Interview by Farran Golding and photography courtesy of Andrew James Peters
Andrew James Peters has the enthusiasm of a kid who just flicked open a magazine and unexpectedly found their first photo that’s ever made it to print. In fact, that’s exactly how Andrew’s photography career began and how the joy of that moment reverberates, years later, is pretty life-affirming.
Growing up in Sydney, Andrew started shooting as a means to keep up with his best friend, Chima Ferguson. Taking note of his work ethic, veteran photographers Dave Chami and Mike O’Meally imparted their wisdom and soon became mentors of sorts. Then, after making an impression at Monster Children magazine he ended up part of their (page) furniture and by his early 20s was shooting his favourite skateboarders.
I got familiar with Andrew’s work through his photos of Austyn Gillette and Dylan Rieder across the Gravis/early HUF days. In turn, that led me to Monster Children and I’ve been hooked on his and their output since.
When we started talking about an interview, I left the direction open and Andrew came back with ten photos to guide it; one from each year of the past decade. Although a few came to mind for him right away, “It’s pretty impossible to go through a skate archive and have ten favourites,” he says, laughing. “They’re just ten.”
Andrew might have downplayed the premise but certain photographs stood out to me for another reason. That being: because they’re built on earnest friendships and, as a result, give way to profound insights into some of skateboarding’s iconoclastic personalities. I can’t quite figure out why, but talking to Andrew wasn’t like interviewing someone who is, essentially, a stranger. If anything, as the time shot by, it felt like having solid conversation with a friend I’d been meaning to catch up with for quite some time…
We used to call him ‘King Chami’ because he’d have every page in the magazine and everything was so good. All the guys from New Zealand he’d have come over had a good idea of style and spots. He brought all of that to my era of Sydney
How’d you get into skating and what comes to mind about the scene you grew up with in Sydney?
I got into skating really young. I’d see my older sister’s friends with skateboards and I just thought it was cool. Then I met Chima Ferguson when I was eight or so and he was already really fucking good. We grew up skating together from there. My mum ran a pre-school around the corner from his house so we’d get to skate together all the time.
That was a pretty solid start, because he went on to being one of the better skateboarders in the world, but I had to quit skating for a second. I had a problem with my knee and when I got back into skating at 14 he was getting sponsored. I was way behind his level already. I thought, “Shit, I need to keep up somehow.” There were photographers following him around so I figured, “I’m going to have to learn how to do that,” so I can still hang out with Chima [laughs]. Otherwise, he’s off doing other shit and I’m not invited on the session unless I’ve got some sort of purpose. So, I picked up a camera at 15 and the Sydney skate scene was really good.
Everybody was filming for this video called Killself. Chima’s got the last part, he kickflips a fucking 17 stair. It was a breakthrough for him. It got him going to the States and it got him on Real. There weren’t any other names that broke through like Chima but everyone was at a high level. It’s probably only because of injuries they didn’t have careers but he was the standout. He was the star since we were tiny.
While that was all happening, the vibe was super good. Dave Chami was the photographer in Sydney at the time, who went on to move to America and work for Transworld. He’s from New Zealand but he moved to Sydney and became a big motivator within the scene. He got everybody going, including me. I was inspired by what he was doing.
The scene was really strong at that point. It’s gone in waves since. You know, it all depends; one group of people can bring a whole scene together and, definitely when I was 15, they were the dudes. That was probably one of the strongest scenes Sydney has seen in all of its time, I’d say.
Were you influenced by any other photographers back then? Mike O’Meally is from Sydney too and he went on to work for Transworld and have a prolific career also. Was it Dave and Mike who showed you that photography could take your life further than Australia?
Exactly that for those two dudes. My first influence was Guy Miller, he had a brand called Juice Clothing. It was a big brand in Australia, and Chima skated for Juice. I even did work experience there.
I bought my first camera off of Guy and asked so many questions. As a present at the end of my work experience, I thought it would be nice to give him a photo of his team rider, Chima. I was fucking obsessed with photography so I built a darkroom in my backyard [laughs]. I handed him a print of Chima, a portrait, and without me knowing it he passed it on to the editor of Australian Skateboarding Magazine. Chima had an interview coming out and it ended up running as the full page portrait. I had no idea until I opened up the magazine and went, “Oh my god! I’m a published photographer!”
That was really encouraging. I immediately thought that I was a pro. I took myself really seriously. Then, Dave Chami; me and this other photographer that were geeks together, we used to call him ‘King Chami’ because he’d have every page in the magazine and everything was so good. All the guys from New Zealand he’d have come over had a good idea of style and spots. He brought all of that to my era of Sydney skating and photography – because Mike had already done it. Mike was already over here [in the US]. He’d had a job at SLAP and had already moved onto working for Quiksilver and Transworld
Because I was so enthusiastic and working with the mags super young; I don’t know how we first met, but not long after that time I became good friends with Mike and he was schooling me on what I should do. Mike was much nastier, but in a tough love way [laughs]. On my very first trip to America, Mike was very encouraging. He let me come and stay with him and he was trying to help me out but the actual first hand tips were coming from Dave Chami. “How many stops harder is your rim light?” All the actual tech questions were for Dave Chami. Except for…
I remember being at the pub around 16 and I had a Polaroid of Ben Barretto skating this rail in my pocket. Because I was shooting Hasselblad at the time I’d shot a Polaroid test to figure out the lighting. I was at the pub with Mike and he says, “What did you shoot today?”
“Oh, I’ve got the test actually.” I had Ben framed up sitting on a tree with blue sky next to him and Mike’s like, “You should have taken two steps to the left and then he would have been in all sky. That’s called micro-composition.” In that moment, I thought, “Holy shit that’s just blown my mind.” He taught me that lesson, probably the biggest lesson I ever learned, which was separate the skater from the background and try and isolate them a little bit. He’s the best. He’s just tough love.
He invited me to these talks he did at the Semi Permanent Festival in Sydney. I was so excited to sit in the front seat and see him talk. Even in that speech he was like, “There’s a young man in the front row who shoots better photos than me.” Just being really encouraging the whole time and I was like, “Holy shit man, this guy’s my idol.” Dave was accessible but Mike was the one that Dave looked up to, and the one Dave got tips off [laughs].
Cat Power by AJP for Monster Children #61
Were there any photographers outside of skateboarding whose work you looked to back then, and still do to this day?
