Interview with skateboard mag archivist Neil Macdonald of @scienceversuslife - Sidewalk Skateboarding

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Interview with skateboard mag archivist Neil Macdonald of @scienceversuslife

Science versus Life and the urge to archive pre-Internet skateboarding history

Interview conducted by Walker Murdoch (with assistance from various people).
Portrait and magazine collection photos by Graham Tait.

It’s highly probable that you’ve come across the archiving work of Neil Macdonald AKA @scienceversuslife during your routine injection of Instagram, whether you’re aware of it or not. He’s the guy scanning long-forgotten skate photos from the pre-Internet era and posting them, (with an admirable attention to detail I might add), on a daily basis.
As the digital world slowly consumes everything, people like Neil have taken all the truths about the throwaway and disposable nature of online culture and turned them on their head, by using those very same digital tools to breathe new life into the otherwise neglected and lost photographic artifacts of an era of skateboarding dominated entirely by paper magazines.
Neil is by no means the only person doing this, nor does he make any such claims, but, he is one of the first people to concentrate on the photographic output of UK-based skate mags and since he’s also a good friend of ours, we thought it would be interesting to discuss some of this issues surrounding this process.

At one point in time, skateboard magazines acted as the benign dictators of global skateboard culture with decisions as to who made it into print conducted exclusively by small groups of enthusiasts crowded around light boxes peering at photos through loupes.
Since the advent of high speed Internet however, and its associated platforms on Social Media, the importance and power of the culturally-embedded curator has waned, and the chaotic democracy enabled by the likes of Instagram has taken over, allowing everyone and anyone to self-publish without the need for intermediaries.
Whether this development is ultimately positive or negative for culture as a whole, (not just for skateboarding) is a matter far too vast to be touched on here so instead, here’s an attempt to show the inner workings of somebody so in love with their own subculture that they decided to embark on an archiving project purely for the love of it.

Additionally, we asked Neil to give us some of his own favourite skate photos and to explain what it is that makes them significant to him – you can find these scattered throughout the interview.

So you’ve said before that ‘Science versus Life’ is a lyric from a Buck 65 track called 15 Minutes To Live. It’s quite an insightful song, where he talks a lot about himself and the things he likes and grew up with, and you came to know it from a Viewfinder video. In a previous interview you mention another lyric from it, “I’m not a pack rat, I’m an archivist”, as being appropriate, and I really get that. But what made you want to start sharing your magazine collection, first on Tumblr and then on Insta?

When I was clearing out my mum’s house, basically. I’d taken a load of mags with me when I moved out to go off and be an adult, but I still bought every mag anyway, so seeing them all together, eventually… It was quite a lot. There weren’t really many missing from when I started skating up until then, and it seemed mad that they were just all in boxes doing nothing. When people come over they’ll go through the boxes but it’s not like I can have magazine-reading parties, you know? Invite some people over and get the beers and magazines out…

We used to do that all the time!

Well yeah, like when you’re a kid and somebody got a new US mag everybody would want to see it.

Before the owner butchered it and stuck it on their wall.

Yeah, of course! But yeah, Chromeball was getting properly big, and it’s so rad what Eric does with that — I mean he’s got such a great level of knowledge, and obviously most magazines, and he gets the interviews and does an amazing job of those too—but there wasn’t really anybody posting UK scans. Tim Leighton-Boyce had started the When We Was Rad site, for scans of R.a.D, but he’s super busy and it didn’t really get the attention it needed. It seemed to be fairly random posts too, rather than maybe ‘highlights’, but I think Tim was into SEO stuff by then, so that’s a full-time, full-on career. When I first started posting scans I’d decided it should just be British stuff, but that changed because there was too much good stuff not getting an airing from other magazines.

Sometimes when I talk to you I can tell you’re annoyed that some more underground rippers never got the exposure they deserved. Do you think there were a lot of people overlooked, or under-represented? Did you want to have a platform to give these guys props?

I don’t really have a platform any different to anybody else, it’s more that I’ve got the material here to do it, and I feel like since I can, then I should. Whether it was Curtis McCann, or some unknown from a village you’ve never heard of, there was so much amazing UK coverage out there. Curtis McCann’s SkyPager part looks like what dudes in London are doing now, you know? It’s amazing. The way he skated, how he dressed and how little of a fuck he seemed to give about the industry are all amazing, and really seemed to open a new door. The London article in the first issue of 411, you know? He was definitely better on Underworld Element instead of Powell. It’s not like Curtis is unknown though, and likewise Andy Scott, but because he didn’t move to the States with the rest of Flip (Ed – Andy did move to the US but moved back to the UK as Flip was blowing up) there will be a lot of people who haven’t seen all these rad Andy Scott photos from Bolton or wherever, and when you’ve got people like Wig Worland, Tim Leighton-Boyce or Andy Horsley shooting these photos, they just have to be seen. People who don’t skate can appreciate how good it looks. Not to even compare the two, or to say that UK stuff is necessarily better, but when you know the spots, and how rough the ground is, or the actual height of a handrail, or even just when you think how much it rains here, there are definitely other things to appreciate about a good UK street photo. And from a magazine’s point of view, the text for an interview could be finished six months before the photos get done because of the shitty weather. It’s hard.

1978, R.a.D. Jeremy Henderson at Harrow, by TLB.

I’m pretty sure this is one of the first ever documented ollies. It’s just more than an edger, and if TLB is calling it an ollie, then it was an ollie. Jeremy Henderson was a big name in the UK skate scene of the 1970’s and moved between his native NYC and the UK a lot during that period before moving permanently back to New York in the 1980’s where he was involved in started Shut Skateboards, and then Zoo York, as well as playing a huge role in shaping what East Coast skating became. So did another Englishman I guess, with James Jebbia going over there and starting Supreme. MF Doom too actually, he moved from England to New York. But yeah, here’s proof that Jeremy Henderson has always been killing it.

