‘I am going all in. I am not doing any empanadas anymore.’
You were born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied journalism and started contributing to skateboard magazines along with being a self- taught photographer. At the age of 23, you moved to Costa Rica where you started the skate magazine Flow. Now you live in Barcelona working as a photographer, director and producer. This scratches just the surface what you have done so far. Does it feel you have achieved a lot?
I am definitely a restless soul trying to do more but I do feel I have achieved things that I did not expect I would achieve.
What was your main driver moving to Costa Rica and what inspired you to do a skatemag?
This happened by chance. I was living in Argentina, already being a skate photographer for 10 years but as a side kick on the weekends while I was at the University and also working at the same time. I was not really pursuing photography professionally but in Argentina I was making some money out of it but not enough to make ends meet. I always had an itchy soul for travelling. Always as a young kid I wanted to go travelling. So, I was waiting to finish school and go out and travel the world. However, I finished school and went to the daily grind of University instead. There came a point where the opportunity came about to get out and explore the world as there was an opportunity in my field of journalism to do a TV show in Costa Rica. Me and my two friends jumped on a plane and moved to Costa Rica. A month before we left, with our airplanes tickets already purchased, this was in 2001, Argentina had its biggest financial crisis in history. We had money in our pockets and the country was up in flames, so we were like ‘we are leaving for Costa Rica, alright, see you later’. Like this boat is sinking.
Unfortunately the TV show never happened and we were running out of money. One of our neighbours reminded us that back in the 70 ́s during Argentina ́s dictatorship, a lot of Argentinians fled to Costa Rica and started doing empanadas (meat pies) and people really liked them. I was already overworked in the normal job environment with having a boss so anything that involved not having a boss, I was up for it.
So we gave DIY empanadas a go and it worked alright and in the free time I was shooting skate photos like I had done in Argentina. I was meeting the locals at the only skatepark in Costa Rica at that time. I already had experience working for magazines and a local distributor came up to me and asked me if we could start a magazine. I was like ́hell yeah ́ and we started the mag.
‘I met Gaston on a trip to China. We became instant friends and over time traveled the world together! He had an apartment in Barcelona and I would fly out and stay with him and we would just shoot and film around Barcelona. On one trip Gaston had got a car and he knew about a tunnel that was skateable. So we went on an adventure and found the tunnel and got the photo! To this day I consider Gaston one of my true friends.’
– Louie Barletta –
There is a funny side story to this. I had my daily route selling empanadas. Every day at the same time I was doing the same route as my customers were waiting for me. The people I was doing the mag with hired this design studio which was on my empanadas selling route. So I had to change my route because I could not go in the morning to sell empanadas and in the afternoon to let them know they were doing a horrible job. It is like ‘do you want empanadas? ́ to ́this design is shit! ́ Anyway, this experience was fun and empowering to do your own thing without a boss. Those two jobs allowed me to travel to all of Central America.
So I started the first and only skateboard magazine in Central America. So, I was doing this mag and this local kid came up to me and offered me a hand. He was a local skater. Smart dude. He started to shoot photos so he was my co-editor. I left while we put the third issue together and he eventually released it. The mag finished up after that but he did not. He kept going and started his own magazine called Standby which is still being published.
‘I was doing really well and I realized that it was better to sell whole stories not just one photo.’
Barcelona is one of the top skate spots in the world. I guess it is the California in Europe. Was that the reason for you to move to Spain apart from being close to your way of life back home in Argentina?
My options were L.A or Barcelona with the aim to become a professional skateboard photographer. I am going all in. I am not doing any empanadas anymore. I also felt that it was harder in Barcelona as there is not much skate industry but also there are not as many skate photographers either.
This reminds me of Mike’s story where he first moved from Australia to the US East Coast because there was less competition out there than in California.
Well, he did. Mike was in the 2000s one of the top five skate photographers in the world. I met him in Argentina in early 2000 during an Element Tour. He was very nice to me and I am always very thankful for the helping hand he provided. For him it must have been an email from a random dude while he had a cup of tea but when he said ‘Absolutely. Go for it.’ For me that was the push that I needed. For that reason I am always going to be grateful to him and also to Brian Gaberman. He gave me the same advice.
You IG says you are a photographer, director and producer. What do you enjoy most?
That is an interesting question. It is a hard choice.
‘I finally got both covers for the biggest skateboard magazines in the world. The circle had been completed.’
I guess it is like you have three kids and you need to decide which one you like best.