Back then my favourite photographer was Bill Henson, an Australian art photographer, because of his really moody lighting and colours. You could say he shot say the in-between years; teen kids with a lot of emotion, a lot of blue. They look like sad pictures in a way but the intensity that he brought to photography, I wondered if there was a way to bring that much drama to skateboarding. Since then, or even then, I was looking at fashion mags and other magazines outside of skateboarding to look at the photography. I would say since my 20s, and over the last few years, I mostly get outside inspiration from a whole range of photographers but I can’t even keep up with who I like and what-not. I was really into Brian Gaberman as well but other than that, I’d say mostly photographers outside of skateboarding in general. But, I’ve also been really scared to shoot outside of skateboarding, it’s weird.
That’s interesting, because you work with Monster Children and their approach and aesthetic is so singular. It’s not a ‘traditional’ skateboarding magazine by any means and the cultures they sit on the periphery of really compliment each other in how they’re presented.
Even being around that magazine has shaped the way that I shoot. I grew up shooting for a page a lot of the time. I was either shooting landscape photos to try and get a double page in a skate mag, placing things left or right so they sit properly, or for Monster Children which is shooting really loose, almost panoramic, or keeping in mind that they don’t care about the trick. They care about something else that’s going on in the picture or the moment. So, trying to capture something else, always having that in the back of my mind, probably shaped the way that I was shooting because of working for them.
I had a big bag of prints, a trumpet and a school uniform and I went and literally just knocked on the door … They bought two photos off me – on the spot – and wrote me a cheque – on the spot – for the photos. “Yeah, we’ll take these. Laters. Bring us some more stuff whenever you can.”
Which leads to my next question, how did you get involved with Monster Children?
This is an alright story… You’re always looking for other magazines that could possibly run a skate photo. There are only so many skate mags, even back when there were a lot of skate mags.
Dave mentioned, “Have you seen this new magazine, Monster Children?” because he had a couple of photos and I wanted to do everything Dave did, so I thought, “Well, I’m going to need to get some photos in this Monster Children thing…” I was an art student kid that wanted to go to gallery openings and exhibitions and that’s what they had going for them so I was all in. I maybe went to one exhibition they put on, just to check it out, and then decided that I’m going into the office with a bag of photos and saying, “What’s up.”
One day after school, I walked down there in my school uniform. I went to a performing arts high school so I had a trumpet with me. I had a big bag of prints, a trumpet and a school uniform and I went and literally just knocked on the door. “Hey, let’s sit down and look at this stuff…” They were so encouraging. They bought two photos off me – on the spot – and wrote me a cheque – on the spot – for the photos. “Yeah, we’ll take these. Laters. Bring us some more stuff whenever you can.” I couldn’t believe I’d just got handed a cheque, I was probably 16
From then on, I’ve always liked the magazine and wanted to contribute so I’ve always been in their ear. I was staying in Sydney for a while when Dave moved on, and Mike was already in America, so I was probably their point man on certain things. I became good friends with one of the owners and the designer, Campbell Milligan. They had a good vibe the whole time and I’ve always gravitated back towards them. Up until the last six months I’ve had a retainer with them, but other than that I’ve never actually worked for them, I’ve just worked closely with them.
Somewhere between an editor-at-large and a contributing photographer.
I would say I’m the “unofficial skate editor”. I get sent everything, everybody’s articles and I help them edit down the tricks and stuff because nobody skates there. “That’s sick. That’s not. You need a photo of this dude in that article.” But that’s because it’s fun! I want to see the photos and that’s just Campbell and I chatting back and forth.
Then when it came to doing those bigger projects like Team Average, I was friends with Dylan [Rieder], Sammy [Winter] and Austyn [Gillette] so they kind of turned to me to ask, “What do you think about a surf/skate trip?” Luckily enough, I was sitting in the right spot to be the guy they called on for that advice. I thought it was a terrible idea [laughs]. Nah, it was fucking awesome. So, I stuck with them, and now I am stuck with them, I guess.
It must feel good to have a regular print outlet nowadays.
I feel so lucky with that because I’m the first point of call. It’s like sticking with a sponsor for a long time. Through all the good things and the bad things, at the end of the day you’ve got to fucking stick with it and it proves a lot. It comes back around to help you out in the end. Monster Children’s not a ‘skate mag’ so I think some other photographers, especially in Sydney, have backed away from contributing at times. I’m like, “Well it’s not a skate mag, it’s something else,” so they’re allowed to do whatever they want and you don’t have to like every issue. I’ve stuck around and really supported the magazine. Just kept my affiliation pretty tight. Now there are no other magazines that has really paid off. They have a loyalty to me like I have a loyalty to them.
[Laughs]. I feel like this is an unfair advantage: I can call up and say, “Stop the press, we just got this photo of Elijah [Berle] and his shoe is coming out in a month. You should chuck him on the cover.” Literally, the issue with a cover of Elijah, the mag had already gone to print. I said we should try and help push him while his shoe is coming out, and they did. Having that sort of influence is awesome at a magazine these days. Also, the fact that it’s not a skate mag, and they’ve got a lot going on outside of skateboarding, makes it feel like they aren’t going anywhere.
We’re nearly an hour in already, I think we’re going to be at this a while. Are we good for time or do you have to get off anywhere?
I don’t have to get off for the next fuckin’ week [laughs].
Austyn Gillette, kickflip, Lower East Side, New York City, 2011
First up, we’ve got Austyn’s kickflip. I was stoked you picked this out because it’s probably the first of your photos I had seen, way before I could even put your name to it. Why did you want to start with this one?
It always reminds me of feeling like, “Holy shit, that is Grade-A skateboarding.” I’d just moved to New York for the first time to spend a summer over there, I barely knew Austyn but maybe he knew I was friends with Dylan, somehow.
He’d taken me out skating with Bill Strobeck and it was probably the first time I skated with him. Bill was pretty intimidating. He’s been around for ever and he’s got a little bit of a New York, “fuck you” attitude. Maybe even more so back then. I was not a priority on the session whatsoever [laughs]. “Who the fuck are you? Stay out of my footage.” That sort of thing. Which is fair. Normally there’s a bit of a skate photographer/filmer dynamic; work together so we can both figure this out. Bill did not approach that in the same way that I had dealt with other filmers before. [Laughs].
“I’m rolling fisheye.”
“Well, where does that put me?”