Illustration: Andy Smoke

Do you think that’s why UK content is really diverse? Like you’d have Pete Dossett doing a Madonna on a vert ramp, and then the next photo would be some unknown doing a slappy on a kerb.

That’s it man. TLB with R.a.D and Steve Kane with Skateboard! – those guys would gladly run a six-page article about a Sunday afternoon session in a supermarket car park. And that was rad, because that’s what we were skating too. Maybe things would get fancy and somebody would lean a door up on some bricks, but that was generally it, so it was genuinely great to see it happening in places you’d never even heard of. Like Croydon, or Botley. It was just as good seeing somebody you’d never heard of doing a one-foot tailgrab over a puddle and some broken glass as it was to see Ed Templeton do one at Huntington Beach.

You can relate to it. Like seeing Alex Moul skate in Hi-Tecs, because that was what you had to do. But Palace have brought that all up to date too, with the, “We don’t skate in the sunshine, and the streets are rough” stuff.

Look at what they’ve done, man. Kids in all these sunny places all over the world now want to dress like roadmen from Hackney because of a London skateboard company done by some mates. And that’s better than just blindly buying Asphalt Yacht Club gear or whatever. Rip n’ Dip, all that garbage… But yeah, the people in US mags were usually all pros, or at least the ‘right’ people, unless it was specifically an article about unknowns, whereas in the UK it didn’t seem to matter if the skater was even sponsored as long as the trick looked good.

I know in a lot of your posts you’ve had to stitch two parts of a photo together…

Not me, that’s Ciaran O’Connor who does that. I email the two halves to him and it comes back as one. He’s rad. Big shout to Ciaran for doing this!

OK, Cool. Well with that, I know you take captions out too.

I usually just want to show the photo the way it was shot rather than the way it was laid out, if possible. In the early ’90s R.a.D had some pretty horrendous — actually not horrendous, ‘adventurous’, graphic design going on. It was these really rave-y layouts, and whether ravers sucked or not, it was definitely of the time. It was zeitgeist-y, and it was what was going on culturally at the time outside skateboarding, and we were reading i-D and The Face anyway, so it didn’t seem that wild, even. It just seemed right, and it was appropriate that skateboarding was in amongst that other stuff; it was new ‘youth movements’ all the time.

And there was the video, Ravers.

The Birdhouse video? Yeah, but I think rave in the States was pretty different to what we had. The Rhythm ‘Genesis’ video, a few years later, probably reflects that more. Our version was definitely the right version. But I guess if R.a.D has to sit on a shelf in John Menzies next to the other youth-culture stuff there was maybe an obligation to make it fit in with those. Bright colours and big bold type on the cover was pretty standard, but there were a lot of photos sacrificed at the altar of bizarre layout.
Dan Adams who runs the @readanddestroy account is doing an amazing job of posting those original photos now though. Without the day-glo. He posts so much good stuff; shots that never ran, covers without the text, alternate angles, everything he posts is so good to see. I mean the amazingness of an amazing photo hasn’t changed, when you strip away the off-the-time design elements.

At that time there was all this new software coming out too, which people must have just wanted to use. “How can we use this font somewhere? Let’s do some overlays!” and so on.

[Laughing] Yeah, definitely… To go back to what I was saying, I’ll always take out captions if they interfere with how the photo looks when it’s by itself. It’s not nearly so noticeable in the context of a full magazine. The text is just going to be a blur in most cases anyway, when it’s resized for Insta. And if it was a good caption it’s guaranteed somebody will remember, and quote it in the comments. I think I left them in when I had a Tumblr, but I use this kids’ drawing app to get rid of the text now. And Ciaran for those double page spreads.

A lot of the time I’ll see the skater or the photographer commenting that they’re stoked to see the photo get posted. Is the feedback always positive?

Pretty much. When I first started I reached out to TLB on Twitter, since that was the only place I could find him, just to ask if he’d mind me posting his photos. I can’t actually remember if he got back, but whatever happened, he didn’t tell me not to. He wasn’t backing it hard but he didn’t say not to. It’s not in my Twitter DMs so maybe he just didn’t reply. I guess he was busy and probably wouldn’t really look at it, so maybe he just didn’t care. He’s definitely around more nowadays though, and very much involved in the R.a.D book, so that’s good. But yeah, nobody’s ever asked for something to be taken down, I don’t think. Wig sent me a huge print of his photo of Tom Penny from the first issue of Sidewalk; that was really amazing. Sometimes people will want to correct the caption, like they’ll say it’s switch, or it isn’t actually switch…

…and sometimes they’re wrong.

Well, sometimes, yeah. It’s cool when it’s a shot of somebody unknown, and it’ll just be like, ‘Bob from Delaware’ or something, and then somebody will tag him in it, all like, “That’s my homie from way back!” and then you check out his Insta account and it’s some fat dude mowing his lawn or something, but this random suburban dude might have been out skating with the Shut team in 1991 or whatever. Maybe his kids skate now, but hopefully he’s just stoked to be reminded of that those days, and of the time when he had that one photo in a magazine. Or if he doesn’t care, he can at least appreciate that all these other people do. There are going to be a few dudes out there in their 40s and 50s who have no idea how the way they laced their shoes up or wore their hat in 1990 affected the fashion choices of a load of kids 5,000 miles away.

I remember wanting to break my arm so I could look like Salman Agah.

[Laughing] Exactly! It’s also rad when people who were there that day can contribute a bit of back story, a bit of the story that the photo doesn’t tell, whether it’s to do with the spot, the weather, lurkers, security or whatever else is going on outside the frame. Everybody seems to be into it though. It’s nice if the dude reposts it too; since his whole circle of friends might have had no idea he was tearing it up on a skateboard 30 years ago.

