Featured in North 19
I remember picking up copies of R.A.D and Sidewalk back in the day and being stoked that Scotland was being represented on their pages. It didn’t happen that often but when I did, it was usually a photo that Andy had shot. Just as I was getting into skateboard photography Andy was getting out, and I’d always wondered why. He was kind enough to let me look through a bunch of his old negatives and answer some questions for me. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Interview by Graham Tait
I was encouraged by a college lecturer to take up photography when I was at school, did you say something similar happened to you?
Ha! Yeah something similar, I was in sixth year at school and had to fill in timetable space so did a photography module. I instantly took to it and I think it’s the first thing I remember being praised for and encouraged to pursue by a teacher. Before borrowing a school camera the only memory I have of using one is shooting a roll of film on a bus trip to Isolla 2000 in France.
Were you already skating at this point?
Yeah, I started skating around ‘85 I think, when I was about 13. BMXs were big at the time but I remember taking my sister’s metal framed roller skates apart and nailing them to bits of wood with a school friend Martin. Edinburgh and Livi skaters might remember him by his nickname Harvey. Sounds like some old romantic cliche but it’s true. Harvey was a true original and an amazing skater, a bit like John Rattray.
You photographed some big names early on. What was it like seeing all those guys skating at that time?
To be honest it just seemed normal to me, that might seem arrogant but skating wasn’t that big at the time, there was no hype, no social media etc. I was used to seeing people like Davie Phillips, Cubic, Chimp, and Jamie Blair skate Livi on a weekly basis so the visiting Americans just seemed like normal guys, they still had fucked shoes and pads just like everyone else. I suppose when the Bones Brigade came with Hawk and Bucky Lasek that was a step up. I remember Tony Hawk doing a McTwist in the big bowl and the massive crowds, I’d never seen anything like that before, that was pretty amazing, and how high Bucky boosted everything.
We’ve had a few conversations while looking through your old photographs and you mentioned a couple of times that most of the photos weren’t planned, they just happened naturally?
Yeah, I just had a camera with me and photographed things when I wasn’t actually skating, if I saw someone doing something that I like I’d get my camera and shoot it, sometimes even just one photograph. I didn’t start going out with a purpose until I did some shots for Jamie at Clan Skates.
You shot a lot with Colin [Kennedy] and John [Rattray] in the early days of their careers. I guess the times were a lot different back then, did you even think they would have careers, or even take photographing them that seriously?
I really didn’t think about it, I just went skating with my camera. The first time I shot John was when I did a wee road trip with Jamie to Aberdeen for Clan, that’s when I met Alex Craig for the first time as well I think. We went to a mini ramp in a barn somewhere, I just remember them all being really good people, really friendly normal folk. John was obviously a step up but I didn’t realise how good until I saw him skate at a Vans comp in the Docklands in London. I think he won it and I think that was the start of his career? The idea of a career in skateboarding or photography had never crossed my mind. My relationship with Colin was even more natural. He started appearing at Livi and Bristo Square, the scene wasn’t that massive so if there were people who weren’t locals you’d notice them. The first shot I remember taking of Colin was of him ollieing over the wall into Bristo, I think it was a Blueprint ad, it was just one or two shots at a Bristo Jam I think, definitely not set up specifically for an ad. I shot a day trip to Glasgow for Percy at Document Magazine maybe around the same time, I remember Colin being really chilled and quiet and a great skater. I suppose I was attracted to people like him and John because they just did their thing and didn’t shout about it, natural talent without the bullshit, that’s how I remember them.
Did you ever set out to be a skateboard photographer?
Why didn’t you pursue it?
I didn’t make a conscious decision not to pursue it as I’d not set out with any intention to become a photographer, or a skater, I just did stuff that I enjoyed. My life was just moving in different directions. Most definitely growing up as a skater in that era was different, it wasn’t part of mainstream culture. It surrounded me with slightly different people, I certainly didn’t feel alienated or left out at school but through skating I met people who played music, did graffiti art, ran clubs etc. I was surrounded by talented artistic people so I just photographed what was around me. Skateboarding progressed into snowboarding, then surfing, I didn’t go too far down that path as the sea scared the shit of me. It taught me to respect nature though which I think was one of my first really valuable life lessons. I’d always loved nature but the sea taught me to really respect its power. I think I feel more comfortable in the mountains but I’m beginning to embrace the sea more again now.