It probably made me shoot a better photo because they were trying it straight away. Brengar’s there, holding the tree back, it just was a bit of a scene. I was standing in the middle of the street and as Bill rolled past me, I’d run in behind him to take a photo, and try to keep him out of it, which made me shoot really loose. I wonder, if I’d had my own creative decisions in that moment, if I might have chosen a different angle and it wouldn’t have been as good? Especially because I’m shooting from high, it’s not a low angle, it’s actually more like how Bill would film fisheye. People would sometimes say he’s on “Bill Mountain”, but it’s a good spot to film fisheye [that way] because it distorts the bottom as much as it distorts the top, in a good way. Fuck it anyway, we’re talking about fisheyes…
Honestly the timing could have been a bit earlier and that’s probably because I’m scrambling in. Austyn did that in about four tries and I thought, “Holy shit, did I just get that photo?” because I was out of my comfort zone. It felt like getting chucked into the big leagues; dealing with pros that are going to get their trick in a couple of tries. This filmer is like, “This is how I do my shit, work around me.” It was a good lesson to learn.
I presumed Austyn had done this twice because you’re nowhere to be seen in the footage.
I remember Bill being surprised that I got a photo. He was probably expecting me to blow it completely but I remember him saying, “That photo is kind of sick. It actually worked out.” [Laughs].
It was a cut your teeth moment.
It was just a different experience. Any of those experiences where you’re thrown out of your comfort zone and end up shooting a photo that’s different to what you were shooting before, but you realise you like it, are good. So, maybe don’t always sit at the bottom and get as low as you possibly can and, if anything, I learnt that shooting loose fisheye and not filling every corner of the frame, even though it does but not in a conventional way for a skate photo, it’s not a bad idea.
This was a Royal Trucks advert but the photo screams ‘Habitat’ at me. The colour scheme is pretty Photosynthesis – obviously Austyn is of a different generation – but I can just picture how [Joe] Castrucci would have done something with it. Did you send this to Habitat?
I probably did, I can’t quite remember. This wasn’t my first ad. I was shooting photos and going on tours when I was 16. I was getting let out of school to go on skate trips. There’s an industry in Australia so I was able to have a taste of making a living, shooting ads and working with companies for quite a few years before I made it to America. I was pretty well versed in hitting up companies which was kind of the procedure back in the day. It’s changed a little bit these days with the bigger shoe brands, big campaigns and what-not being more common. You used to just go out skating, get a bunch of photos, send them to all of their sponsors and just see who fuckin’ bit [laughs]. Sometimes, I would look up people’s names on the Skatepark of Tampa website, find the list of their sponsors, then find their email and send the photo over. I probably just had a photo of Austyn, shopped it around and Royal needed an ad. I remember when it came out too. It ran as a single page and it’s such a double page photo, you know? At the time you’re like, “Damn, it didn’t print as big as I thought it should have,” but these days the photos get to live on after they’re an ad.
So, it was through Dylan that you met Austyn? What’s your earliest memory of him?
It really escapes me. I’m not sure if it was in America or Australia. He might have been on a Skateboarder trip. I met Dylan through Sammy and Luke Croker because they were skating for Analog and Gravis. Austyn and Dylan loved Australia so they’d just end up out there and I was around for that. Then, because you’ve got that going for you, I guess people think, “Oh, the Australian dude, Andrew,” and you get remembered a little more. Then when you come to America you’ve got some sort of advantage [laughs].
The footage of this is in $TUD, Bill’s part from The Cinematographer Project and Dylan’s got some heavy footage in there too. He and Austyn were a sort of power duo, for lack of a better way to put it. What was it like being around those two together? Austyn’s talked about their competitiveness bringing them closer, so I imagine that would be something to witness.
I think the competitive, bouncing off of each other, sort of stuff was way later. When they went to Germany they were really in their “power duo” HUF thing. They didn’t skate together that much before all of that. They were obviously friends but it wasn’t as much of a couple as they became. Dylan was with Sammy, Croker and Arto [Saari], those dudes. He had his Gravis crew and that was the era of hanging out with that dude that I was around for the most, so it’s the one that I can reference.
Dylan literally had more friends than anybody in the whole world. His web was so wide. It’s pretty amazing. You think, “Me and that dude were super good friends and spent all this time together.” Then you realise. He had important, personal relationships with so many people. I can only comment on the times I got to hang out with him, and that wasn’t so much with the Austyn/Dylan duo back then, that was later.
He was already Austyn Gillette when I met him, you know? He was already a fucking whizz. It’s the same with Dylan. They were already my heroes by the time I met them within skateboarding.
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more of Austyn from you than any other photographer. With everything he’s accomplished, is there more impact and pride in seeing it because you’ve been there, along the way, documenting him?
Honestly, and I feel like this with Dylan as well, I feel so fucking lucky to have been there for those moments. These skate tricks and what-not, like that kickflip, we can talk about it ten years later, and that’s cool, but I didn’t grow up with Austyn. We just happened to be in the same place at the same time and when we were, I think we made a point of trying to get a photo together. It’s like when you’re on a good run with somebody, “Last time I was with that dude, shit worked out and it ended up being my ad for so-and-so.” You want to make that magic happen again.
I was more like a passing friend up until now. Now we live in the same city, so we talk all the time, but it wasn’t an evolution. He was already Austyn Gillette when I met him, you know? [Laughs]. He was already a fucking whizz. It’s the same with Dylan. They were already my heroes by the time I met them within skateboarding. I was just stoked to be there. It’s not like I was proud of how far he’d come, he was already there. If anything, I was intimidated because he was two years younger than me which made me want to get my shit together and be better at what I’m supposed to be good at. Those dudes were the best at what they did. More than me seeing it and being proud of it, it was just inspiring. “I’m getting to hang out with the dudes that I think are the coolest, and I’m getting to shoot the skating that I think is the best, so I better rise to the occasion and shoot good photos.”
Last one on Austyn. It’s criminal that one of the best skateboarders of this generation doesn’t have an official board or shoe sponsor. Regardless, he just seems to get on with shit and appears pretty unfazed by all that, he seems focused on a more personal level. What do you think that says about his character?