Filling in the blanks like that complements the photo. It’s not just a scan from a mag any more, you get more out of it when the folk involved can tell the story, and point out that it was done with an injury, or on someone else’s board, or that so-and-so was ripping much harder that day but didn’t get a photo…

Exactly man, that’s it. “That was first go”, or “That actually took ten thousand tries”, or “That was actually the make”, all that good stuff just makes it. Having somebody explain the location is rad too, since so many spots are no longer spots. They’re all gluten-free coffee shops or affordable luxury accommodation now.

1986, Thrasher. Gonz at the Oregon comp, by MoFo

Mark Gonzales boardsliding a section of train track or something, in the rain, with his hands on his head, at the Oregon comp in 1986. There’s somebody about to get onto the rail behind him, and there’s a board sitting exactly where he’d be riding away, so you can tell how hectic the jam is. People didn’t really know what to do in street comps then, so it was kind of just vert tricks on the street obstacles, but this was a contest where Mark really got noticed. Not that he couldn’t skate vert, but him and Neil Blender skating a handful of street comps in the mid-’80s really did change skateboarding. Did he kickturn off before the end, or jump onto the other board? Is he holding his head mid-slide because he’s sick of the rain or because he’s spotted the board? Is he exasperated with having to skate contests, and can he foresee the direction Vision is going to take? Does it matter? Playing up to the camera, not for the camera. He still got second place, behind Natas.

It was good how little advertisers dictated magazine content back then.

Totally. You’d have a centre-spread of somebody just wearing regular jeans, a band shirt and non-skate shoes. And he wasn’t wearing his sponsor’s gear because he didn’t have a sponsor. It was just a great photo. And then ten years later, Transworld were running ads for the Army, for four-wheel drive cars, for electronics, for hair-care products, all sorts of shit. But if you’re smart enough to ignore all that you can hopefully appreciate that those ads paid for a lot of photographers to travel to a lot of places. Then there’s energy drinks, but Pepsi had a skate team long before those so it’s not really new. Just don’t get a tattoo of the logo. Or drink it, for that matter.

Tony Hawk on Hot Wheels.

Andy Macdonald on Amazon. I remember a competition in R.a.D where you could win a Walkman, and it was sponsored by Tango, and I felt bad for this corporation that they’d got it so wrong in trying to sell their fizzy drink to people who bought skateboard magazines. That they’d tried to leech off skateboarding, and they just had no clue. But obviously they definitely did, whether you agree with it or not.

It’s not like mags could really turn down money.

Of course. And Tango ads will have funded TLB’s trips to all those provincial undercover car parks in winter and empty town centres on sunny summer Sundays. And plenty of extra film. Hopefully. Although that said, Nyjah wearing a Monster hat on the cover of Thrasher kind of sucks. I wonder how much he gets paid for that… I guess it must be worth his while to look stupid. I mean he does the absolutely gnarliest of handrails, but I think the energy drink hat and schoolboy shorts cancel it out a bit. It’s all well and good if people are getting slabs of these drinks sent to their house, but they were never required to actually even drink it, let alone wear the logo on their heads. It’s pretty well known that the branded energy drink containers everybody drinks at Street League just have water in them, right?

Monster match Nyjah’s Street League winnings every time he wins it. And I’m pretty sure Nike does the same. But going back to magazines, most people butchered their mags to stick them on the wall, or to make stickers, or to use the product pages for fingerboard graphics. How good were the product pages back then?

Look at any magazine from 1990 or 1991. You could probably reissue any of the boards there and people would want it. When street got big and boards started breaking more, and companies realised they didn’t need to run the same graphics again and again, things got so good. Who gives a shit if Coca Cola’s lawyers send you a Cease and Desist order when all the boards will be long sold out by the time it even arrives? Who cares if some shop is offended by your artwork, because some cool new shop are going to love it and order a ton of them? It’s like when you look back at those boards, every single one is rad today. Obviously Steve Rocco and his artists had a massive amount to do with that. Like when Neil Blender said, “It’s 1990 boys. Let’s get rid of the skeletons”, those dudes knew it. You could do gnarly stuff without literally having to put skulls and shit on boards.

There’s more skateboard nostalgia around now than ever and yet modern skateboard media disappears so quickly. Somebody will post the ender of their YouTube part as soon as it’s up, whereas in the past we had to wait forever for the video to come out and we’d watch it over and over. Things have become very disposable, so it’s cool you’re stoked on sharing the past.

It doesn’t really feel like it’s ‘the past’, it’s just a different part of skateboarding. Modern skateboarding couldn’t exist without what went before, so it feels like an old photo is just as relevant now as it was during whatever era it came from. All those parts go together to make skateboarding in 2018, and there are a lot of parts that people might have missed. Somebody doing a no-comply or a wallride in 1988, wearing Converse, Levi’s, a pink long sleeve t-shirt and a bucket hat is just as relevant now. It wouldn’t have been in the ’90s or the ’00s, but skateboarding finally seems to be the sum of its parts, and people can do whatever they like within it. Mostly, anyway…some stuff still sucks.

1988, R.a.D. Mike Vallely at Southbank, by TLB

Off the top of my head, this must have been the Public Domain tour. Mike’s was one of the more relatable parts in Public Domain, probably largely because he was in New Jersey where the weather was gloomy, he liked tearing down the street and he had bad skin. He never seemed to fit in with what Powell was doing at the time, and I don’t think I ever saw anybody skate his board. If you or your parents are spending an extra tenner on a Powell board, you were probably going to ask for a Tony Hawk board. It seemed like a weird contradiction, having Mike’s board for the same price as Tony Hawk’s, but any of his coverage was rad. I’d heard from a skateshop owner that he was a dick on this tour, but he was probably just having a bad day. Wearing a R.a.D t-shirt and tail-stalling a kerb stone on top of a Southbank bank made for a really good photo, and it ran in various sizes, and usually black and white, as a subscription ad for quite a while, understandably. In the colour one you can properly see how shit the dipped Powell boards looked after a couple of skates, and he always wore army trousers, which people like us could actually get. He seemed like one of the boys, kinda.