Thinking back there were a couple of events that did take me away from skate and snowboard photography, this links back to Colin Kennedy and you asking about setting things up. One of the last things I remember shooting skate wise was trying to get a sequence of Colin doing a trick on the Mitchell Library handrail in Glasgow. It was the first and last time I went somewhere to get a specific shot, I think he asked me to do it for a Sidewalk article? I remember shooting a whole load of film and we didn’t get it. This isn’t a reflection on Colin but for me it’s when I realised that skate photography was changing, or maybe with hindsight that’s what the difference was between being a professional skate photographer rather than documenting skateboarding.
The first photography that really captured me apart from skate mags was seeing a Magnum exhibition called ‘In Our Time’, mostly made up of war, political, and social documentary photography from all around the world. I was used to shooting a 36 exposure film and having about five or six shots I was really happy with so the idea that shooting say seven or eight rolls of film to not get a usable sequence didn’t seem right to me, not natural. Another memory was sitting next to snowboard jump in France trying to get a shot and thinking that this was killing my love of snowboarding. I’m totally thankful for the opportunities I got, the life experiences, but it’s when things were starting to change commercially. I remember seeing a pair of Vans and a graffiti background in a Topshop window and feeling shat on. Yeah, so no real definitive decision but maybe a series of events and a natural progression of life.
So you thought of yourself as more of a documentary photographer, and skateboarding just happened to be what you were into so you documented that?
Mmmm... Yeah, I suppose, but to be honest I don’t really think like that in terms of categorising things. Like for a while I assisted a really talented photographer in Edinburgh and he had an amazing high end portfolio of various subjects from straight glossy advertising to dark gritty landscapes but when he went to make the next step to London people needed to know what his speciality was, they needed to know are you a car photographer, are you a portrait photographer? I just thought that was bullshit, needing to categorise someone like that. But ultimately, yes, I photograph the things that happen to be going on in my life, be it skateboarding, music, cycling, my kids, nature... I’m really interested in capturing the small details of life, marks that nature leaves, marks that people leave, lettering etc. I’ve been working on a long term personal project on Meadowbank velodrome for about twelve years which ultimately is a social documentary, so yeah, documentary photographer encompasses what I do.
I remember visiting the velodrome in primary school. Does it still get used?
The Edinburgh Road Club were using it up until quite recently for training sessions but the whole Meadowbank Sports complex that the velodrome is part of has been closed down and is in the process of being demolished. The last serious racing was about three years ago I think, there was a great track league on Tuesday nights and a couple of international events most years but when the indoor velodrome in Glasgow opened numbers started to dwindle. The option of a brand new indoor track where you’re guaranteed racing as opposed to Meadowbank which was outdoors and couldn’t be used in the wet is understandable but it’s a real shame it’s going in my eyes.
Maybe that’s a bit of nostalgic thinking on my part but it’s a bit like Livi skatepark in a way. There’s better indoor facilities to skate but folk always go back to Livi; it’s got heritage. It’s ironic in a way, Meadowbank was where Chris Hoy spent a lot of time when he was younger and honed his track skills yet the velodrome in Glasgow bearing his name has lent a hand in the demise of Meadowbank. It would be like a state of the art indoor skatepark opening called The Stu Graham Arena and Livi Skatepark getting demolished because nobody used it anymore. Haha! It’s obviously a lot more complex than that, but still...
That’s a good analogy. Twelve years is a long time to document the same project. What’s the end goal?
It basically started after a chance visit with an old friend Dave one summer where I saw Derny racing for the first time, cyclists being motor paced. I went back the next week and shot a roll of 35mm film, started to look a bit deeper, realised what an interesting environment it was and that was it, I was hooked. It was when Lisa my partner was pregnant with our first daughter and the velodrome was only a mile down the road from our house so in a way maybe it was a way of me getting a bit of freedom but also being near the house? I remember that the velodrome was actually due to be demolished if the council could sell the land for housing so I aimed to document the last years of its life but the financial crash in 2008 put an end to that, nobody would buy the land I think, and here we are twelve or thirteen years later, I started shooting there in 2005. I’ve not shot much in the last two years because of its dwindling use, the logical end will be a shot of a pile of sticks, or a empty space, it’s a shame but life moves on. I’ve been selling limited edition art prints to fund it over the last few years and the ultimate aim is to do an exhibition and possibly a book?
Did the project start on film? I know you were shooting film for as long as you could.
