‘I am just disappointed when skate images aren’t all I know they could be.’
An Idealist’s Rules
You were framing and documenting major cultural movements such as skateboarding, punk and Hip Hop from the very beginning. Apart from being a talented photographer, what other factors helped you to be there?
Hustle and love for the subjects. Having and living the belief that what was going on in front of me was important and I wanted other people to see what I saw in them.
In the Visual Revolutionary podcast you mentioned, ‘Back in the days, there was a sense of responsibility as a photographer to portray a story. Photography was much more sophisticated art form back then. Editors would not look at shitty photos like they do now. A pop photographer of this day and age, or the last 20 years, would have been thrown in the garbage.’ You also mentioned in the Impose Magazine ‘I have an incredibly strong work ethic when it comes to my photography. I am not fucking around like some of these jerks that are getting off being photographers these days.’ What don’t you like about today’s photographers? Where does it go wrong?
Well, I was generalizing a bit, but what it is i don’t like about the form these days is that it very often lacks craftsmanship and quality in the actual work compared to art is lacking. Photography can be used purely as documentation but I see it as an artful documentation of those things I am interested in or passionate about. Not just “captures” that people so often like to call photos these day… While for most that’s certainly all it is, that’s not what I do. It goes wrong when there’s no heart involved, no aesthetic, no character or composition being attended to. People just shooting for the sake of shooting and documenting, that’s fine, but that’s not inspiration to me or most, it’s just shooting.
Is there one current skate photographer that hits the mark for you?
Not that I can call out by name, but on occasion I do see some great skate shots out there of course. Skate photographers are usually among the best of all because they have the opportunity to work with action and character as well as architecture that lends to being used in creative ways. I am just disappointed when skate images aren’t all I know they could be.
‘But I will admit there was an occasion or two where I bumped heads with some fools’
What is your view on all the post-production that goes into pictures these days?
Well, we didn’t have any post-production in my days! A person had to take a great photograph and not even know if it was great until days later once it got processed. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that people use a lot of stuff nowadays, whatever it takes to make a great photograph is fine, as long as it’s honest and real and not manipulated to trick anyone.
You also mentioned in the Visual Revolutionary podcast that skateboarding took a dive in the late 70ies because a lot of reasons. You did not go into details in the podcast, but can you share them with us now?
Well that’s why i did not go into details on there, it’s a lot of things… but a couple would be the wide board revolution left a lot of manufacturers with old narrow unsellable boards, warehouses full of them and put a lot of people out of business, as well skateparks were becoming more numerous so people got used to skating them, but they cost money and who wants to pay to skate? Then the insurance industry took its toll on skateboarding in parks, cost too much to insure and lots of them closed due to those costs, until years later when it became like other sporting activities and became more of a “At Your Own Risk” situation… those are a couple of the main things glanced over.
Do you think being an established skateboard photographer helped you to get into the music and especially being accepted by all those 80ies hip hop bands? My perception of late 80ies hip hop bands is that they are a tight-knit crew.
Well, there was no such thing as an “established skateboarding photographer” I just did it. People in punk rock circles recognized me from that since some were skaters themselves, but for the most part in punk and Hip-Hop in particular, there were no free passes, the work had to “Show And Prove” in order to get the access and make great work. The work spoke and that’s really how it always works isn’t it?
‘The work spoke and that’s really how it always works isn’t it?’
You were shooting some of those gangsta hip hop icons. Were they the aggressive machos some tried to portrait when you were working with them?
Most of the people I worked with were very respectful towards me because of my work and reputation, and I could certainly hold my own in interest in the culture and could prove very quickly to any doubters that I knew what the fuck was going on. But usually, I would somehow become friends with artists who would WANT me to work with them, there was mutual respect. But I will admit there was an occasion or two where I bumped heads with some fools, usually people who were ignorant or insecure about their own work within groups or how they looked and they might try to fuck with me… if they had a weapon in hand I would back down, not fuck around with that bull shit, and honestly by that time I started moving away from shooting by then because people’s egos on a personal level were getting stupid, and I pretty much stopped shooting as much.
Which hip hop artist(s) impressed you the most and why?
Well, a lot did, almost all I worked with, and for different reasons. Run-DMC for their live shows and dedication to the form, being ground breakers for so many after the initial wave. Public Enemy for their political stance and organization, as well as the sonics and creativity of their music, Chuck and Hank did not fuck around. Ice-T is just one of the coolest storytellers and loyal guys in the game, he’s great on another level. Beastie Boys also need to be in there obviously because they came from Punk Rock, but their humor and artistry was all their own, much respect to all these people and others too! These are just the ones I have the longest term relationships with to this day…I respect a bunch of others too. Rakim, Ice Cube, KRS-ONE, LL, the O.G.’s: Cold Crush Brothers, Busy Bee etc.
Do you still follow hip hop today? What is your view on it?
Only what I hear that people send me or I hear my son play. Some great stuff out there but not that much. I like some pop stuff, but I can’t stand anyone without a flow, i don’t care how great the lyrics may be, if they don’t come with a flow, I don’t fuck with it.
‘Ice-T is just one of the coolest storytellers and loyal guys in the game, he’s great on another level.’
What is your best hip hop band of all times?
No best “all times”, but Public Enemy’s ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions’ is the greatest Hip-Hop LP of all time hands down, Beasties ‘Check Your Head’ is also important to the genre and my taste… there are lots of others but those two full LP’s from front to back are dope, no fillers!
On a similar note, which skater did you like shooting and why?
Alva was great because he had phenomenal STYLE and was radical at the same time. Jay Adams was beyond radical and fun to shoot with, but so out of control it made it more difficult to get the goods, but obviously an all-timer.
Is there a skate shot you wish you had taken?
Lot’s that I missed over the years, not one in particular, but I also got some great stuff so no need to think too much on what I missed! (laughing)
What was your proudest moment as a photographer?
No thoughts on that. Doing the Liberty Street protest was my favorite as an artist.
Most embarrassing moment?
None in particular, just missing shots, seeing them happen in front of your eyes and not getting them.
You talked in the podcast that you do not take a lot of pictures anymore. What is your creative outlet today?
I don’t make photos as I used to when I was young because i am not as inspired, but I have made so much great work, now I get to catch up to it! For instance, I just finished making a Black Flag book, and 80% of it has never been published before, that is an incredible outlet for me, making books, shows, etc. And I still make photographs when I am inspired to do so, it’s just not that frequent.
Where would you be without photography?
Never thought about that. Probably a politician, or music producer maybe.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
I don’t need to interview anyone, professionals ask most of the questions, other than for the documentary I am working on, there are a few more people I am working on… I guess the person I want to make a portrait of would be closest thing to the answer you are looking for, and that would be Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, she’s incredible on several levels, I love her.
‘I still make photographs when I am inspired to do so, it’s just not that frequent.’