Old photos influenced people into wearing non-skate clothes too.

Definitely. There was the Simon Evans interview with his Filas, and everybody wanted those shoes after that, but it wasn’t a case of just ordering them, or walking into a shop to pick them up, because when shoes like those were around for cheap you didn’t really know what you were getting. Shelltoes, Gazelles, States and Clydes were around consistently for a while, for really cheap, but things like those Fila must have been regional or something… I remember our lot getting some cheap Fila, but just never those ones, and I’m sure the ones I got were two different sizes, but they were close enough to the ones Simon had. It didn’t matter that Gazelles only lasted a few days, they were only a fiver anyway so it meant you could just get different colours each time. Or the photos of John Cardiel on tour in the UK in a rugby shirt? Off to C&A we went for stripy rugby shirts. And that’s the buying habits of a bunch of young teenage boys being influenced by some dude we don’t know in a magazine from somewhere miles away, so it maybe hasn’t changed that much. Maybe Simon Evans was our A$AP Rocky. Although I guess things are a bit more refined now. Things don’t change so drastically from month to month these days.

How organised is your collection? Is it a mess under the bed or do you have a system?

It’s both! They take up a lot of room, and most of the spare room is mags. I mean, I’m getting rid of all my records to organise them properly; these are more important nowadays. Thrashers from about 1987 fit in polythene pockets, so they’re all in binders. The ones before that were a little too wide, and it went to having a spine in June 2000, but twelve issues fit nicely in a binder, so they’re organised by year and the ones after that are filed in shelves. January 2000 had a spine, then it went back to staples for six months, annoyingly…. That messes up the order. R.a.D changed shape a few times over the years. I’ve got all of those since the logo started appearing on the cover of BMX Action Bike but they need to stay in different places because of all the different shapes it was. Big Brother too, of course. It only went perfect bound at the start of ’99, so that lot has to be split. And issue two is in a box, with Skateboard Special, TWS Business, Homeboy and some other mags that ran tabloid-sized. Transworld is the same, it went from thin when it started to thick in the late ’80s, to thin in the early ’90s and to encyclopedia-like perfect-bound proportions around 1997, so they need to be in binders as well on shelves. Everything after 2004 is in boxes in the attic, since most of the highlights from those mags made it onto the Internet at the time anyway. With most publications, you could ask to see a mag and I can find it pretty quick.

Morgan Campbell told me that when he was over at your place, looking through the library, he noticed you had a few spreadsheets lying around…

Ha. Yeah. Just as I get more organised, it’s good to see what I have and what I still need. I’m missing quite a few of the first Transworlds, and I’m not holding out for issue one of Thrasher, so I doubt those will ever be complete sets. I was missing a later issue of Big Brother forever, so I wanted a note of which they were and it seemed perfectly sensible to do spreadsheets. Massive thanks to Rich from Darlo for hooking me up with that issue; it was from 2002 or something, when nobody cared about it, so I’m so stoked to have got that last one. I don’t know how I missed it at the time but he sorted me out. Also Freshkid, he helped out with something I needed. Thank you too, man.

1990, RAD. Simon Evans pushing at Shell by TLB

Four wheels on the ground, and just looks like any great UK Sunday back then. It’s such a cool looking photo. Everywhere being shut, and it seemed like it was a lot sunnier then too. Simon, in his New Deal longsleeve, probably coming back from buying those two cans from the machine in the foyer of a building that only has a security guard in it. Those machines offered the only sustenance for miles around sometimes, until Sunday Trading laws changed. Although Shell might not have been affected by them anyway I guess. But these deserted, sprawling, Sunday utopias bred a lot of great skateboarders and TLB documented an amazing amount of it. Sundays were rad for traveling to another town too, because you knew it’d be closed and if anybody was around, they were probably skateboarding. There are just so many incredible TLB photos throughout the years—and so many incredible Simon photos—but I’m still picking this fairly straightforward photo of his because it sums up so much about that time without there even needing to be a trick in it. And Simon wrote the accompanying piece too, all about looking forward to getting out of school/work and skating. He wrote some amazing stuff for RAD, him and Gavin Hills.

I’ve got some guest questions from some people who follow you now…

Some ‘guestions’?

…and Robert Brink went deep: “We seem to be in the midst of the biggest wave of skateboard nostalgia that the industry’s ever seen, including tricks, photos, footage, footwear, reissues etcetera, do you ever think that skateboarding focuses, or dwells, too much on its own past rather than pushing forward and being more progressive? Is there a point where honouring the past too much stifles a potential ‘now’”?

I think skateboarding now is big enough that there’s enough room in it for nostalgia as well as progression, and it progresses in different directions anyway. Look at the difference between somebody like Tiago Lemos and somebody like Alex Decunha. They’re both doing tricks nobody has seen before, but only one of them is making it look good, (in my opinion at least). So maybe there can be too much progression, if it’s forced. But then there are kids like Saul Crumlish, who are into the old shit. He was wearing Dickies and Vans when he was 12 years old, and slashing frontside in concrete parks, and that’s not necessarily the sort of skateboarding you’d generally find on YouTube or Insta as a 12 year-old, but it’s what he’s into.
If you skate now, you can kinda do anything. There’s John Shanahan too; he’s super good, wears a full Droors tracksuit, and looks like he can do all his tricks every way possible. That’s so fucking rad, since it was kind of a niche time for skateboarding, but most people around then know it was one of the best times ever, and fuck knows where he gets his gear, but he always looks rad skating City Hall in ’90s DC and Droors. You can buy a weird shaped board, you can have massive wheels or you can have tiny wheels, it doesn’t matter now like how it used to matter. It’s like looking to the past has become a totally acceptable thing. I maybe wouldn’t call shit like that a ‘revival’, and I don’t think it could be called progression or regression either… It’s evolution. We e-volve, but we don’t re-volve. Or vice-versa.