Austyn is one of the most motivated people I know and one the most naturally talented at anything he picks up, whether it’s music or woodworking or whatever. He’s doing so much with his brand [Former] right now; Photoshopping images and learning how to do all this business stuff. He never ceases to amaze me with his ability to get up in the morning and make shit happen. He’s a force to be reckoned with but I think that might be his curse as much as it’s his blessing, where he’s such his own entity. You talked about Dylan and Austyn being a power couple, they were for a second, but apart from that Austyn really stands alone.
Even in the way he approaches skating. He wants to go out, get his shit, go home and go back to his day-to-day life. He’s not necessarily trying to go out skating everyday and sit in the van. He’s on his own and ready to get on with it. It’s probably why he has found it hard to place himself on teams but at the same time it makes him as good as he is at everything that he does. He’s so passionate, and I think he’s got so many things going on outside of his life in skateboarding, that he just has to keep the fucking hamster wheel running.
He’s a force to be reckoned with but I think that might be his curse as much as it’s his blessing, where he’s such his own entity.
Brian Delatorre, frontside ollie, Orchard Street, NYC, 2012
Now we’ve got DeLa on the roof in New York. Introduce this one.
I was bored in New York and I wanted a photo series to work on so I thought it would be cool to start shooting photos on rooftops. We would usually do that when the weather was shit and you couldn’t skate anything else so it’s pretty funny that most of the photos I shot for the full series were in the rain, to some extent, which is even sketchier. I was hitting up people I knew from skating around in New York and this is one of those grey, rainy days. I called up DeLa and we went over to my friend’s place. It was very random. “Can you do an ollie or something?” and I was hanging off the side of the roof shooting this photo.
Photos like this freak me out. I’m not good with heights, anyway, and with the fisheye too…
We were up on that roof for ten minutes, if that. I was hanging over the edge for a second but I didn’t think of falling, or there was probably a fire escape below me so it wasn’t that scary. I was shooting digital so I could set up the frame, put the camera right on edge and not really be hanging over the edge myself.
You and O’Meally had a photo show together in Australia few years ago and talked about the differences between shooting in L.A. and Sydney. You mentioned that you’re essentially just looking for NBDs on spots which have been rinsed in L.A., whereas Sydney is “more about the moment.” Does New York have that same spontaneity about it to you?
New York in general is crazy in every way. It’s so fast. Especially being a 21 year-old in New York, you’re just trying to keep up and you’re in a bit of a daze from all the glitz and the lights and drinking too much [laughs]. You’re flying by the seat of your pants in New York, whereas L.A. you’re waiting at a house until somebody picks you up in a van to take you skating, especially at that point in time for me. It’s a different pace of life which ends up coming out in photos. I think the answer is sort of in your question.
This made it to cover of Skateboarder but am I right in thinking was for a Monster Children project called ‘Fuck Sea Level’?
Yeah, it wasn’t in there because it was the Skateboarder cover but I continued to shoot the rest of the series that I was talking about. And yes, it was named ‘Fuck Sea Level’. [Laughs]. I had no idea what to call it and was trying to be a little punk. I guess you’re on sea level when you’re generally skating around, you’re not on rooftops most of the time, so this whole project was about being above sea level. So, yeah, fuck sea level. [Laughs].
It was actually over two years, at two different times I was in New York. The first time, I pretty much only shot with Yaje Popson and DeLa. Then the next there were a couple of Aussie’s in there: Josh Pall, I think there’s a photo of Corbin Harris. There were a few different people but I’m not going to pretend I was working on this project for months. It was, “Hey, shall we try and get on a roof?” Or if we found out about one, “Oh sweet, maybe I can add to that project.” It did take a two-year span to have enough photos for an actual article. That was, again, getting lucky with Monster Children and being able to come up with a photo series rather than trying to shoot a regular skate interview.
Dylan Rieder, Byron Bay, Australia,
What kind experience is shooting a fisheye surf photo? When you emailed over all the photos for this, you said this was just after the second Team Average trip?
Fuck, it’s got me tripping now…
No, I’m wrong. It was 2012. It was the first Team Average. I’ve maybe been telling this story wrong to a couple of people and I’ve just realised because you asked about the fisheye, in housing, and I didn’t do that for Team Average 2 but I did for Team Average 1. [Laughs].
Going on a surf trip, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know dudes could do airs in surfing. Monster Children didn’t have a surf photographer going along with water housing gear so they asked me if I wanted to hire it and I asked if I can get it for a fisheye. I’d never done it before. It was funny. It was only for tiny waves where I really didn’t have to swim out too crazy.
The best thing about this photo is, at the time of shooting it, I didn’t think it meant anything. “Whatever, it’s just a stupid photo of Dylan flipping me off.” It never ran in the article. It was in the junk folder and it wasn’t until he passed that I was going back through all his stuff and came across it and thought, “That photo is sick.” It was randomly there, deep in the crates.
You mentioned that you got to know each other through Dylan taking trips to Australia?
He came to Sydney a bunch. Sammy Winter and Luke Croker were on Gravis and Analog so they travelled with him and they were close friends. I thought he was the coolest dude you’ve ever seen. He was in Sydney, I was around and went out shooting photos with them one day. We shot a photo that day and he didn’t make it, it was a backside smith on a barrier, and it ran in Slam Magazine but Dylan was pretty funny about that shit. “Pfft. I don’t care. I can do a back smith on a barrier. Run the fucking photo.” [Laughs].
The next time [we hung out], he lived pretty close to Dustin Dollin in Hollywood. I was staying with Dustin and Sammy and Luke was staying down the street with Dylan. I was talking to them and they said to come over and hang out. He had a little group of Australians following him round for a couple of years, pretty much, and I was just tagging along.
Gravis days. Around the time of his part?
More just after that part. Gravis hadn’t been around for too long. I probably just knew him, but not well, then after that part I got to spend a lot more time with him. It was different back in those days. You didn’t have social media to keep up with everyone all the time so you’re emailing people. We’d send each other long emails back and forth a bunch. He was a thoughtful dude, so if I emailed him, he’d email me back and we kept in touch. If I was coming somewhere we’d end up getting to hang out.
Luckily, Monster Children had enough foresight to pick people who were pretty like minded so by the end of the trip everyone was best friends.
Give a bit of backstory on how ‘Team Average’ came to be. Am I right in thinking Dylan was responsible for coining the name?
In a roundabout way. Monster Children wanted to do a skate and surf trip. They knew surfing better than they knew skating so they picked the dudes to be on the surf side of things like Warren [Smith], Dane [Reynolds] and Craig [Anderson]. None of us knew those dudes at all, except Dylan sort of knew who Dane Reynolds was because he was into surfing.
