Chasing not only spots
If people do not have an idea about the weather in Finland, tell us how many months of the year you are able to skate outdoors in the main capital Helsinki?
KEKE: Normally it’s about 6-7 months if one dares a bit of cold weather, but it seems like it might be getting longer as a result of global warming.
What is the skateboard community like in Finland from a local’s perspective?
KEKE: The best and welcoming yet quite small if one compares to other activities like football for example. Caring & supportive, friends take care of each other and nobody is left behind. People know how to have fun! Keep skateboarding fun.
Which Finnish skaters are making a name for themselves at the moment?
KEKE: This is a difficult one, since there are so many. Which is great, of course! Let me see; Jaakko Ojanen, Eniz Fazliov, Eetu Toropainen, Tommi Björk, Olli Lilja, Joel Juuso, Onni Saltevo, Weskinen, Briston Basola, Ville Nyström, Heini Luotola, Kukka Suvioja, Riikka Karmala, Oona Solehmainen and Lizzie of course as a “Finnish newcomer” – just to mention a few.
When did you start skating and why?
KEKE: 1985, my cousin Juha got a narrow black “penny board” style board with red wheels from his parents (they bought it from the Canary Islands) and we went and tried it on a school yard. I instantly fell in love with it and wanted my own – and got an orange one. It was just so much fun and a lot of challenge as well since it took many tries to get anything done – but that’s probably the thing that got me hooked. After this we started to find all that, we could related to skateboarding, like Thrashin’ movie ‘Back to the future’, ‘The Search for Animal Chin’, ‘Public Domain’, ‘Video days’.
‘Before I knew it, we started a print magazine called One Love Skateboard magazine to showcase skaters nationally and in the Nordics. From there it just evolved.’
At what point did you transition into photography?
KEKE: As a teenager, I took on photography as a hobby, learning to use a dark room and all that old school stuff. As a result, combining my two passions was only natural, but it took a while before I got started for real. I shot a few skate shots when I was 15 or so, but after that I used my photo skills mostly on other things. I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, for 11 years. The skateboard scene there is awesome, so I spent a lot of time skateboarding at the legendary Fælledparken skatepark with friends. I got injured and had to take a pause from skateboarding. During the recovery and rehabilitation, I picked up my camera and started to shoot the kids and friends at the skatepark. First, I just wanted to give them good memories and push them on social media. Before I knew it, we started a print magazine called One Love Skateboard magazine to showcase skaters nationally and in the Nordics. From there it just evolved. Today, I’m stoked and honoured to be working full time with photography….
Is there any post-production you do? If so, how far do you go?
KEKE: For skateboard photography the post production is minimal. This means that I basically don’t do anything to the pictures that you couldn’t do in a darkroom (except one frame sequences, of course) – I was lucky enough to have access to a darkroom in my highschool years back in the 90’s where I learned the basics. That has been a good background even if everything nowadays happens digitally. You could say that I do documentary style, which means no removal of objects etc. For advertisement & commercial work (other than skateboard photography) it is different, of course.
What is the proudest moment as a photographer?
KEKE: Putting the smile on customers’ faces and seeing them stoked on the photos I have taken with my style. As a skate photographer, I come to think of a photo of Sam Beckett doing a kickflip Andrecht to fakie in CPH. I took a nice still shot of this NBD trick back in 2015. As you can imagine, I sent it to Thrasher Michael Burnett and he was stoked about it, and he asked if I had a sequence. Unfortunately, the answer was no…! I was so bummed about the fact that I hadn’t shot the sequence: it would have been my first photo in Thrasher. Dwindle Distribution printed the still shot and used it in ads globally, though, so it was not all bad. (https://issuu.com/dwindledistribution/docs/
2016_d2_spring_dwindle/8) And I think this was my first ever printed skate photo outside of One Love Skatemag at the time. Another big moment was getting the cover of Creature Skateboards 2017 catalog with Kevin Baekkel fs air at #BronDIY, Copenhagen. But at the end of the day, I am just so proud of
all the skaters, young and old, who put their energy and creativity in skateboarding while having the most fun. So, in a sense I would say that I am proud of every single skateboard shot I have ever taken. I love taking good pictures, but I also love the fact that I can be pushing the skaters with my art.
KEKE: hmm… I try to live my life not taking things too seriously. But I come to think of this one time, it was a few years ago at the HELride Deathrace event in Suvilahti DIY, Helsinki. I was shooting at the spot where the deathracers passed… sooo one of the guys (it happened to be my friend Bjørn Lillesøe) bumped into me as he was leading the finals run and then Alex Halford won… BUT since I disturbed the race they did a re-run and this time Bjørn won – haha. So kinda embarrassing but not so serious at the end.
What is your personal view why Lizzie has made the decision for Finland rather than the US where she grew up? As with everything it did create some noise.
