Jelle & Arto interview

interview with Jelle Keppens & Arto Saari

Carrying on with our Volcom ‘Holy Stokes!’ interview series, we sat down last week before the premiere with Arto Saari and Jelle Keppens – the two photographers behind the Volcom photo exhibition which you can currently see on display at Parlour Skateshop.  We spent some time marvelling over the amount of strip clubs in Hackney then, over cups of jetlag cut with strong coffee, we got up to speed with Holy Stokes, shooting photos of naked pregnant women and finding snakes under pool drain covers amongst other things…

We’re here at your guy’s photo exhibition which precedes the premiere of Volcom’s Holy Stokes! video. How did doing the idea of doing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ exhibition come about?

Jelle: Well we didn’t actually spark that idea…

Arto: Throughout the whole process there was all sorts of talk of doing shows or doing different things. Time kind of caught us short and this is probably one of the only ones that we’re actually doing due to time constraints, everyone’s schedule and everything. But it’s always nice to have something physical to support the bigger project. Some of the photos are tricks, some are behind the scenes and some are lifestyle – so it’s mix and match, to get a better idea of the process of making the film.

How did both your roles at Volcom – Jelle as a staff photographer and Arto as a brand ambassador/photographer – come about, and when?

A: You were born there right?

J: Born and raised! There’s different parents now though…I’ve had a couple of different parents. But yeah, I just rolled into it.

A: Yeah, you’ve been there forever! I just fell into it a couple of years ago. I was actually working for a different clothing company at the time – or riding, whatever you want to say I do for stuff – and I was going to a signing at the tradeshow. I couldn’t find the booth, and I ended up shooting the shit with the Strattons in front of the Volcom booth. All these people kept coming by, all the riders, and I started thinking “Why am I doing the signing over there, when all my bros are over here?” I was like, “What are you guys doing? I think you need a photographer.” They were like “Do we? I don’t know…” so I said they had Jelle in Europe, they could use someone to support the scene over in America.

J: Another Euro…

A: Another Euro! So the conversation started from there. Then pretty soon after I got involved, the movie project started.

Jelle points to Harry – covers baby!

And now you guys are a couple of premieres deep right? Did anyone’s skating particularly surprise you once the project got started? Or at the premieres, people who you didn’t really shoot photos with whose clips stood out?

J: The part that blew me away was definitely Louie’s part.

A: The part that blew me away was Louie too, it’s one of the best parts. He definitely filmed a lot more shit where I wasn’t on the trips.

J: Me either – it was like whoa, he’s been working hard.

A: He’s fucking ripping. It’s safe to say that he’s started the path on his way to SOTY. He’s a heavy contender for sure…

J: But he needs to back it with a cover…

A: Well there’s time! It’s only half a year now, we’re only six months deep. He’s still got time, he’s young, he can film a full part for Thrasher, do the whole fucking thing…I mean Louie is the dog’s bollocks.

Do you both shoot many photos on subjects outside of skateboarding? Jelle I know you work on Collectif Magazine, which does a lot of lifestyle stuff as well as covering skateboarding right?

J: For me, I mostly shoot the skateboarding stuff and don’t shoot the other stuff [laughs]. I do some professional stuff to pay the bills, but I’m more stoked on my skateboarding photos. I mean professional photos are boring!

So is there no favourite non-skate subjects to shoot, for either of you?

A: Well I like shooting people and shooting portraits…girls, shooting pretty girls is always a great time.

J: Yeah, definitely girls.

A: I’ve started to dip into the fashion world and do little projects here and there, but I’m pretty heavily rooted in skateboarding so that still takes up a lot of my time. On a personal side of things for photography I like shooting landscapes, portraits, and obviously skateboarding. Those are the things I like to do for personal projects, even though I haven’t really shot a landscape for years.

J: I honestly don’t really care about much else, besides skateboarding [laughs].

A: You don’t care about anything else?

J: It doesn’t turn me on, I don’t know…

A: I saw a club on the corner over there that will turn you on [laughs].


Arto maxin & relaxin at the recent Holy Stokes London premiere

So who influenced you both to pick up photography and continues to influence you?

J: My mum. She always used to shoot photos, so my first camera was one I got from my mum.

A: Really? That’s rad!

J: She pushed me on it, and that’s what got me going. But I don’t really have any heroes in photography to be honest.

A: Other than your mum.

J: Well she got me into it…but she wasn’t that good at shooting photos [laughs].

A: But she’s still a hero! For sure she would be, she got you started on the whole thing, and that’s a pretty big move.