It was an experiment, for sure. Luckily, Monster Children had enough foresight to pick people who were pretty like minded so by the end of the trip everyone was best friends. We were on our way to Nimbin in New South Wales, it’s a real hippie town. There were two cars, and I wasn’t in their car, but they stopped off at a thrift store and Dylan found these little pin badges that said ‘Team Average’ and bought a few for everyone on the team. “That’s us, we’re Team Average!” That’s how that name came about but it was after the fact of going on the trip. It was just a no-brainer.
Timely and ironic, given the whole ‘Team Handsome’ thing that did the rounds.
Yeah, I don’t know if it was before Bill was calling everybody ‘Team Handsome’. It was right around the same time. So, yeah, ironic [laughs].
From what I’ve gathered, Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson are similar figures in surfing to what Dylan and Austyn are to skateboarding. Is that accurate?
I would say so. I didn’t realise that until later. I didn’t know shit about surfing then after those trips, I’d talk to surfers and bring them up really blasé because I’d met them in this strange situation. Dudes would freak out.
“What do you mean you know that guy? He’s my fucking hero!”
It would be like a skateboarder’s reaction to knowing Dylan. It couldn’t have been a better match up. The first Team Average, and the people that got to go, that was the ultimate for sure. That’s the real Team Average [laughs].
I was so embarrassed I couldn’t find the original that I kind of pretended it didn’t exist and ducked my head when people wanted prints. Then a good friend of Dylan’s […] wanted a really big print of it for her bar and I finally bit the bullet.
Why did you choose this one rather than a skate photo or a portrait?
I shot a bit of Dylan’s skating. Nowhere near as much as Ryan [Allan], O’Meally or [Jonathan] Mehring. Those dudes have skate photos that are more iconic, this one’s just different. I don’t think anyone else has a fisheye surfing photo of Dylan and especially the fact that it was a surprise photo which came back to me way later.
I fucking lost the file.
I only had a low-res of that for six months. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t find the original that I kind of pretended it didn’t exist and ducked my head when people wanted prints. Then, finally, a good friend of Dylan’s, this lady Jen – who’s a legend – wanted a really big print of it for her bar and I finally bit the bullet. Well, I tried to get one printed and it looked like shit.
I hit up Monster Children: “I’m a kook but do you guys by chance still have the old Team Average folder?” Luckily, Campbell found it so it came back to me. Thank God. And now anyone that wants a print, take one [laughs]. It’s just a different photo of Dylan, so it became more special after the fact, for sure.
Dylan was a polarising figure, even for a couple of years after his Gravis part came out. Obviously that created a massive following for him, and commanded a lot of respect in general, but I think it took “cherry” to really shut people up who had anything negative to say.
I would tend to disagree. I’m what, five years older than you or something? Which is maybe that five year stint where you got to see Dylan before “cherry” a little more. Everybody knew how good Dylan was for Mind Field. Then some people were disappointed, for some reason, in his Mind Field part which I thought was sick, to be honest.
He liked his Mind Field part too, but he really turned it up for the Gravis thing because he was going out on his own and taking a risk with this company and needed to put everything into it. When that came out, I felt that everybody inside and outside of skating thought, “Alright, this dude is fucked up good. We can’t hate on this. He’s a pretty boy but he’s that good at skateboarding? This is ridiculous.”
By then he’d shut everyone up, in my view, anyways. Then “cherry” was the modus operandi, it was when he’d fully come into his own as an adult.
I was really lucky to be surrounded by, well, him. [Laughs]. And others who were like, “I don’t care, this is the most fun shit ever.” This dude’s dating supermodels and we’re going to crazy parties and doing all these things you don’t really get to see being a skateboarder. I had a different perspective on that maybe just because I got to be there a little bit firsthand.
I went to an arts high school and played music my whole life. I was already looking at fashion mags, I was assisting fashion photographers and was into model girls and kept up with what he was interested in already which is probably why we got along as well. I already had my own opinions on that.
There was a real genuine thing about everything he did. Everything he did, he did with a lot of purpose.
How do you think the perception people had of Dylan compares to the person he was? He could have a sort of quiet, Heath Kirchart-esque demeanour in interviews, and maybe people took that in a negative light sometimes, but I always felt he seemed really authentic and just didn’t like talking about himself all that much.
Anyone that is that good at what they do and looks that good, undeniably, it’s intimidating and really confronting for people to be exposed to this dude who’s so good at what he does. It’s easy to try and find the flaws in that initially, to cut it down so it feels a little more human. He was fucking ‘Super Dylan’, you know? So, I understand that for a little bit people were trying to find things. “Is he an arrogant arsehole?” “Is he this?” “Is he that?”
No, he’s just really fucking good at what he’s doing and that shined through with the amount of people that he influenced. There was a real genuine thing about everything he did. Everything he did, he did with a lot of purpose. I think that came through, especially by the time he was in those last videos or, unfortunately, when he got sick. He’d proven to the world that he was the real deal. He’d already proven that to himself and by the time he was 25/26, everyone was like, “You can’t fuck with that dude.”
I appreciate you being down to talk so candidly about it, I know it’s a sensitive one.
No worries. I also want to make sure that I never claim we were best friends or whatever. We got to spend a little bit of time together and that was really rad. I’m stoked I got as close as I did with him but he was close to so many people, he had so many best friends that got to share so many experiences with him. It’s cool to hear everybody’s stories about that dude. I think his influence was so strong, and he was into the gothic kind of look towards the end, that if he had been healthy, stuck around and kept skating he would have probably influenced the entire fashion scene. He had such a strong influence. It is sensitive, but it’s a weird one. Rest in peace, I miss that dude.
Chima Ferguson, switch frontside bluntslide, Los Angeles, California, 2014
My photography couldn’t keep up with his skating. I couldn’t be trusted.
I had the impression you and Chima were good friends, being from Sydney, but I didn’t realise you’d been buds since you were eight.
Yeah, obviously I had to have this photo of Chima in here just because of that. I was trying to figure out which year he would fit into, that wasn’t getting in the way of any of the other photos I wanted in here, but I thought I needed a photo of Chima no matter what.
2014 is pretty timely though, given that it would’ve been towards the end of Propeller, he’d made a name for himself, he already had a shoe and all that.
