy. I wonder if that's where the inspiration for using the Liger in the movie came from. 

It's got to be. I bet it's pretty common in that part of the state for a kid's favourite animal to be a liger.

 

Have you ever had any run-ins with any dangerous wildlife when you've been out working?

Luckily I haven't had anything too sketchy happen with wildlife, besides getting a little too close to moose and bears on accident. There are definitely some gnarly predators out there like mountain lions, though it's rare to see them. They know that you are there, but they usually keep hidden and just watch humans that come into their zone. Late one Fall I was out with a buddy cutting firewood and as we hauled wood back to load up the truck we noticed fresh mountain lion tracks in the snow right next to ours. Never saw it though, was like it just came by to check us out.

 

Trevor Ward - Crook - Portland, OR

 

Are moose dangerous? I know they're pretty big but don't know what kind of damage they could do.

They can get aggressive, especially with dogs. I know a couple people whose dogs have been stomped by moose.

 

What's your stance on hunting?

I don't do it, but I understand it and respect the self sufficiency of people who hunt for their food. It seems like a lot healthier way to go if you can eat meat from the wild rather than something that has been raised on a production line and pumped full of chemicals. Similarly, I like growing vegetables because it feels like you are providing some healthy food for yourself instead of relying on a producer for it all.

 

Myles Laurion - BS Tailslide - Portland, OR

 

I think the food regulations in the US are a lot worse than over here. I'm not sure if it's because I'm getting older that I notice these things more or that there's so much information out there now that you can't help but take notice. How long have you been growing your own food?

I've been growing a handful of veggies out in my backyard for the past couple years. Not a big operation, just playing around with it. It's been cool to learn about it and see the plants grow from nothing into good food.

 

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

 

The rest of the year is filling up really quickly with travel for my commercial work so I'm going to try to stay on top of that while the work is flowing. But more importantly I'm going to make sure to take advantage of all the downtime I can. Making time to hangout with my girlfriend, take my dog to the park, skate and go on bike rides is my priority.

Trevor Ward - Fastplant - Vancouver, WA