J: True…

A: Oh you know what I’ve shot a lot of in the past few months? Pregnant nudes… It’s weird, don’t ask me how I got into it but that’s what I’ve been shooting.

Maybe we can find some niche strip clubs while we’re here…

A: I’m talking like seven months pregnant [here Arto ducks out of the conversation to scroll through his phone and find evidence].

Like with video, being shot on 4K, there’s a new level of importance and stances on the use of high quality digital camera, lenses and evolving lighting equipment placed on photography, especially within skateboarding at the moment. Do you feel you need to keep up with getting the newest equipment, or prefer to experiment with different old and new technologies?

J: I like experimenting.

A: We’re experimenting?

J: When? Tonight? [laughs]. No, I like to mess around in a darkroom. My digital camera is just the Canon 7d, but it’s good enough you know? Magazines aren’t going bigger than they are right now, and I’m not really fanning out on new equipment. This guy though…[points at Arto, who is now deep in his phone]. Arto…

A: What’s up?

J: You’re not paying attention!

A: Sorry, I was looking for a pregnant nude photo. Look, here’s one! It’s not the one I was looking for, but…

J: What did you even use that for?

A: I just shot it for her personal collection. It’s not actually nude this one, but very pregnant. There’s a whole niche out there, though unfortunately it doesn’t pay any bills. Anyway sorry, what was the question? I got stuck on the pregnant nudes…

J: We’re talking about camera equipment!

Basically about how cameras are becoming more high tech each year. Do you like to experiment with older formats, or have to have the newest equipment?

A: Well I like to shoot with everything. I feel like photography you have a little bit more leeway with doing weird stuff, know what I mean? Movies you might want to keep a little cleaner, but you could go and get a lens, smash it up, balance it on some weird camera and get an out of focus art photo and it will look sick. But shooting a whole movie through a broken lens might get a little bit much! I feel like you can have a little bit more freedom with experimenting with weird stuff in photography, which is fun. Old stuff, new stuff, you know. For commercial work it’s nice to have the newest of the new, but I think even old digital cameras are pretty good these days – you could get by for years to come.

How do you feel how the internet and Instagram has changed the role of the skate photographer, and of skateboarding print media as a whole?

J: I think that’s a big problem, especially because companies use Instagram as one of their big marketing tools. I think it’s fucked up that companies regram photos without even asking or being willing to pay for it, and when you don’t even have anything to do with the company at that. Back in the day you would submit your lo-res photos, if they liked it they’d ask for your hi-res photos, and you knew that if you’d taken a decent photo you were getting paid for it. Nowadays? “Screenshot, boom, thank you.”

A Wild West scenario…do you have any thoughts of where it will go from here in the next few years? A resurgence in print perhaps?

J: To be honest, I have no clue! I think print will survive in an underground scene.

A: It’s definitely nice to read a magazine in print, I don’t want to read a magazine on my iPad. I like reading books, I like reading print, I like photos in print.

J: You still check websites once in a while?

A: Occasionally, I’ll look at Thrasher…I’ll get out of bed, have my coffee and have a poke around on the web, but then go about my day. I don’t sit there looking at stuff, but I glance at it. When it comes to photobooks and stuff, it’s nice to have printed matter – which makes me super-hyped that they did this show and this stuff got printed and hung on the walls. It’s rad to see that.

Looking over the past 5 decades of skateboarding, which other key times other than right now would you loved to have documented?

A: What key times? Some of the early California, Venice, Dogtown, Alva days…the old California would be nice to see, go back into the 1960s, 1970s and poke your head around that.

J: The vert ramp days for me – Hosoi…

A: Definitely Hosoi, the 80s. Late 70s to late 80s. Up until about 1988, then it all went to shit. That’s the era I started, around 1991…

J: That’s when it went to shit, when he started [laughs].

A: That’s right, it went to shit when I started! Small wheels, pressure flips, just terrible. Vert is dead, no more big airs – I’m off to wax the curb and do a bigspin skid on it. I mean there were a couple of guys still killing it…

J: Don’t you wax your pool coping?

A: Wax it? No you don’t, you put a layer of lacquer to give it a little bit of movement.

Finally, what’s the worst thing either of you have ever accidentally knelt or lay in whilst shooting photos?

A: The worst thing? I’ve definitely been on some piss-filled alleys. The LA River, you never know what sort of surprises you’ll have down there.

J: Just on this trip, I was cleaning a pool with a blower, getting the leaves up. It blew off the drain cover, and there was a snake in there, a king snake.

A: A live one?

J: A live one – a big one too. Thank god I didn’t just leave the drain cover off! I didn’t lay in it, but it was sketchy enough!

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