Benjamin Deberdt’s Paris

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Benjamin Deberdt Portrait by Clement Harpillard - Interview by Jacob Sawyer – Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Benjamin shooting on the streets of Paris by Clement Harpillard. Words and interview by Jacob Sawyer.
All photos by Benjamin Deberdt


Following the London instalment of our photography retrospective with Benjamin Deberdt, this decade-spanning chapter takes us to Paris. Shortly after a French BMX magazine started featuring skateboarding in the 1980s, Benjamin ventured from his countryside home on the outskirts of the city to the Eiffel Tower pond with his cousin. This early mission, armed with the Variflex complete which his cousin had painted to look like a Powell ‘Experimental’ board, would prove to be a formative experience – as would early encounters with his father’s camera and the rituals surrounding film photography.

With skateboarding as a compass, Benjamin’s path as a photographer would emerge in the mid-90s where he cut his teeth shooting friends in Paris. It was amazing to receive this array of photos shot on the streets he knows so well and it’s fitting a discussion about photos, shot on home turf begins, with an image captured where his own journey began; in the city he still calls home and continues to represent, celebrate and preserve with his work.


Stephane Bob Queme - Ollie at the Eiffel Tower Banks in 1997 – Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Stephane “Bob” Queme, AKA DJ Falcon With an S.F. Inspired Ollie at The Eiffel Tower Ponds, 1997


“The spot was always surrounded by mystery.”


From London to Paris. This photo is Stephane Queme at the Eiffel Tower pond. This is DJ Falcon, right?

Yeah, that’s his musical name. When I started coming to Paris, he was one of the best street skaters and then a whole generation vanished into rave music, basically. Some of them did a lot of good things when it comes to making music, some disappeared into drug-induced brain damage but that’s another story.

He’s one of the guys who got really involved in music and ended up being involved in Daft Punk. He actually has a Daft Punk sticker on his board. I’m not sure of his exact role but I think he was producing some of their work. Then he had a couple of hits making his own music under DJ Falcon. That era and style of house music is called ‘French Touch’ – Daft Punk and that whole crew. He’s still DJing and producing. I saw him at an event recently and he asked me about this photo actually so he’s going to be stoked to see it.

Another guy, who was Daft Punk’s manager, has a record label called Ed Banger. His name is Pedro Winter and he’s one of the most famous French musicians of the last ten years; on TV and everything, producing everybody. I used to skate with this guy years ago too. He was involved in organising this big exhibition about skateboarding about ten years ago. Some people wondered why this guy was organising this event, thinking he wasn’t a skater. But he fully was – not just some guy collecting vintage boards.

This photo was shot in 1997 when the ponds were empty for months! Empty and skateable. The spot was always surrounded by mystery. They’d empty it every couple of years, clean it and service the water pipes then you would get to skate it for a day or two. There was barely any security, it was a different world and sometimes you’d have hundreds of kids skating it. At one point, they’d clean it in one day. Early in the morning your phone would ring and someone had the intel on it being empty. Then you’d rush down on your lunch break and it was already being filled up. For whatever reason, in 1997 something was broken and they couldn’t fill it back up. They gave up trying to police the skaters. Sometimes you’d get kicked out but after already having skated it for three hours. It turned into the Paris skatepark for six-or-so months. You’d go there every day because it may be gone tomorrow. Then it got to the point where it was empty for so long that people were bored of it which is pretty crazy to think.

This bench had obviously travelled, alongside yourself.

At one point, they allowed that bench to be carried there. I think Gonz was still living in Lyon, or he was visiting, but I remember taking him there, thinking, “If I’m going to get a Gonz photo at the Eiffel Tower, I can retire”.

It’s the photo you dreamed of when you were a kid and I was on my way to take it. Ponds are empty, we can skate it. I’m with Gonz, he’s psyched. We get there and he was starting to move the bench to do something different with it, I was so happy it was happening. Then we get kicked out by the police. The actual police came and said no more skating there. I remember begging them, saying how we’d been skating there for months. Their story was that skating had started shaking the structure which could be complete bullshit or could be true because Paris has a lot of catacombs and old tunnels everywhere.

I even argued that this was Mark Gonzales and we needed to get this photo but that didn’t work. It was a time when the police weren’t aware of Mark Gonzales. So, yeah, no Gonz photo for me or anybody.

But you have this one with it’s own story.

Oh for sure, sometimes you don’t have the photo but you have a good story so it’s fine.

This is a pretty ‘East Coast’ photo for the Eiffel Tower pond.

Stephane Queme was the OG street skater from Paris. I remember him spending a summer out in S.F. and this is when if you went somewhere, you would go to EMB – I think 1992 or ’94, probably. 

He came back and he was on a totally different level. Two months in S.F. and he was so much better and had a different approach. Everyone would be skating a perfect, little marble spot because there’s a lot of that in Paris – we’re completely spoiled. Stephane came back and he was flying over everything and skating imperfect spots that people would complain about. It’s really cool to have a photo of this guy because he was definitely a special Parisian skater at a special time.