We grew up together but I didn’t shoot that many skate photos of him. My photography couldn’t keep up with his skating. I couldn’t be trusted [laughs]. Here, I was staying at his house and he was filming a line with Cody Green. I was sitting a million miles away, trying to get artsy and weird and I was happy to get to shoot a photo of him. “Fuck yeah! Finally.”
How far apart did you both move to the States?
He moved away when I moved over here. He kept coming back, doing the three month stints travelling with everybody, then I think for Propeller, at that point, you had to do your time in L.A. That was when we were 20/21. He moved to L.A. and I was like going to New York, taking a different route about what I was into and whatnot.
He was here for a good five-or-so years then when I decided I needed to move to L.A., if I actually was going to keep shooting skating to make a living. I got here and a couple of months later Propeller had already finished. Literally, just a couple of months later after I moved here he decided, “Fuck it, I’m moving home.” So it was kind of a bummer. Ships in the night, a little bit, for a lot of the last ten years because we’ve both been travelling a lot.
Growing up, was there a point where you realised the potential he had?
Yeah, when I met him when I was eight [laughs]. There would be an under-12s competition and he would be this loose little kid winning everything. He was sponsored by the time he was nine or ten. He was the kid from out of the womb. You always knew he was going to make it. You never know how people’s careers are going to go but he’s been really good about his. He’s done everything the right way and been lucky with his sponsors, to get a shoe on Vans and stuff; it’s obviously helped him keep on doing what he’s doing now but he’s worked so hard for it and he’s always been that dude.
One scary moment was: we’re seven days apart so we were going through high school at the same time. [In Australia] you do this thing called the School Certificate, which is probably the same thing as you guys do before you go off to college. You can leave after you do that exam and go do a trade or something. He dropped out of high school, about a month or two before that exam, and I was like, “Dude, what are you doing?”
“Nah. Fuck it, I’m just going to be a skater.” This is at like… 15.
“You’re fucking crazy, what if this doesn’t work out?”
And, sure enough, that dude owns a house. [Laughs].
Don ‘Nuge’ Nguyen, drop-in, Silverlake, Los Angeles, CA, 2015
Nuge rolling in from the treehouse, what’s the story here?
So, that spot was almost diagonally across from his house. It was the dumpster shoot and him and Andrew Allen had been eyeing it off. They lived together and it turned into a “who’s going to do it?” thing.
I’d been skating all day with Cody Green and some others but Nuge wasn’t with us. He’d gone to pick up his girlfriend, at the time, from the airport and we’d all ended up back at their house, which was the hangout house at the time.
Andrew, Tino [Razo] and Nuge lived together. We’re back at their house and he’s jamming on his guitar out front, with his chick hanging off of him, and he says he’s got this trick to try. We walked up the hill, he dropped in on that thing – he took a couple of slams first – but he made it and just rode straight down the hill to the bar. He wasn’t even out skating with us. He was just chilling, being a rockstar, then got a banging clip and bombed the hill straight to the bar and we met him down there for celebratory beers [laughs].
Andrew Allen, frontside rockslide, Oxnard, CA, 2016
This is another one I was really happy you sent over. In fact, I was hoping you would. I’ve been a fan of Monster Children for years but it’s hard to get hold of it in the U.K. I had a friend that lived in Aus for a little while and she sent me a couple of issues, one of them being the issue with this on the cover.
This is one of those behind the scenes, kind of lame things. We were shooting for an interview for Monster Children and they wanted a cover. We couldn’t figure out what would look cool and it’s not about the skate trick for Monster Children, it’s more about nailing something else so our initiative wasn’t to get a gnarly trick. It was coming up to the deadline and I guess he’d just skated that pool with Benny Magliano [F.A. and Hockey filmer] a week or two before and he’d done a little line in there with a frontside rock-and-slide. He said, “What about skating a pool?” and I thought that was perfect. “They’ll love that shit.” [Laughs]. We drove back up to Oxnard, he redid it and I shot the photo. I just thought, let’s get right, right, right up in there.
How did you manage to get away with skating it so easily?
It’s out the back of the house of a Mexican family. If you went there and offered them twenty bucks or brought a case of beers they would just let you go into their backyard and skate their pool for a little bit. We just had to grab some beers, turn up on the doorstep, knock and hope they’d let us.
How did you and Andrew become friends and where do we place this photo in the timeline of your friendship?
Andrew was really good friends with this guy, Ryan Wilson, back in Australia. They were two peas in a pod, best mates, pen pals, even. I was good friends with Ryan so that towed me into being friends with Andrew, he liked coming to Australia so when he came out I’d be the go-to photographer that had spots and could take them around.
He did a couple of trips to Australia and on one of them we’d done a road trip together so we started to build this friendship. We’d hung out a bunch before I moved to L.A., we skated in New York, partied when he used to party, and also he came on that last Team Average trip. That got us a little closer because we’d spent time together on a proper skate trip – and that trip was pretty weird so it felt like we’d all gone through something together.
It was right after that trip that we found out Dylan was sick. I’d gone back to the States just a month or two after that [Team Average] Sri-Lanka trip and it was Andrew that told me that news. When you’re going through those things, everyone sticks together and gets closer.
Until 2015, I was in and out of New York. I had a five year Visa so I’d do a few months there, then spend a month or two in L.A., then go to Australia for a couple of months. When I thought, “I’m straight up moving to L.A. and getting an apartment,” it was more of a permanent decision. He was just ready for me to get there, my new best bud as soon as I landed, my first point of contact to go out skating, everyday, was Andrew. The day that I landed in L.A., I put all my shit down, called Andrew and got an Uber to the skate spot.
Andrew was just the man. He was down to skate and he’d gotten sober a couple of years before so he was motivated to stay productive and stay out in the streets. He’d started to change his skating a little bit at that time as well.
He’s a really open person though, a proper good friend. If you had something you needed to talk about, he’s a responsible human being that could help you through a situation and just be a stand up dude.
You wrote the intro to Andrew’s interview for that issue of Monster Children I mentioned. In there, you said you felt like you knew so little about him despite how close friends you are. I know that was a while back, but still, would say he’s an enigmatic character?
