‘I will add though that the happiness I get from shooting skating now makes me wonder why I ever stopped in the first place.’
Assuming you started off skateboarding at what point did you move to photography and why?
I skated most of my teen years. When I moved to Daytona Beach, Florida to go to college for photography it was a natural progression for me to start photographing skating. Originally it was just a subject that interested me since I was skating a lot but then once I got to know some of the resident pros at Stone Edge like Rob Mertz, Monty Nolder and Tom Groholski not to mention a whole crew of ams including Brian Drake and Mike Frazier. I started trying to raise my level to do justice to what they were doing.
Is there one skateshot you wish you had taken?
I don’t know about “taken” but there are certainly shots I wished I hadn’t missed. Very early in my career, around 1989, I was able to get on the deck for a NSA pro vert contest in my hometown of St. Petersburg. All the greats of the time were there but I was so new I totally blew most of the shots. Of course since it was the era of film I didn’t know how bad it was until a couple days later. Early lesson learned for sure. Thankfully I wasn’t shooting for anyone but me at the time.
Proudest moment as a photographer?
I have a few that jump out at me. The most recent was skate-related as I got a cover of a magazine (Coping Block) after only a few months back shooting skating. Non-skate related, it was getting one of the first Allen Iverson national covers during his rookie NBA season for Basketball Weekly. Also, while it wasn’t quite a “moment”, getting to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia to shoot for Team USA as they competed in a huge martial arts tournament was a highlight for sure!
Hmmmmm, I don’t get embarrassed too easily but I guess I would say it was when I split my pants from crotch to butt during formals at a wedding on the beach. Nothing a quick couple of black cloth napkins from the reception couldn’t cover up though. I became a quick expert in how to form a loincloth.
‘The sort of last straw that hooked me back into shooting skating was witnessing Reef Orlando, a 16 year old Florida ripper riding for Lake Skateboards.’
What is your take on skateshots that have not been landed?
I know it’s a touchy subject. I’ve had this conversation with a lot of skaters and photographers over the years. I guess I would say that so long as it’s not an obvious bail AND they made it during that session AND you also have the make, it’s not the worst thing in the world to “forget” which is which, especially if there is something photographically better about a shot you aren’t sure is a make. That said, I know skaters can also be as opinionated about this, or more so than photographers, so I tend to try to honor their feelings whenever I can. This whole idea of makes and misses in still photos is one of the motivating factors in why I have incorporated video with my still photography posts on Instagram these days. Though shooting video is something I actually don’t love, I’ve sorted a way to do it without much fuss and it does lend some validity to both the fact that a trick was made/the timing of the still shot.
Is there any post-production you do? If so, how far do you go?
Yes. I don’t shy away from post production. I do feel it’s super important to get it right in the camera. Having shot film for many years (35mm, medium format and 4×5), I know how to do that but I also enjoy tweaking things in post if the mood strikes me.
On your IG account and website it says that you ‘shot skating 30 yrs ago and started again in 2020’. First question: Why did you stop?
That’s such a good question and one I am not sure I know the answer to but I’ll give it a try; I guess it was because I moved away from Stone Edge Skate Park and most of my skater friends. Around that time I also stopped skating myself when a broken arm took me out for a few weeks. That was when I started shooting more fashion and then got big into photographing martial arts, the NBA and eventually weddings & portraits which I still do to this day. As I suspected, this was not a great answer but the best I have at the moment. I will add though that the happiness I get from shooting skating now makes me wonder why I ever stopped in the first place.
‘That’s such a good question and one I am not sure I know the answer to but I’ll give it a try.’
Second question: What made you shoot skate again?
That’s a much easier question to answer. I got a call from a friend and fellow skate photographer Rich Boswell asking me to go shoot a local contest with him. We have been friends for a long time but really hadn’t hung out over the past several years so I decided, why not? That’s the specific reason I ended up shooting skating again but the rest of the story is why I kept shooting skating and don’t plan to stop. That is 100% due to the bowl riding of Gavin & Cole Liller. Two kids from a town about an hour from me who tore up the bowl at the contest I was shooting. They instantly clued me into what kids had been up to since I had been away for nearly 30 years. These kids were doing things that I only remember pros doing back in the day and they were SO young. It was incredible. Not long after that I went to Ocala, Florida and photographed Mike Frazier who was still ripping nearly as hard as he was in the early 90’s when I last shot with him. The sort of last straw that hooked me back into shooting skating was witnessing Reef Orlando, a 16 year old Florida ripper riding for Lake Skateboards. He blew my mind with what he could do on a vert ramp. So smooth and effortless. I suppose like the beginning of my career all those years ago, I was and am blessed by being around VERY talented people. In the early days it was Rob Mertz, Monty Nolder, Mike Frazier, Brian Drake, Tom Groholski, Adam Luxford and many others I’m not remembering. These days I get to photograph some of those same guys ripping up ramps & parks near me which is as incredible to witness as seeing the young guys doing their thing.