Do you think it’s more inclusive now? It seems like skateboarding used to be punk rock, then it was hip-hop, and you always had to pick one.

Yeah, of course: I think for our generation that worked out well though. As a kid in the UK in the late 1980s you would generally be into metal and punk before you got into hip-hop and everything else, and the progression of skate videos around that time reflected that change. Or it was reflected in us, maybe. Seeing the progression around that time was, in hindsight, amazing and it was a real privilege to be around it, but now anybody anywhere in the world with some money and a computer can buy whatever era’s stuff they want. Almost, anyway. I don’t know where John Shanahan gets his gear… It’s cool when some little kid tags his mate in a photo from 30 years ago and says, “I thought that was you”, or something, in the comments of a photo none of these kids will have seen in their lifetime. It’s cool that people can be into any era now, and it’s fair enough that that can lead to people right now doing tricks and dressing like people did 30 years ago.

Or like someone like Chris Cole, who went from fresh to hesh, and it seemed really obvious because videos came out so infrequently compared to now.

Totally. He just changed as he got older I guess, and nobody freaked out that he ended up on Zero. He just got into different stuff as he was growing up, and that’s a lot more respectable than kidding on you’re into something that you’re not.

1993, Big Brother. Rick in red by Spike Jonze

Where Rick Howard, and a little bit of the World park, were painted red for issue four of Big Brother, which I think is one of the best issues of a magazine ever. It was cool that they actually did it, since I’m sure Jeff Tremaine’s grasp of Photoshop by this point could have achieved something close. It’s funny seeing it slowly get covered in graff again, over the subsequent 411s. They actually did it again, in yellow, for what a lot of people seem to think is the Yellow Issue, but the Yellow Issue had Quy Nguyen on the cover. Black was Kareem, Brown was Gonz and White was Brian Sumner.

Alright, the next question is from your boy at @readanddestroy…

Oh sick, Dan Adams.

…”Skate photos from the golden era of skateboard magazines have an almost magical power, and can be truly iconic. Now that there are so many skate photos, old and new, available at the click of a button, 24/7, are they losing their power to amaze and be iconic? Are we becoming complacent viewers?”

I’m not. I still see old photos every day that I’ve never seen, alternate angles and unused shots — and a lot of that is Dan’s account — so I can’t even imagine running out. The TLB and Wig archives are pretty huge.
When I worked in a record shop we sold 20 copies of Blue Monday a week. So that means every week, there are people who have heard that piece of music for the first time, or only just got into it. For a while, it was like, “Who the fuck doesn’t have a copy of Blue Monday?”, but every day somebody somewhere hears that tune for the first time. And every day somebody somewhere steps on a skateboard for the first time. Every day somebody becomes aware of who Natas Kaupas, Neil Blender or John Cardiel are, so every day there’s somebody new who needs to see these photographs.
I mean, it’s not just this group of guys in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who want to look at the old stuff and it’s not just us guys entertaining one another. As long as people still keep magazines, as long as unseen shots keep getting unearthed and as long as there are new people coming into skateboarding, there’s no time for complacency. We’re living in the biggest era of nostalgia ever – until tomorrow, and the next day and the next day – because information on just about everything ever done or created is available to us. And the level of current photography is just ridiculous. I hope somebody’s keeping all these photos from Free, North, Grey and Solo so people in 20 years can look back at them.

Those people getting interested in skateboarding today, they won’t know anything about its history, but they’ve got all the facilities necessary to learn, and that lets them progress very, very quickly. Kids are really good after about a year now. A tre flip is normal, and new things get beamed out to everyone as they happen. If you’re into skateboarding, just get on YouTube or Insta, and you’ll see what’s happening right now, but you hope that they’ll be interested in how we got here.

There’s so much heritage in modern skateboarding anyway. Not just reissues and shit like that, but board shapes, trick selection, clothes…
Look at the no-complies and Smith grinds people do now, it’s crazy, and that isn’t like when ‘progression’ meant pushing the tech side. Grant Taylor and Raven Tershy are advancing skateboarding every bit as much as Rodney or Daewon did, I think. Grant or Raven doing a 30 or 40 foot Smith grind around a bowl is way more relevant to the evolution of skateboarding than somebody doing a triple dolphin flip or whatever the fuck.

You always make a point of tagging the skateboarder in the picture and the photographer in the comment, but I see posts that are obviously your scans—maybe because the caption’s gone, or because your man has stitched the two halves together, or it’s just a lower resolution screen shot—and you can tell. I know you spend a lot of time taking out creases, and getting it as close to how it ran in the magazine as possible, and I know it’d annoy me if I saw constant reposts with no credit. Does it annoy you?

Yeah, a little bit, but it’s usually because they don’t credit the photographer. Irked more than annoyed. I’ve never had a photographer do it, they always give props, and it’s rad when they talk about how the shot came about, or even in the case of the US guys when they say they didn’t know it ran in whatever European mag it was in until now. A lot of alternate angles got sold to European mags.
Most photographers seem to back it, whether they still even shoot photos, skate or otherwise, or not. I actually met Mike O’Meally late one night at Southbank, and he was pretty buzzing on it. I was hyped to meet him. Likewise it’s rad when it’s some ‘unknown’ skater, but his homies can recognise him and shout him out, but 99% of the time the person will be tagged in the photo. Some skateboarders will say where they found it, and tag the photographer, some won’t. Tony Hawk for the former and Steve Cab for the latter would be good examples of that, so it’s not like it’s just certain types of dudes or anything. But, I mean, I don’t get any money for this, I just want people to see these photos, and if somebody with a shitload of followers can direct a few of those people to these, then it makes it all the better for everybody. But it’s the guys with the board or t-shirt or sticker archives that deserve props. It’s not hard to keep magazines, but that stuff wasn’t made to be kept. There are some crazy collections on Insta, man, and I follow as many of those dudes as I can find. They’re the real thing.