Yeah, he’s on his own program, especially since he stopped drinking and stuff. I feel like that made him feel like he had to reinvent himself. He does have some stuff in his past that’s probably sensitive to talk about, I was just surprised he really opened up in that [Monster Children] interview but that was with Tino, his roommate, so he was able to talk like a normal friend. He’s a funny dude with a sense of humour that could deflect a conversation if he wanted to. He’s a really open person though, a proper good friend. If you had something you needed to talk about, he’s a responsible human being that could help you through a situation and just be a stand up dude.
At the same time, he’s on his own shit. He’s not going to go to the same party everyone else is going to go to, he’s not going to the video premiere or whatever. He’s going to do his own thing. That’s even the way he goes about his skating.
He always has a clear vision when it comes to shooting photos then?
Absolutely. He’s super organised and has a full-on list of spots and what he wants to try to do. He’ll only hit you up when he knows he has a photo he wants to shoot. I even think that he plays to the strengths of the photographers who are around him. There might be something where he would think, “That would be a cool photo for the way Andrew would shoot it.” Or for certain things, the way Ben Colen or Jared Sherbert would shoot would be so different to the way that I would, so he’d tend to go towards their style. He’s just really thought out.
Aidan Mackey, dirt ride, Los Angeles, CA, 2017
I should be shooting the most exciting part, and the most exciting part of this is at the bottom when he’s manhandling his way through dirt.
Aidan kicking up dust. How’d this one come to be?
Aidan’s skating often doesn’t lend itself to photos because it’s either a long-arse manual, or something weird, but his skating is sick and you want to be able to show it somehow. I remember getting to this thing and he says, “Yo, I’m going to kickflip into this hill bomb.”
“Alright, do I shoot the kickflip?” Which isn’t the most impressive looking kickflip for a photo. I realised I should be shooting the most exciting part, and the most exciting part of this is at the bottom when he’s manhandling his way through dirt.
I was also really stoked because Thrasher ran it in a pictorial. Getting photos in Thrasher in this day and age, when you’re not staff, isn’t easy. They’ve got a plethora of photographers who are shooting the gnarliest stuff, all the time, so paying for a photo isn’t necessary for them. It’s hard and it’s a nice thing when you do get a photo in Thrasher. You feel like, “Sick, I’m around the best skating,” because that’s all that’s going in it. They tend to run gnarly stair counts and it’s normally a certain style of skating that’s pretty balls to the wall. I was surprised when they chose to run this one and it was just in and amongst all this crazy skating on a single page. I know it’s a small thing, but it felt like Thrasher was down to see the worth in what Aidan’s doing.
He’s obviously a talented skater but he plays to his strengths. He’s grown up with all those Supreme kids and has been around such gnarly skaters. He has to keep up. I’ve heard him say, “I have to work harder for my shit than anybody else because I’m nowhere near as good as those guys.” He’s figured out what he likes, what looks cool and because some thought has gone into his skating, people appreciate that and have become a fan of what he’s doing because it is different. You flick through the pages and think, “What? He’s got a trail of dirt behind him,” but it’s not kooky either. He draws a really fine line of what could be kooky but there’s enough humour in him and his personality to pull it off.
Rowan Zorilla, rooftop drop to 5050, Los Angeles, CA, 2018
Rowan really loves spots with a treacherous run up/ride away, doesn’t he?
This was crazy because we were just driving around in a random area of L.A. out by the airport. Literally five minutes before this, someone said, “This seems like a neighbourhood where you could find one of those roof to rails.” We turned the next corner and there was one right there so Rowan just felt like he had to do it [laughs]. This photo ran in Monster Children and it came out right when “BLESSED” came out because he was filming for it when he did this.
But the footage ended up in Baker 4?
Yeah, and I thought it would have come out in “BLESSED”. I was trying to push out photos that [the footage] was going to come out and they would become redundant. Then I was shocked it wasn’t and I thought I should have held onto it for a little longer. Anyways, it doesn’t really matter. It came out in Baker 4, Logan [Lara] filmed it. Through “BLESSED”, and finishing that up, he was filming a lot in general. Every time he’s not injured and steps on a skateboard something crazy happens. When “BLESSED” came out he would have had a couple of tricks leftover that didn’t get used, like this one, and he would have just turned it on and gotten the last bits to fill in his [Baker 4] part.
The dudes bringing a different thing to skating are also going to bring a different thing to photography because you have to keep up with what they’re doing and make their shit look as cool as it is.
Rowan’s great to watch because his skating is so haphazard. Although it’s harder to do it justice and capture that essence in a photo than it is to film it, this one says it all.
I haven’t shot that many photos of him but the couple I had the chance to, they were pretty photogenic. But, yeah, totally, there’s a lot of people like that. Aidan’s like that as well. Sometimes it’s hard. You don’t get the “classic skate photo”, necessarily, but skating is evolving so much anyway so you have to figure out a way to shoot it. That’s your job. The dudes bringing a different thing to skating are also going to bring a different thing to photography because you have to keep up with what they’re doing and make their shit look as cool as it is. They’re pushing the photographers to make themselves better.
Evan Mock, hurricane, Los Angeles, CA, 2019
You know how there are some skateboarders who have careers, then get into other things, and if skateboarding takes a backseat it can give off the impression skating was just the jumping off point for them? Take modelling and fashion in this instance. With Evan, I guess he got picked up by that other world first and it just so happens that he’s really good at skating too. Because his notoriety isn’t solely rooted in skating in a traditional way, people don’t have the negative thought that he’s traded one thing for another.
Yeah. He’s had a massive year and it’s sick to see. He deserves anything that comes to him. He was obviously very lucky, and in the right place at the right time, but he also had the skillset to keep that momentum going. Through skating, taking photos and just being a good, nice person to be around. And he’s kept good company the whole time so he’s brought his legitimacy by his associations. You’re like, “Well, he must be alright because all the F.A. dudes fuck with him and all the Palace dudes fuck with him.” So, I don’t think people want to write him off completely. He’s an easy target if you want to be like, “Pfft, fuckin’ Evan Mock,” you know?
Maybe because what he’s doing was facilitated by Instagram to an extent? Although he doesn’t come across with any of the narcissism that usually goes with all that shit. He just seems like a skate rat that’s involved with other things.
Yeah, because he wasn’t trying to do it. The stars started aligning and now he’s doing his thing [laughs]. He wasn’t like, “I’m going to be famous.” He ended up on Frank Ocean’s Instagram and the reason it worked is because he’s genuine, because he wasn’t hungry for that. He wasn’t trying to be this certain dude or think he’s the coolest guy in the world. He was just stoked to be there and still is.