From when you first shot skating to today, what has changed?
I think a lot of changes happened while I was gone and then kinda changed back a bit. I hear that vert died while I was gone but it seems really alive to me. There are such great young vert skaters like Gavin and Reef now that are pushing things so far beyond what my mind can process. It makes it super fun to shoot. A perfect example of that is Spanish ripper and Olympian, Jaime Mateu who so much reminds me of the agro style of a lot of older skaters. Getting to shoot with him for Embassy Skateboards & Speedlab Wheels over the course of a few weeks, culminating in his trip to Tampa Pro really proved to me that skating, as I knew it, was alive and well. Though I have had opportunities to shoot street recently, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about it until the 2021 Tampa AM and specifically witnessing the incredible young Japanese skater Ginwoo do his thing. This 11 year old kid did things on a street course I thought you could only do in video games and he did it at will, with incredible consistency. This was contrary to the image I had of street skating as endless attempts to do the impossible 100 ft handrail just to get the one clip of the make for YouTube. So I would say that in my mind, things are just all good right now from where I am sitting.
You recently commented on the fictional job ad we published in Vol14 from a photographer that is looking for free services as she/he has being asked to provide his/her services for free too.
The only thing that ad gets wrong is that everybody that wants you to shoot for free swears that by doing so you’ll make tons of money from everybody else who wants you to shoot. I don’t know if that applies to magazines, especially independents. In the history of the universe, editorial has never really paid much even at the highest levels. It truly is the one place where if you do this for free or a very reduced price paying work will come on the back of it, usually in the form of shooting ads or working directly with companies. These days if you aren’t a printed magazine, you really could have a situation where nobody involved is really making much if any money, nor is much being spent to produce each issue so then it’s just up to the individual if they want to donate their time/effort. The problem us photographers have had forever with print publications is that often the graphic designer, printer, owner, and everyone else gets paid while we were being asked to shoot for free.
‘The problem us photographers have had forever with print publications is that often the graphic designer, printer, owner, and everyone else gets paid while we were being asked to shoot for free.’
Mike Frazier • Madonna • 1990
Mike Frazier • Madonna • 2022
Not sure why the lack of recognition exists. Is it because people are familiar with taking photos?
They treat it as commodity and do not appreciate the art, craft and investment that come with it? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a lack of recognition. I think we get recognition all the time. It’s lack of compensation that has always been the big problem because even though photography is “fun” it’s also expensive and to deliver professional, consistent results takes a lot of experience. As much as it’s SUPER difficult to make any sort of living shooting skating due to the basic state of the industry (with some very notable exceptions) some of it is us photographers own fault. Like so many other things that are in some way “art”, you will always have a certain segment of the practitioners of it thinking the only pure way of doing it is if money isn’t involved.That means some great photographers freely and purposely choose not to charge for what they do to keep it pure. Then you have another percentage of people who know it’s worth something but don’t NEED to charge (much) for it, e.g. someone who has a day-job and just shoots skating for fun. I actually think those two above things go hand-in-hand a lot of the time. Then you obviously have the shooters just starting out who either don’t know the value of what they produce or shoot for free to get their foot in doors… or are building content for social media which is a whole other conversation. Personally I don’t see anything wrong with any of the above but it does make it hard to come at skate photography from a purely business point of view when there are great shooters out there not doing that in any traditional sense.
Speaking for myself only, I make a good amount of money as a professional wedding & portrait photographer so I know the value of what I do but I also have long experience in dealing with “niche” sports like martial arts and skating where the money is hard to come by. I just choose carefully the battles I want to fight in terms of money based on many years of experience with how difficult that fight can be at times. At the end of the day, photographers, like most other people, just don’t want to feel taken advantage of. As for photography of all kinds being treated as a commodity, I think a lot of it has to do with the very valid point that for a lot of types of shots, a phone in the hands of someone fairly good at taking phone pics… is perfectly fine. That’s why I prefer to light nearly everything I shoot… differentiated.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
That’s a rough one. I guess because I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and sometimes interview some of my heroes in life, it’s hard to think of someone to interview. I struggled with this for a while and in the end, I’ll just pass on this rather than throw out something to make me sound contemplative like the Dalai Lama or something 🙂 Actually I guess if I had to throw a random name out there it would be Gregory David Roberts if only to try to sort out which part of his book Shantaram (one of my all time favs) were true.