You’ve carried these magazines around for most of your life, keeping them safe, so when somebody reposts they should maybe direct people to where they can see more of that shit.

It’s only really bad when they don’t tag the photographer. That was the guy that sat in the gutter for fuck-knows how long while you got your trick, then sent the film off to the magazine so you could get your photo. But it’s all good. It’s really cool when somebody reposts and shouts out everybody, and tells the story of how it went down that day, and then all the other dudes involved can join in too.

1995, Sidewalk. Harry by Andy Horsley

Over the roundabout in Oxford (Cowley to be exact), somehow. Harry’s the only person that could step up to a ‘spot’ like this, and as far as I know it still hasn’t been kickflipped so it’s still all his (it was demolished a long time ago – Ed). UK roads aren’t smooth and the bump up onto those rattling bricks isn’t a pleasant one, so to still have the speed and inclination necessary for this by the time he rolled up is nothing short of bonkers. I’d guess this was probably at about 3am, once all the traffic had died down, but I guess it could have been any time after 4pm if it was in the winter. I hope there’s a lot of Andy Horsley stuff in the RAD book. As a little aside – this photo also ended up on the cover of Iain Borden‘s book ‘Skateboarding, Space and the City‘.

Do people ask you to dig out photos of them?

Oh, definitely. The most recent one was Andy Howell looking for the Münster photo, which was rad, but I’d put the mag back in a random pile since I posted it, and I couldn’t find it, but Dan Adams hooked him up. It’s cool if somebody’s all, “I’m in that mag!” and they describe the photo so I can find it and email it to them, less so when it’s along the lines of, “I was doing either a back tail or a 5.0, I was wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, and it was sometime in the mid-nineties”… That doesn’t help, but I’m always stoked to look for something and help out.

So before you post a scan will you search for it on Insta? Are you conscious of posting stuff that’s been posted before?

Yeah. I want people to see these either for the first time, or for the first time in years. Certain photos do just need put out there though! Like the Blue Monday thing, chances are there’s somebody who hasn’t seen Jason Lee’s hydrant one-foot or Penny at the Botley jam, but I don’t really want to be posting much stuff that’s already out there. There’s so much amazing skateboard photography out there that there’s no need for that. I always search the skater’s name, and the photographer’s name, to try to make sure it’s new to as many people as possible. If anybody’s posted it in the last year I’ll leave it, and if @koolmoeleo has posted it in the last two years, I’ll leave it, since so many people will have seen that post.

And you’ve got enough of an archive that you don’t need to worry about that.

Well, yeah, I suppose so. History doesn’t need to repeat itself that often. There are enough rad photos of people nobody’s heard of now to keep it exciting, and I don’t just want to post the cool guys. If it’s a great photo then I expect people are gonna like looking at it regardless, or if it’s an unseen photo of somebody when they were were young and it ran in black and white the size of a postage stamp, people should still be able to see it. The first photo I posted that got a really massive amount of ‘likes’ was Avi—Chris Atherton—from about 1990. So not some superstar that everybody knows, just a rad photo that Meany took one grey day at a typical small-town British spot.

There were so many underground guys that made a big impact and just kind of disappeared.

Simon Evans, man! Gavin Hills writing about Simon Evans, with TLB shooting the photos, really helped shape the way British skateboarders saw the world. Those guys did so much. Simon Evans and Curtis McCann are still ahead of their time, we’re still trying to catch up, and I bet neither of them even got any proper money from skateboarding. Props don’t pay the bills, man. It’s cool when these guys don’t even care about skateboarding now though, that’s rad too. Like Rob Pluhowski’s Bobshirt interview, where they asked if he still skates and he just laughed, like, “Nope. It’s noisy, it’s a lot of work to push it around, I suck…” and that’s rad. He’s stoked on making furniture, and skateboarding isn’t fun for him any more. I thought that was so much radder than being all, “Oh hell yeah, I still skate!” when he can’t be bothered with it. Simon Evans makes art. You don’t have to skateboard forever if you don’t want to. Don’t do something that isn’t fun.

@yug4924 was saying that he doesn’t skate much now, what with injuries and kids, and the pressure now to not get injured – as a functioning adult – and he also wants to know how important you think magazines were to pre-Social Media generations.

Skate magazines were a window to the world, and not just the world of skateboarding. Living in a small town, going to a school you hated and only having four TV channels wasn’t the most inspiring of situations, but skate mags showed us what was going on and what could be done. Before Social Media, before things got all nicely ironed-out and defined the way that they are now, every issue of every mag would have something mind-blowing in it. Whether it was a trick, a spot, an interview, a pair of shoes or just a different way of doing something… There was something to inspire you in every magazine, every month. I think Free is the one now that still makes me go, “What the fuck, how is that possible?!” the most, and those two-frame sequences are necessary to explain it a lot of the time. All the Thrasher bangers have already been on Insta by the time the mag gets here! But yeah, thank you Yug for those mags! Yug sent me a couple of mags I needed.

1995, TWS. Keith Harrison by Dimitry Elyashkevich

Dimitry makes the East Coast look so good. Or rather, he makes it look exactly like it is, and his photos are immediately recognisable. Keith Harrison was on ADI at this time, and it’s a perfect switch nosegrind in a crispy white Spitfire crew neck and shelltoes. It’s one of the most East Coast things I can imagine and while it’s impossible to pick one ‘best’ photo from that time and place, this sums up why it was so good pretty well. Trick selection, style, outfit, spot and just how he’s so bright in the frame, whether it’s his outfit or just natural light. I think the skater always stands out from the grime in a good East Coast photo.

I’ve got a question here from @koolmoeleo too. “This might be obvious, but what are your top five mags in your collection?”

Oh wow, that’s a good one. The Simon Evans issue of R.a.D. He had the cover, the poster and the interview and it was the most inspiring interview ever. Just talking about things beyond skateboarding, which hadn’t really been done much before then. I guess Neil Blender did that, and Gonz, but Simon Evans’ interview went deep. He talked about depression, and drugs, and just… Life. Reality.

