The first time I saw your photography was on a website called skateboardphotography.com, this was probably around 2002, does that sound right?
I don’t recall how I found that site; I probably typed in “Skateboard Photography” into a Yahoo search; 2002 sounds about right. I had just picked up a camera and was wondering about the (technical) aspects of shooting skateboarding.
Can you explain what that website was all about?
Charlie Pravel - BS Kickflip - San Francisco
I felt like it was the first time you could interact with your peers and established photographers. There was nothing like it before and it was exciting to see people progress and then go on to being published.
The pace at which people learned and improved was really impressive. Some members went from buying their first camera (likely a Hasselblad), to shooting beautifully composed, technically perfect skateboard photographs in a matter of months. Very rapid iteration. No digital either. Those that could afford it, shot polaroid backs to check exposure, composition, etc. before shooting a roll. Nowadays, I don't even think people use light meters.
You shoot a lot of natural light photography. Did you make a conscious decision to do that or did it happen naturally over time?
It was a combination of things. For one, I moved from Canada to San Francisco where it’s not really practical to own a car — you simply skate everywhere. I would show up to the session with my car full of gear and people would kinda laugh at me — they’d be like, “Ok, we’re heading out now, good luck following us in your car.”
So, I sold my car and almost half my gear. I streamlined everything and found that I could produce images that best represent skateboarding in San Francisco, without strobes or fancy sensors. It also lightened my mood - I could enjoy cruising around with my friends, actually skateboarding instead of driving which, in turn, produced better work.
Aesthetically, I prefer shooting with available light — for the same reasons people still film with a VX. Skateboarding just looks better when it’s imperfect. I think skateboarding should be captured in a way that suggests the photo wasn’t preconceived or polished. At the height of my gear acquisition, I was producing photographs to spec - exposure, composition, sharpness were all dialed in from a technical point of view. I was using the best strobes and sensors that money could buy. But, I look back on those images and they don’t do anything for me. They look like they should be in a Milk or Monster Energy advertisement or something.
Paul Liliani - FS Flip - Oakland CA
You can tell your skateboard photography has been influenced by your street photography. Are you glad that San Francisco changed the way you look at your photography as a whole?
The street photographer’s cliché motto is to capture the so-called "decisive moment"; composition, exposure, and sharpness are all secondary to this. If you can tell a story and evoke a certain emotion from the viewer, who cares if it's sharp or perfectly exposed? San Francisco moves at such a rapid pace, I couldn't help but adopt this methodology. I guess it transcended to my skateboard photography.
What prompted the move from Canada to SF, and why there?
I moved to San Francisco because it's the best city in the world for skateboarding. It's paradise - even still, with all the change and gentrification. Canada is safe. I felt like it wasn't pushing me anymore. I had a few friends that had made the move to SF like Russ (Milligan), so I took the first job opportunity I could find and packed my bags.
I still get the same feeling each time I leave and return to SF - flying over the city or driving back over the bridge. A friend once said when I first moved here that "San Francisco owes you nothing"; and it's true. San Francisco has given me so much and I'll never be able to repay it-- at best, I can produce photographs that remind people how special it is to live here and not take it for granted.
Nile Gibbs - Varial Flip - San Francicso
How long have you been there?
About 7 years. I’ve thought about moving to LA, Seattle, NY or whatever, but my time hasn’t come yet. Still got some work to do.
Kai Gormsen - Kickflip - San Francisco
What are you currently working on?
I have a zine called Anyways. I put out a single issue a year, limited to 100 copies. Each issue covers a trip I took earlier in the year. This is my fourth year & fourth issue; covering a trip I took in June with Snack Skateboards throughout Europe. I sell them through my website (codejazzpush.com) and through word of mouth. It's all shot on film (not that it matters) and printed in England through an offset newspaper printing process. I think newspaper compliments film photography in a way that digital printing doesn't; despite it being of "lower quality" from a technical point of view.
Ben Gore - Ollie - San Francisco
Was there nowhere closer to home that could print it?
I'm sure there is a local printing company, or certainly within the US, but this was a printer I found a while ago, and I wanted to keep the quality consistent across all issues.
You make the zine in your spare time, what do you do for work?
I'm actually an engineer at Uber AI. I've always been tinkering with computers and writing software since I was a kid. There's a lot of similarities between skateboarding and engineering (and I know I'll catch some heat for saying that).