He’s conscious of the fact he doesn’t want to come across as super kooky. When I say he’s “conscious” of it, he ain’t stopping posting crazy photos or wearing ridiculous outfits, but he is conscious of it and that’s why this photo came about. We’ve kept in touch a lot, but it was part of a conversation where he was kind of saying, “Everyone’s going to write me off.” That sort of thing. So I said, “Well, let’s get you a skate photo.” He was bouncing around everywhere, I kind of was too at the time last year. We were going to be in L.A. together on this one day and we could go shoot a photo. Monster Children needed a cover for their photo annual and this is so picturesque.
There’s a few parts to this story, actually. Everybody originally saw that pool because Tino Razo and a bunch of the Supreme dudes went up there after work one day. Tino put up a photo of Cody Simmons grinding that thing and everyone was like, “What the fuck? Where is that? That thing is incredible.” People started going to it and I guess the cops started getting called. I always wanted to shoot a photo there but I got a bit scared of the cop thing.
It died down, so this was probably six months after they had gone up that I went to check it out. I spoke to the foreman who was working on the house and he gave me a tour around the place and told me when they’d be off work, and what day we could probably get away with it, without directly telling us to come and do it. I knew Monster Children would go for it. Obviously the spot does everything, it’s nothing to do with my photo.
Grant Taylor, backside noseblunt, Los Angeles, CA, 2020
I thought it was going to take him two minutes because he’s insanely good and then he was trying that for about three hours
So, Grant’s noseblunt. This was recent?
Yeah, it was like a week ago. Anything that I’ve shot this year hasn’t really come out in a magazine or anything so I had slim pickings for something to put in for 2020. This one is relevant because it’s during isolation in L.A. That’s at the Home Depot spot, and that pimple thing was built during isolation.
I was quickly meeting up with a friend at the spot to grab something and Grant just happened to be there solo, skating to let off some steam. I had all my gear with me so I said “What’s up” and asked if he wanted to shoot a photo for the fun of it, because we’re both bored out of our brains, and he was down.
[Laughs]. I thought it was going to take him two minutes because he’s insanely good and then he was trying that for about three hours. It was funny. Dan Plunket and Eric Koston showed up with some beers and a bit of a vibe and he made it. [Laughs]. It was one of those ridiculous torture sessions. He’s got two different shoes on because he had to grab a different shoe from his car because he stepped in a human shit.
Anyways, we’re all in isolation because of fucking COVID-19, and I’d just got a brand new 70 to 200mm lens. It’s a good lens to shoot someone from a really far away place, practising social distancing, so that’s why this one made it into the mix.
There’s got to be a handful of people who still make you feel a little starstruck about shooting. Is Grant one of them?
For sure. You get ‘bucket list’ skaters. I’d actually shot a couple of photos of Grant on a Skate Rock tour in Australia, years ago. But I was like the second photographer because Rhino was there for Thrasher. The Evan Mock photo very nearly could have been a Grant photo. We were going to go up there one day but he’s more of a Thrasher dude than a Monster Children dude, anyways [laughs]
Grant’s one of my favourite skaters and you always want to take photos of your favourite skaters. I recently went to shoot a couple of photos with [Andrew] Reynolds. Although, I’ve been around Reynolds a little bit over the last ten years, I hadn’t actually shot any photos of him and that was a sick one. The feeling of, “Fuck yeah, I’m shooting a photo of Reynolds.” Or when you’re writing the file description: “Andrew Reynolds, blah blah blah.” That’s sick [laughs]. Grant’s one of those. I would say AVE is probably the main one. I really want a photo of AVE. Also, he’s just got such an interesting personality, where he’s really guarded, so he’s intimidating to say the least [laughs]. He’s such a nice dude, he’s just quiet. It leaves you, like, “Fuck. I don’t know what he’s thinking.”
As I said, I’d shot a couple of photos of Grant that even got published in Australian magazines but I’d never just go out on a mission together to shoot a photo. Which still, this was just coincidence, so I guess that still hasn’t happened, but I’m real keen. He’s great [laughs].
Jeff Grosso, Shanghai, China, 2018
This wasn’t one of the photos you sent over but after the news broke about Jeff it felt remiss not to end this on a little tribute to him. As harsh as he could be, the way Jeff talked about skateboarding was incredibly heartfelt. He really wore his heart on his sleeve too, especially in interviews over the last few years, and the contrast in his personality made him a really endearing character to me. When I discovered he was into Elliott Smith a few years ago, it was like the cherry on top. He was knowledgeable, hilarious and yeah, maybe brash, but also clearly a pretty sensitive guy.
I didn’t really know Jeff but we’d end up at Vans events at the same time. He was with Chris Nieratko and we were just outside of Shanghai for a Vans Park Series.
Elliott Smith is one of my favourite musicians. Normally, I’m not very good at shooting photos of people that aren’t my friends or pulling people aside. I’m not that comfortable with saying, “Can I get a portrait of you?” until they’re a good friend. But I couldn’t help it with that t-shirt. Like, “Dude! Can I get a photo of you in that t-shirt?” and he was like, “Yeah, of course.”
I just randomly shot that one and I was stoked to have a photo of Grosso in an Elliott Smith t-shirt. Now, it’s a bummer to be relevant because he passed away. He was such a nice dude. As I said, I didn’t get to hang out with him that much but he was such a fucking legend.
I loved that he did seem very humbled by his experiences in his life and he was happy to show his vulnerabilities with that. That’s a really good lesson for a lot of those hard-arsed dudes. He was a hard-arsed dude too, that went through some shit, and comes off as a pretty gnarly dude, covered in tattoos and had a patchy past. Still, he was able to come across as a sensitive, nice, warm person with all of what he put out. I think he was a really important figure for a lot of characters in skateboarding to relate to. To be staunch but also to be like, “Of course I have feelings. What do you think I am, a monster?” Yeah, he was awesome.
I loved that he did seem very humbled by his experiences in his life and he was happy to show his vulnerabilities with that. That’s a really good lesson
Related: Andrew Allen Interview – “I’ve always tried to be thankful for the opportunity”, Rowan Zorilla Interview – “I hope it’s not that’s not my first and last trip”, Austyn Gillette Interview (2018), Austyn Gillette – ‘Radiant Cure’