A proper interview. Was he wearing a wig on the cover?

That’s it. I mean it’s not a wig, but you’re thinking of the right one. He’s matching his hair, t-shirt and trousers to the obstacle. It’s all yellow.

What else?

Big Brother issue 19, the East Coast tour issue from 1995. Most of that ended up in the first Big Brother video, but all those Dimitry Elyashkevich photos of the East Coast in one place… Oh man. And the actual article was amazing too. I mean Dave Carnie writes a lot of it, but Sean Cliver does too, and I reckon he’s the best writer they ever had, even if he didn’t do it much. Can all three issues of Phat count as one choice? Phat Magazine was just amazing, although maybe not entirely a one-hundred-percent skate mag, the non-skate appealed to us so much. Another stroke of genius from TLB and his guys, and it only ended because the distributor was pissed off at Matt Stewart’s waterpistol on the cover. Blatantly a toy, and it had a fucking daisy in it, but that was enough for John Menzies to drop it. Umm…Transworld, November ’95, with the Koston and Mariano interviews, but also the Ari Marcopoulos pages. Some of the best photos ever are in that, and the cover is Kalis’ backside ollie over the rail at the Golden Gate Bridge in shelltoes. I want to say another issue of R.a.D, but let’s say Sidewalk issue 22, the Paul Shier iceblock cover. So much good stuff in there, there’s a Baines interview, a big Scotland article that had a load of good people involved and that Wig shot the photos for, and the sequence of Julian Molyneux’s massive kickflip off a Brighton bus shelter. Ask me again tomorrow for five different answers…

Skate mags aren’t always great though, right? There was a long time when mags were just full of screen-grabbed video sequences.

There was the 1993 issue of R.a.D with the entirely fictional Tom Penny interview, illustrated with screen-grabbed sequences that look like they were shot from about a mile away. Pretty sure Tom had no idea that said interview was happening; he was just minding his own business skating. I got told who made up the interview, but I don’t think I can really say… That was a very strange era of R.a.D. Photos of dudes just floating, photos sideways, and just basically unreadable. The full-page screen-grab of Don Brider doing what was captioned as a nollie flip, on flat, at a comp, filmed from a mile away, wasn’t really bedroom-wall material. That didn’t last long though, Andy and Wig and those guys got involved again and it was really good for the last couple of years. But for six months it was kind of shitty.
There were some pretty dubious Thrasher covers throughout the years too. It seemed a bit like they didn’t really know where skateboarding was going, so didn’t really know what to do. I mean shit, they had a surfer cover, a snowboard cover, a downhill cover, a hoverboard cover as well as all sorts of corny non-skate covers. And Skate Action was generally pretty bad. Some really good Shane Rouse photos, but the overall ratio of make-to-bail photos wasn’t favourable. And it was mostly printed on newsprint.

1997, Sidewalk. Colin Kennedy by Wig Worland

Colin’s 50-50 on top of the guard rail or what used to be the concrete halfpipe at Kelvingrove in Glasgow. It looks like it’s from a fairytale; you’re looking at Colin through the trees, and the dappled light make sit look like the perfect summer’s evening. The bit of scrap wood placed over the bump isn’t exactly a kicker, and the rail is so narrow, it’s like you’d need to barge at it as hard as you could and then be super delicate when you got on top. Pretty sure only Colin knows, I don’t think it’s been touched since. His foot placement, in those Rick Howards, looks so cool too. The new KG park is over the path from this now, although it wasn’t there when this was shot, just the crumbling OG ’70s stuff disappearing back into nature. Colin’s Panic ad at Bristo, over the wall on his Irn-Bru board is outstanding too, and I’m pretty sure it was that photo alone that would have inspired The National Skateboard Company to make the reissue a few years ago. That might have been an Andy Horsley shot though, or Andy Shaw…I forget.

So your Insta account is named after a lyric, and of course skateboarding and music have always gone together, so Corey Duffel wants to know, what was the first skate part you saw where the music really stood out? His was Jeremy Klein skating to Lush.

The ams in Public Domain. “…the extraordinary exploits of the incredible rubber boys, Steve Saiz, Eric Sanderson, Raaaaaay Barbee and Chet Thomas”… And then Weakness by McRad starts. That was the first proper part in the first proper video I saw and it’s still such a perfect part. Street lines, man! Corey knows what’s up with video music; he always skates to the raddest stuff. Always has.

Did that get you into McRad then?

Not really, because there was no way of getting the music! And John Peel wasn’t playing them. You had to hold a tape recorder up to the TV to record the music. I got to interview Chuck Treece once though, he was super cool. The FTC videos were rad too, they changed things up, music-wise. All us punk rock and hip-hop kids suddenly getting into Procul Harum, Simon & Garfunkel and Sade. And it can’t really be mentioned enough how skateboard video editing can make an unappealing piece of music really good.

Corey also asks if you regret giving him all your best 45s.

Haha! No, definitely not. He’s playing them to rooms full of hyped people in SF and LA, so if they can hear some long-lost Scottish post-punk 7″, then all the better. I need the space for magazines anyway. He can take some more.
Yeah, if some teenager expecting New York Dolls or the Dead Boys goes along and ends up hearing something on Postcard Records, or hearing the Pastels, all the better.
Yeah. Big shout to Chris Mulhern for putting the Pastels in This Time Tomorrow too. That worked really well.

1998, TWS. Fred Gall by Atiba

My favourite TWS cover that I can think of right now. The Rick Howard shoes, the camo pants, what I hope is a Droors shirt, and it’s a kickflip backside wallride at the Brooklyn Banks. Wearing that outfit and taking one of the raddest tricks of the time to one of the coolest spots ever, and getting Atiba to shoot it, will get you the cover for sure. It sums up so much about what was so good about that time, and would still look fucking amazing appearing in a mag right now.