Growing up, I became accustomed to being somewhat of an outcast, because of my interest in writing software. Once, when I sprained my wrist skateboarding, I had to wear a protective brace; kids would tease me by calling me "computer wrist" over and over, whenever I passed them in the halls or whatever. It was like I doubled down on being a social kook - first with computers and then with skateboarding. But, it all worked out in the end.
Tokyo - Paris
I just googled Uber AI and it sounds mental! What do you guys do there? If it's anything to do with making robots then please stop.
I work on sensor intelligence; leveraging sensors to develop algorithms that solve problems. Before that, I worked for a variety of startups ranging from gaming to health care. It's a fairly broad industry with an endless amount of cool stuff to do. I also write mobile applications in my spare time - none of which have been successful. Haha! I've always wanted to work on something that combines skateboarding and technology, but it’s like mixing oil and water. Skateboarders are notoriously anti-technology (with the exception of Instagram) and that's perfectly fine by me. In fact, it's probably the reason I'm able to run parallel lives; it helps keep my work and life balance in check.
What apps have you tried out, any photography ones? I once forgot my light meter and downloaded a light meter app, it worked fine!
Nah, I don't mess with photography apps - just the basic camera app. I like phone cameras, though. You catch a lot of stuff with them that you wouldn't otherwise be able to get with a point & shoot, or Leica or whatever. They are fast and discrete, and always in your pocket. They are definitely the best cameras to have for non-skate pics, in my opinion. I really liked Jerry Hsu's new book with all Blackberry photos. The quality is shit, but the content and subjects are perfect. I don't think cameras matter anymore, not like they once did. I give it a few more years until we have cameras embedded in our glasses that can take a photo with a blink of the eye.
I enjoy Jerry's photos too, he must be ready at all times to capture those! What other photographers do you like, skate and non-skate?
As far as U.S.-based skate stuff goes, Zander (Taketomo) remains one of my faves. He's the only dude still lugging around a full Hass kit and Lumedynes. It's easy to spot a Zander photo from the rest - he has a unique style, a refreshing element in the age of hypersync and digital sensors.
For non-skate, I'm more influenced by people who aren't exclusively photographers; John Baldassari, David Hockney, Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, to name a few. I like Templeton's series of (southern California) suburbia paintings; even more than his photographic work. I favour simple ideas, lines, colours & techniques-works that aren't over-produced.
Kevin Braun - Switch FS Flip - San Francisco
Do you remember your first published photo?
My first published skate photo was in a Canadian magazine titled Concrete. It's no longer around. In fact, few magazines I used to shoot for are still around, the most prominent of them being Color (RIP). That publication was really special to me and a lot of others. One of the last photographs I shot, while still living in Canada, ended up as a cover for Color Magazine. After that, I figured my career was complete and I could happily retire from shooting skateboarding (which I didn't).
Jonatan Drab - Kickflip - Madrid
Why was Color so special?
Color showcased some of the very best skateboard photography in Canada and the U.S. If you were printed in Color, it felt special. The design and content were so forward-thinking and atypical for the time. For instance, their covers rarely featured skateboarding. Even the paper smelled good. It was a magazine that covered all aspects of skateboard culture, including music, art, cinema, literature, and fashion. Nowadays, this stuff is commonplace, but at the time, it felt like a monthly dose of “what's good". As a Canadian, finding yourself in the pages of Color meant that it was also in skate-shops throughout America including LA, SF and New York City, which was a big deal at the time.
Marseille - Rome
Do you feel like there’s more for you to achieve within skateboarding photography?
No, I don't have any future goals or milestones to attain with photography. I just want to travel and document skateboarding with my friends for as long as I can. I was dealt some pretty hectic news involving my knee, which kinda made me realize this whole skateboard (photography) thing won't last forever; so, I'm trying to make the most of it.
Josh Robertson - Switch Ollie - San Francisco
Do you still get hyped on photographing skateboarding?
The way I approach shooting has changed. I think if I focused entirely on shooting for publication like I did in my early 20’s, I would be miserable. The work that appears in print or web is just a small component of the overall experience, that’s what gets me hyped the most — the memories I guess, and the images that accompany them.
Roger Krebs - BS Smith - Marseille
Published in North 24