Scott Bourne - 50-50 Huck in – Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Scott Bourne about to huck in off of the top rope, 1999.


“The perfect bank and the worst bank-to-bar possible. Everyone goes there thinking they’re going to do something and you know they’re probably not.”


A North Carolina to Paris transplant with Scott Bourne.

Scott Bourne, my neighbour. He’s been my neighbour for years now. Every time I’ve moved, he’s ended up moving not too far away, or the other way around.

This photo might be the first time he came to Paris or at least the first time he stayed long enough. Back then, Joe Brook and Anthony Claravall would come over for SLAP Magazine. They would stay, then do a whole trip: Paris and Barcelona with a few weeks in each place. Scott Bourne, Tony Cox, Jessie Van Roechoudt – who was one of the three sponsored female skateboarders in the world at the time, then maybe Rob Gonzales and Danny Montoya. I think one year that was the [exact] crew. A super diverse group of people.

They’d scrape their sponsorship money together and basically live off of bread and cheese for two months in Europe. The Sugar Magazine office was the place where you could call the United States for free, drop all your stuff and go skate. It was a hub. We had this thing with Joe where we would take them places and be able to shoot photos, everyone was working together. Nobody was saying, “I’m the only one shooting.”

This spot is the perfect bank and the worst bank-to-bar possible. Everyone goes there thinking they’re going to do something and you know they’re probably not. It’s kind of easy to get into a trick but super hard to get out of it; lock into one grind or slide but it won’t happen. We showed up one day with a big crew, I’m pretty sure Joe was there, maybe Cairo Foster and Kenny Reed too. Scott said he was going to try it. He had a board that was fully broken in the middle so it flexed when he pushed on it. Somehow he starts to grind it and you can see he’s going to do it. He was trying to 50-50 the bar and ollie out of it but he was getting so pissed.

He was pushing so hard at it, I remember when he was swerving to get in to the bank his board was completely banana shaped from how broken it was. He’s super frustrated, his board is destroyed and he is so close to doing it. He ends up doing one and grabbing to get out of it. It’s an insane thing to do and with a broken board it’s even crazier. Everyone is cheering and he comes back over, angry and pissed off. Happy to have landed it but, you know, Scott Bourne style.

Then someone started joking, saying it wasn’t a make because he “cheated” by grabbing out of it. He got so pissed that he skated off and did it, no grab, on the broken board, straight away out of sheer anger. Everybody is crying with laughter. Nobody shot the photo because it was such a quick, “fuck you guys” and he did it first try. Scott stayed in Paris and wanted to go back to shoot the photo but he never managed it again without grabbing.

He needed the harassment.

I guess some of us do, I remember needing that sometimes.

Another one I have is Leo Romero’s nosegrind. It was the same thing. We got kicked out because that was when the mall next door [to the spot] really started happening so the security didn’t want us flying around people. Security came twice and he was fully nosegrinding this thing but trying to pop out. He was committed and he was going to do it. He went for one last go, locks into the nosegrind, starts grinding but out of the corner of his eye he sees the security coming for the third time and he knows that’s it, last chance.

He grabbed it and it was the same thing, just to make it back in. He fully would have done the nosegrind pop out. In my photo – the photo of the make, his hands are nowhere near the board. The footage was in an Emerica tour video and you can tell he’s basically popping out and then he grabs it last minute to make sure he’s going to land on it. One of those moments where skateboarding happens.

Scott was the first person to hit that bar?

He was, a couple of people may have tried before but nobody was making it. For a while there was a funny situation. The first time Scott stayed here for a long time, he’d be like, “Benjamin I saw this thing and I want to hit it.”

Every time it be, “Jeremie Daclin noseslid it” or “Jeremie already ground it.” Scott obviously had no idea who Jeremie Daclin was so I had to give him a lesson on Jeremie’s credentials. Normally, he would get to skate “a Scott Bourne spot” and he was used to that, then he gets to Paris and someone who doesn’t even live in Paris has already hit all of the spots. They became buddies but that’s a funny Scott Bourne moment.

Did shooting with Scott – a skater from elsewhere but in the city you know so well – make you look at Paris in a different way?

Definitely. He moved or started coming here often around 1999. Parisian skating still revolved around skating perfect marble ledges apart from a small group that I was shooting photos with who were emulating what was happening on the East Coast more.

For the vast majority it was about skating the perfect marble ledge and doing a kickflip back tail. For photos, this can be frustrating and boring sometimes, especially if you’re trying to fill a magazine. If you’re just shooting photos you can capture a sick trick someone has done that’s really good but filling a magazine requires more.

Scott would find something and show you the spot but it just wasn’t a spot, he’d have something in mind. I’d say, “You’re gonna try and you’re going to get hurt but you’re not going to do it.” But somehow he would and I’d have to admit I was wrong. We ended up shooting an interview for Kingpin over the course of a few years there and it was only sequences. The least tech skater in the world had an interview that was only sequences because all of his tricks didn’t make sense as single photos. There are a few things he did in Paris I will cruise by [the spots] nowadays and they’re ridiculous, things nobody now would even touch. Officially, nothing is made for skating but some things definitely aren’t.