Absolutely because it is difficult. Now I can do all three at the same time. They are connected. We go on a trip with Madars for Skate Tales and I produce it around which guests will be in it, what the story is going to be and where we will be going. Once we are there, I am directing it and I am also shooting photos so the three come together. When I was just a skateboard photographer I was never just a photographer. Especially when I was a freelance photographer, I always had to be a producer too. I remember in 2006, I was already established working for Transworld, Slap and Skateboarder. I was doing really well and I realized that it was better to sell whole stories not just one photo. So I started organizing interviews and trips 6 months out. I remember a trip we did to Belarus with Kenny Reed who was living in Barcelona and I asked Louie Barletta to come and Chris Haslam joined as I was working on an interview with him for Slap. A very random crew but I put it together out of sheer necessity so to speak. These guys had their sponsors paying for it and I was producing it and the outcome was a beautiful article in Skateboarder Magazine. The direction came a little bit after the demise of printed media and the global crisis in 2008 when Slap disappeared, Skateboarder shortly after and Transworld finally. There was not much space to print photos and my income was cut by 70%. No magazines, no advertisement and advertisements was where I got most of my income. I would do an interview with Chris Haslam with three ads for example and those three ads brought me more money than the 10 page interview. So when that moment came and flipped the market, I was forced to renew myself. I could not just do photography anymore. Nowadays it is almost impossible to live off being a skateboard photographer unless you work for a company like Adidas or like Jake Darwen for New Balance.
Jake from New Zealand?
I am good friends with him too. I love Jake. In my eyes he is one of the best photographers out there. To finish the story about reorganization. When this crisis happened, thankfully I got hired by DC and that saved the day as I stopped having problems in making ends meet. They offered me a small retainer as a photographer so I could pay my rent.
What are the downsides of being a professional photographer and how do you manage them? We already spoke about it how hard it is to make a living these days.
Without a doubt the problem is that there are not many publishing houses out there. There are not many places where you can publish your photos. It is mostly online, but how can you make living out of US35 to US50 per picture? Maybe if you are 18 years old and still living at your parents house and using one flash you bought on ebay. It is hard especially for the ones that have seen better days. The medium has changed and digitalized and now we see it on a screen and unfortunately the screen does not pay the bills. The rates for screens are ridiculously low. Also digitalization made it much easier and widely accessible. There are an immense amount of people doing it and there is so much competition. With USD 2,000 you have a full set of camera gear with flashes and you are ready to shoot. Before the camera on its own was USD 5,000 to USD 10,000. Now you do not need that camera. Even with a used camera for USD 700 you are fine.
So digitalization made it much cheaper, more accessible which is good and bad. Good because all the world can shoot photos and bad because all the world is shooting photos. It is almost like cheating now where you immediately see what the issues are, like if the flash is pointing at the wrong direction, the other flash is too hard, the back foot is not on the board. We have to shoot again. Where as before, this did not exist. You had to have a light meter, test your flash to the light meter to see if it was too hard or too soft. You really had to know your gear. This is now gone and in my eyes this is almost like cheating, if you know what I mean. Then photoshop came about doing this incredible things on the screen. For me photography and what made me absolutely fall in love with it, was the other side. The non-screen. I wanted to be an artisan. I would do my own film rolls. I would go to the photo studios and get the empty rolls and buy bulk films and make my own film rolls. I made them of 40 photos so I could shoot sequences and I would also develop the film and then do the prints manually. Sometimes I sent the negative to the magazines but I also sent my own prints as I wanted to do my own ‘photoshop’. This was one of my driving forces in photography.
‘The combination of the sheer talent that he has and his humbleness is very unique.’
What is ‘Stoneface’?
Stoneface is a name that Wes Kremer gave me. Wes was really young back then and I was known as harsh and strict Team Manager when I was working for DC. Wes started playing with words and called me Stoneface. Other times, he called me stoned-face. Once I had to name my production house this was the name I gave it.
On the website it says ‘We all have a story to tell. We just do it a little different’. How ‘different’ is your approach?
Spending so much time in the world of skateboarding made us look at things in a different way. For example, we built this skate park on the salt flats in Bolivia. The whole park was built out of salt in the highest and biggest salt flat in the world. Then we recently went to Norway where we built a skatepark out of full stones where we cut them into skate obstacles which are one piece of stone. Some of those stones are now placed in the city and now they have a skate park made out of stones.
We are also trying to tell different stories. Skate Tales is now our biggest thing which is the show with Madars Apse. It is about stories of people who are inside the skateboarding community but just a little bit different. We are not really telling the story of Nyjah. We are telling the story of people who have something different to bring to the table.
You have documented quite amazing skate trips all around the world. Which one stands out for you personally?
This is another of your ‘best kid’ questions. I probably travelled to over 100 countries so far. There are some that are ranked high like Uzbekistan that we did not too long ago with Patrik Wallner. Also the one with Pedro Rodriquez where we went to the Inka Trail in Peru and Bolivia. This one was pretty epic. We did a Skate Tales episode in Ethiopia that was pretty mind blowing for us.
‘Gaston is a loyal and visionary travel companion. Each of every trip I went on with him or planned by him were something special for me. The heel flip in the fake Paris of China came out on one of those trips. We tried to skate all the “European” places in China and there were a couple of them.’
– Vladik Scholz –
Was there a moment during your trips where you did not feel safe?
Of course. We have some hefty situations pretty often. Some of the skate spots are not in the best parts of town and you are out there with camera gear. For example in Brazil we had to have an armed security guard to go skate. Also, in Argentina I got a gun pulled at me.
In your home country? That is kind of ironic as you traveled to all these places but in your home country they pulled a gun on you.