The project started on film as that’s what I had, that’s what I shot, that’s all I knew, black and white film, I don’t think digital existed? I started shooting on my 35mm Nikon FM2, I’d occasionally take a tripod and a Mamiya RZ but it’s mostly shot on 35mm. Very occasionally if I was shooting in the evening I’d take a digital camera to use in low light, I’ve only ever had one proper digital camera, a Canon 5Dmk2. I never really liked the idea of digital to start with, good quality digital was ridiculously expensive and I believed that photography was an art, a craft. I used to love spending time in the darkroom and saw hand printing as part of my art, where I added something else to the straight photograph. To eliminate that part of it and go straight from the camera to a computer seemed wrong to me. As an assistant to a design and advertising photographer I saw the progression of digital and started to learn a bit about Photoshop and processing. I still didn’t like the output quality but when the Canon 5Dmk2 was released it was the first digital camera that was affordable to me that you could do an A3 image size print and not tell it came from a digital file, maybe it was because I’d learned a bit about how to handle files and the Photoshop side of things. Also it was starting to get harder to find a darkroom to use and I started to feel sick and groggy the day after being in the darkroom. With hindsight although I still love the idea of the craft of hand made darkroom prints it’s pretty neanderthal when you think about it, it uses really nasty chemicals, not great for the environment or your health either. The immediacy of digital is another reason and to take it a stage further using phones as cameras, I think I’ve come round to the idea that whatever you have at hand is the right thing to use if you can achieve your intended output. I can use my phone the same way I used to use my Nikon. Shoot full frame, use Photoshop to do what I did in the darkroom but with much greater control, and produce good quality A3 images. Obviously to shoot the movement of skating or cycling a phone has its limitations, but I’m sure it’s not far away, if not already here and I just don’t know about it.
Did you stop shooting for a while? Was there any specific reason why?
I didn’t really stop shooting, I just fell out of love with it for a while. Photography was something I loved and I think when it turned from taking photos of my life, be it skateboarding,nature, live music, whatever, and headed towards something I did to make a living, things got a bit blurry to be honest. I remember doing a job with a friend in London for Nova magazine and the person I was shooting said that I wasn’t a good photographer because I wasn’t directing her, I wasn’t telling her what to do. I much prefer when people are just themselves and we see what happens, setting things up was never my thing. So yeah I didn’t stop but things just changed, my life was changing, I’d met my partner Lisa, my grandfather who I was really close to died. I went back to college and did a diploma course in Typography and Design with the intention of starting a Scottish magazine but that never got off the ground. I mentioned earlier that I assisted an advertising photographer for a while, I learnt a lot from him and we went on a couple of amazing trips travelling around America shooting for his portfolio, but in the long run seeing the advertising industry from the inside was another thing that took me further away from what photography meant to me in the first place. To be honest around this time anxiety started to creep into my life, that probably had something to do with me not shooting so much. The friends I’d spent my formative years with skating Jonnie Hudson, Russ Hall, Russ Crichton, Giles Burgess had all moved away or we’d drifted apart. The time lines are blurred but eventually Lisa and I went on to have our two girls which took me down another path... Photography wise I was just drifting to be honest, I started to learn about picture framing from Hamish Barrie, a photographic printer and framer and that turned into my art, my craft...
I’d started using a bike just to get around town, that progressed into mountain biking, when the kids came along I got more into using a road bike because I could leave from the the front door, I could go on an adventure, just like skateboarding. I went through a really bad time about two and half years ago with anxiety and depression after contracting some kind of virus that floored me for over a month, I could barely even move through lack of energy, that was terrifying for me, I’m normally constantly active, this, and other life things all going at once pretty much stopped me in my tracks but it’s been my bike that has helped me get back to being me and has ultimately rekindled my love of photography. The velodrome project was drifting but thankfully with an end in sight, not a happy one unfortunately, I’ve got my enthusiasm back for that. As a skater at heart I think you approach things differently. I’d do stupid things by myself like ride to Glentress in the borders, do the mountain bike trails on the road bike then ride home, but recently I’ve spent more time riding with a small group of like-minded people and that opens your mind to other things. Over the last winter I spent a lot of time with these guys just exploring Edinburgh and it’s suburbs, getting deeper and deeper, like, I wonder what’s round here? I wonder where that path goes? Just like skating, looking for a new kerb or bank to skate, sometimes riding fifty miles without really leaving Edinburgh, getting an almost childlike kick out of finding a new ‘through’. It’s got me more back into printed matter, combining the use of real old maps and local history books with modern apps etc. Also when you spend a lot of time exploring within a certain area you start to learn about place names, social history, topographical change, I’m really into that at the moment, partly due to a book passed on to me called Scarp by Nick Papadimitriou, there’s a documentary about him on YouTube called The London Perambulator, it’s well worth checking out. Deep down though it’s all just about exploring, learning, nature, freedom, flow... It’s all skateboarding.