KEKE: I cannot really speak for her or anyone – you would need to ask her. The only thing I can mention is to search for her public interview statements – here one from Lizzie:“Because of the quotas set in place through the Olympics, the system won’t necessarily allow the best skateboarding to be shown, because each country will only get to send three skaters for each event. Skateboarding has never been about where you’re from or what country you’re skating for, so I just felt like going with Finland was the right choice for me and also for the other skaters, just to open up one more spot for a deserving skateboarder to get to go so we can show the best skateboarding possible when it does debut in Tokyo.” – Source (Q&A: Lizzie Armanto on Representing for Women, Finland, and Skateboarding (dewtour.com).
Last May you attended the Dew Tour Olympic Qualifications in Iowa. What is your personal reflection of the contest?
KEKE: It was ok. I loved the way skaters protested against unfair judging of Tom Shaar and comments on that from Pedro Barros – it was a good reminder on what skateboarding is all about. Otherwise, it was really nice to see many friends I hadn’t met since covid started. They had good strict covid rules, but it was nice they let local people in the audience. I’m really bummed for some of the skaters though, that the organizers did not show the pre-qualification contest on live stream (as family and friends were not allowed to attend). I do not think you can find those on demand even, and that sucks.
I have done some research and came across your exhibition ‘Urban Meltdown’. What do you want to achieve with it?
KEKE: Well, I hope to get as much exposure for the fun and beauty of skateboarding, also among the non-skaters; to show them the best of skateboarding. One major aspect is also the fact that urban culture often is stepped upon and shoved away when something more “important” or feasible comes along. This is the case for example with Suvilahti DIY which is in danger of being torn down in 2022.
On your website it says that ‘Urban Meltdown’ makes ‘references to climate change’. How to embed this topic into your skateboard photography?
KEKE: There are actually many references. If you start from scratch, it’s a climate choice to use the skateboard instead of a car to get somewhere. Another thing is that you don’t necessarily need to build anything new in order to facilitate skateboarding; you can use the existing urban environment and also make use of old, abandoned surroundings, like in the case of old swimming pools or the Suvilahti DIY I just mentioned. In the exhibition you can also see some pictures from Suvilahti where the park has been painted with climate related themes.
‘As you can imagine, I sent it to Thrasher Michael Burnett and he was stoked about it, and he asked if I had a sequence. Unfortunately, the answer was no…!’
You mentioned earlier that you co-founded the skate mag ‘One Love’. Apparently you guys do prints only which is very remarkable in today’s world. Are you able to offset your costs entirely by advertising?
KEKE: For the 1st issue the answer is no. For the later issues we have managed to cover the printing costs with advertising, mainly thanks to the possibility to print in Poland and special thanks to all supporters! So, the economic activity is not big but luckily enough we’re not in it for the money – it’s all about the love for skateboarding.
Let’s talk about “Chasing the Spot” which is an unbelievable story, showcasing the essence of skateboarding. Can you give us a quick summary on what is going on?
KEKE: Well it’s kind of a long story. So I highly recommend you read the article on https://skateboarding.transwo ld.net/news/finlands finntastic-response-to-world-skate/ But as they write in the article, “The Finnish Skateboarding Association found a clever way to repel the roller derby junta’s invasion of their country’s skate scene.” So basically, Chasing The Spot enables the Finnish Skateboard Association to go and compete.The project is about chasing the spot at the Tokyo Olympics in a true skateboarding spirit. In short, the idea was to enable the first ever Finnish National Team and to have as many skaters as possible getting their feet wet in the international contests. At the end there were 19 skaters in total. Another goal was to create positive skateboarding exposure for the masses – which also worked out thanks to all sponsors Gigantti, Marimekko, Are, FCG, Tiketti, Finnkino, Canon, SSB, MTV3, JedX Medcare, Tapaus, Pablo Films and NordDDB. Finally, the aim was of course to get skaters to Tokyo and make them successful. And now, Lizzie is in.
‘The project is about chasing the spot at the Tokyo Olympics in a true skateboarding spirit.’
You sure have plenty of projects to keep you busy but how are you able to make a living from all of this?
KEKE: I love doing what I love. Good question; I’m not able to make a living from only shooting skateboarding. I used to work as an IT-expert for Ericsson for 21 years and only last November I resigned and switched to full time photography. I do all kinds of photo shoots, mainly business to business, but of course it would be fun if a bigger part of my paid work was related to skateboarding.
I envy you for your bold move. Giving up a secure job with a family to follow your dreams. What do you want to do going forward?
KEKE: Oh man, where do I start! First and foremost, I want to learn more. The exciting thing about my work is that you can always become better and you can always come up with something new. My head is full of ideas for skateboard photography, but I am also looking forward to new challenges with other photo work, too. For each project, I want to do my best and make the customer happy, no matter what the job is. On the side, I am working on new exhibitions. Doing photo art is really inspiring since I get to choose what I exhibit and how – letting the creativity flow. Just wait for the invite to my upcoming exhibition opening: if the pandemic lets us get back to normal, you’d better get ready for a crazy ass spectacle!