Russia was also scary. There was a demo and this guy pulled out this old machine gun. He started talking in Russian and he was pretty wasted. I also experienced some scary moments in the US but those were with the actual police. I was in Detroit not too long ago where a policeman came to us. He was in his early 20 ́s. He was not the smartest cookie in the jar. We were just skateboarding and the guy put us against the wall. These situations can easily go wrong. These are just some handpicked situations. Honestly, the world is a pretty safe place. It has this bad image but my experience has not been that bad. If you keep your eyes open and you are aware of where you are and you try to understand how people do stuff and carry about, you just kind of go with that flow and try not to be that weird different guy. Stick to the flow and pace of the locals and you will be fine.
Any fun stories you can share?
I was on a DC trip as a Team Manager. We were in Portugal and had to fly to Bordeaux in France. I had Tristan Funkhouser with me Wes Kramer and Josef Scott. We were at the gate, waiting for the plane to get ready. Tristan and I were getting a sandwich. When we came back we boarded the plane. Wes and Josef were not there though. They missed the flight. I think they changed the gate to the one next to it but they did not get on the plane. They showed up three days later in Bordeaux because they first flew to Rome where they spent one night. They went out partying and they got mugged and lost everything. They had to rush to the embassy to get emergency passports. So from the gate in Portugal, I saw them 3 days later with emergency passports and no money.
‘I would interview Gou Miyagi. He is a Japanese skater and there is very little information about him.’
How did the partnership with RedBull come about?
They approached me. They started their skateboard channel and they wanted different editors for it from different parts of the world where I was responsible for Latin America, Spain and Portugal. We created a website and thought about content we should use. I had some experience in this space. When I was with DC, we had this private skate park in Spain called the DC Embassy. Some sort of Berrics. We did a website and it was very successful. This experience I took to the RedBull channel, creating series and introducing different cities around the world. And this is what I have been doing ever since. I am not hired by them as everything is now done through my production house. We are doing ‘Skate Tales’ with Madars Apse and also with a Gustavo Ribeiro series called ‘Mundo Gustavo’.
During you career, which skater has left an impression on you and why? Another ‘kid’ question. Sorry.
That one is easy. Wes Kremer. He has become a really good friend. I spent a lot of time with him when he won the Skater of the Year award with Thrasher. That year he was on fucking fire. He was destroying everything. We would go to a handrail where he would do seven different tricks from where five where first try. I had never seen anyone like that with such consistency, such focus and drive. He was absolutely destroying it. And he achieved this on his own pace, on his on term. To this day he does not have a website, Instagram or any social media at all and has good reasons not do it. He only skates for skateboard brands. He will not skate for anything else. Somehow he carried this torch since he was a little kid. He has never given in. He has always been that guy. When we going to DC Tours and there are 5,000 people in the stadium, cheering his name, at the end he would find time for every single one that wanted an autograph or just a chat. This humbleness and the way of doing his own thing, that is something that I always cherished. The combination of the sheer talent that he has and his humbleness is very unique. He reminds me of skaters back in the 90s for me. He lives that style and way of skateboarding.
‘We are also trying to tell different stories. Skate Tales is now our biggest thing which is the show with Madars Apse.’
Proudest moment as a photographer?
That one is easy too. My first ever cover in Transworld after shooting for them for more than 10 years which was also the semi-last printed issue of Transworld. It was Tiago Lemos doing switch back tail on a hubba in Mexico. That was also Tiago’s first cover. This was special as Transworld was my favourite magazine ever. 8 months after, I got the Thrasher cover with Jaakko Ojanen. So it was really nice after shooting for 25 years, I finally got both covers for the biggest skateboard magazines in the world. The circle had been completed.
There are not many skate shots on your IG. Do we have to worry about the future of photography you think?
I do not worry about it. It is an art form and it will come back. Art changes and adapts. Maybe people thought painting was done in the 1800s. I guess we are like the old guys ‘Oh, this is not the same no more.’ But it is not going away. The eruption of the screens has changed media as a whole. But I go to museums and still see those nice photo exhibitions. It will go on for sure. Sooner or later things will back to its place and it will be easier for younger generations to make a living off it.
Maybe printed magazines will come back again too.
Look at the records. Everybody thought they will be gone but there are some many record shops out there. Why do they still exist? They should have disappeared decades ago. Same thing.
What is on your whishlist?
A movie and a book. They will not happen the next few months but I would like to make them happen. It would be nice to have a book to share my story as a photographer starting off with film to the Thrasher cover. I also want to make a movie related to skateboarding for a long time. I have the script already. It is just the matter of getting the funds. Making a movie is a long process but I am not in a hurry.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
I would interview Gou Miyagi. He is a Japanese skater and there is very little information about him. He has some of the most incredible skate videos that you have ever seen and that is the main reason why I would like to interview him where he gets his inspiration from and why he is so secluded. He is a very interesting character. I highly recommend to check out his video parts.
‘Gaston is the real G. Always taking care of his friends and he is a self made man! It was not easy for the photographer from Argentina, but he travelled all around south america, before hitting the rest of the world. He was selling empanadas on the street before producing TV shows about skateboarding or cooking – it doesnt matter. He does what he desires and no one can stop him! Love you Gasti! ❤
– Madars Apse –