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.