What is the function/cultural value of an archivist like yourself?

There was never any intention of purpose, it was just fun sharing these rad pictures, but as things change I do think it’s important that these magazines, these relics, are preserved. It’s not easy keeping them, and you find that people who skated in the late ’80s and kept those mags, possibly didn’t skate in the mid ’90s, or weren’t as likely to have kept those magazines. Everybody’s got a stash of old mags, but I just never binned any so it’s pretty solid from 1988 onwards — I’m filling in the gaps pre-1988 pretty well — and it’s as much for reference as it is for entertainment: Mine or anybody’s.

Which other archivist feeds/sites etc influence you?

Skately. On Insta and on their site. That’s been a serious labour of love, and those guys have got information on just about anybody who ever had a photo in a mag – in the States, anyway. It’s pretty crazy. They’ve got info about the person, scans of ads and video parts all in one place. I’m not sure why it isn’t better known, but Skately has been a thing since as long as I can remember and they just keep adding. Both of Sean Cliver’s Disposable books are incredible. He might be my favourite writer too, so it’s amazing having all those old boards alongside his copy in those books, which are both totally different by the way. The second one isn’t just an expanded version of the first. There are a lot of dudes doing this sort of thing that I respect, but Skately and Cliver’s books are a real influence, in terms of how accurate and thorough they are. I think I said too, the dudes that have the boards and shoes. That’s all so crazy, it’s amazing. Bobshirt, of course, everything Tim does is perfect. He picks the best people to speak to and has such an impressive knowledge of them; you can see how shocked folk are when he brings certain stuff up too.

What’s the Holy Grail of skate mag collecting?

Issue one of Thrasher. Knowing that I’ll probably never own that puts me off getting too carried away trying to complete Thrasher. I’m missing a few other early ’80s ones and I kinda don’t care because I doubt I’ll own the first issue. That’s probably a good thing, but the early ’80s Thrashers are a great document of skateboarding evolving and finding its feet through such changing times, and seeing the first appearances of ‘kids’ like Gonz and Neil Blender, and seeing how different they were in the way they approached what you could do with this wooden thing with wheels.

2003, Sidewalk. Scott Palmer in Edinburgh

The tre flip on the banks round from Bristo. Rolling up that was hard enough; it’s at about a 45 degree angle and there are cobbles before it, so managing a 360 flip on it is just bonkers. And Andy Horsley shot it from a different angle to the usual photos there, being at about the same level as Scott, and that classic Blueprint team board graphic totally pops out. All the colours pop; the bushes, the graff, the slabs on the bank, Scott’s shoes… Story put this on a board and I’m not surprised, but I thought it was weird they did it black and white. The colours make it for me. Toby Paterson says this is the best thing done on that thing, and I’d definitely agree. Carl Shipman would be proud.

Do you have similar feelings towards video as you do to skate photography?

I think so, yeah. I love old videos, and they transport you back in time just as well as mags do. You could stare at a photo in a magazine forever, but you could rewind a trick in a video endlessly. And videos played music! I think the era of the classic video was a bit shorter than the era of the classic magazine, but that’s maybe because there were three or four new magazines a month, whereas videos didn’t become regular and affordable until 411, pretty much. I’ve still got all my videos, although a lot of the ’90s ones are copies from my man Sandy Bingham, so there’s no ‘holding it in your hand’ romanticism with those, in terms of physical artifacts. Thankfully there are plenty of people doing the hard work and getting everything up on YouTube. Good looking out everybody out there digitising and uploading VHS tapes.

How do you view the current ‘print’s not dead’ movement? Do you see it as sustainable or is it really just format nostalgia funded by large sports wear brands?

Oh man. I don’t know. I definitely think there’s an element of format nostalgia there, since it tied in pretty closely with vinyl ‘coming back’, and people wanting to prove they actually own something. Maybe it makes their appreciation of it seem more robust, more sincere, when they point it out digitally on social media.
Vinyl being so big now is actually damaging a lot of small labels who can’t get time in pressing plants because there’s 250,000 limited edition copies of Dark Side Of The Moon or whatever getting pressed up, so I expect there are some similar issues for the guys doing print for the long term. That said, I got a mag in the post from Nick at Palomino today —which I now can’t find— that I’ve never seen before [it was a copy of Medium] and it was really, really good. As long as mags don’t just become a physical version of Instagram, as long as they still have identities and still have people looking forward to new issues then it’s sustainable I think. If you’re sitting in the pub by yourself reading a magazine you look cool and deep, if you’re on your phone you might look like you’ve just been stood up. I’m not sure how much sportswear brands even care about print though, as long as their output is on the socials. I guess it is nice for them to be seen to be caring about it, but if, say, a sportswear company pull their ads from a print magazine and the guy that runs that magazine mentions it, that sportswear company will definitely look bad. To use a totally non-specific, hypothetical example…

Will people like you exist (be able to exist) in a decade when digital culture is all there is?

Do you think the Berrics might be the J. Robert Oppenheimer of skateboard media? There’s always going to be a need to have these magazines, since that’s how things were when skateboarding was finding itself, and what got it to where it is. Whatever happens in the future won’t have happened without the way skateboarding was covered for its first four-odd decades. It’d be like dismissing the steam engine because you can buy a Tesla. And I need digital culture to do this anyway, I’m fully aware of the irony of that: I’m not some Luddite purist.

2013, Sidewalk. Karim Bakhtaoui by Sam Ashley

Karim just seems to quietly rip, so it was rad seeing him on the cover. No clever angles, no wide lens, just a solid, huge, FS shove it caught high above the bench. In a great outfit too, which I bet that sold a good few pairs of Busentiz, and he’s wearing some wrist thing, but it definitely looks more Salman Agah than Chris Cole. It just shows how powerful and chilled he is on a skateboard. I think I met Karim in his work once and he was super nice, if it was him, so that’s cool too. And he makes jewellery now, it seems, which he must do really well.

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