Kevin Rodriguez - Ollie Through And Over – Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Kevin Rodriguez threads the needle over a freshly cut tree while Benjamin lies in traffic, 2015.


From Scott Bourne, a kind of elder statesman, to Kevin Rodriguez doing what he does best. Am I right ink thinking you’ve watched Kevin grow up?

My first memory of Kevin is from when I was no longer working for Sugar. The office had moved really close to my apartment so I’d stop by to see my friends there, sometimes use the scanner on the hush and bug them to go skate or get a sandwich or something. On the way over, there was this kid skating a little flatground area, learning how to skate. In my memory, one of then did a nollie heelflip. Kevin and I argued about it for years, with him saying he’d never done a nollie heelflip in his life. Recently, we realised it was fakie.

You know when you’re a kid, and you land a trick, and you’re so excited? I saw that. I’m the older guy and of a generation where, if you pass skaters by, you’re going to wave and say “hi”. The younger kids, especially when they first start skating are kind of spooked by it, like, “Why is this old person waving at me?” But that day that I saw him land the trick, I saw his face and he was looking at all of his friends but nobody saw it. I remember his eyes looking into mine and I was like, “I saw it.” I was just skating by but I saw that kid was psyched.

Years later, it was Kevin. I saw him growing up and, later, I shot a ‘Check Out’ with him for Kingpin when he was sixteen or maybe even younger. He lived one block away from my apartment and for years, I would always see them. To the point where there was the local bar, the old skaters bar, which I still go to. It’s where Scott and I and visiting friends visiting would go. Next door was the bar for the young kids, when they came of age all the Blobys would go there. I clearly remember walking by to my bar to meet Scott or someone my age. They were all there: 18 years old with their first girlfriends and a bottle of white wine, being all fancy. I remember looking over, smiling and thinking, “The kids are growing up.”


“This was when he was more and more determined not to travel and to stay in Paris to find some weird stuff to do.”


I’ve watched Kevin grow into a sick skater and a great guy. The best thing about this photo is it’s the exact same distance, the exact median point between my apartment and his apartment. This was when he was more and more determined not to travel and to stay in Paris, find weird stuff to skate. That’s what I always liked documenting anyway so I was obviously psyched about that.

One day I get off the bus, walk by and this tree has just been cut down. I sent the photo to Kevin and asked him if he wanted to skate it for a photo. The next day he’s like, “I filmed a line, let’s go back and shoot the photo.” The line is in a section he had when he first got on Converse, he ollied through the posts and over the tree, then does the best flat ground heelflip in the streets of Paris, between the cars.

We arranged to shoot that photo Sunday morning so there’s less traffic, he doesn’t get run over, and I don’t mess up the photo with a car in front. We met there at around 9am. My wife was with our son, Victor at the end of the block. Literally. I said I’d shoot the photo and we’d meet for coffee but that I’d meet her at the coffee spot and asked her not to come over [to where we were shooting] with Victor because I was going to be doing something kids shouldn’t try to mimic: Kevin jumping into the middle of traffic.

Ten minutes later, I’m lying on the ground in the middle of a four-lane street. It’s a Sunday morning, so it’s not super busy, but still Kevin is ollieing into traffic. Victor who was three years old comes walking up to see what’s going on and says, “What are you doing, daddy?”

“Yeah, uh… Don’t do this in your life. Ever.”

That thing was impossible to do but Kevin just has it. We shot the trick and we were all sitting down together, having coffee and talking about life by 10am – a good way to start a Sunday. Ben Chadourne was there to shoot it and it’s the same thing with Ben, I’ve shot photos of him when he was 16 in Bordeaux and now he’s filming all these major videos.

It must also be rad to see that Kevin found a home with Jason Dill, another old friend?

I knew it was going to happen. I remember going to the premiere for I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time. with Samir [Krim] and Kevin has a sick part in it. Afterwards, we went for dinner with Dill and William Strobeck. Dill must have been in town to film for the opening of the Supreme store and he was so excited about Kevin. I remember him saying something along the lines of, “Kevin, I don’t understand what he does, I don’t understand why he does it, but it looks sick.”

“That’s exactly the point.”

What’s even more amazing is that Kevin managed to carve a niche where he can actually dictate what he does and doesn’t want to do. People really want to see what he has to offer. We come from the time where you had to go to the States to be sanctioned by the media and the big brands to be recognised worldwide. Whereas now, Kevin can be in Paris doing his own thing. He does go on trips, he’s not completely denying the whole thing, but you would never have been able to do that before. There were five filmers in the world whereas now it’s wide open.

One of his last parts was an edit of cell phone footage, a Converse and Hockey thing for a shoe. It took me a couple of watches to take it in but he does an early grab wallride and it’s actually blindfolded, he covers his eyes with his hand. It’s obscured but someone else would have made that super obvious. He’s just throwing that in there and you  have to search for it. He also rides over a super tiny flatbar on his old school bicycle. I cruise by it every day and it’s barely the width of his tyres but the way it’s filmed you just don’t think about it. It’s crazy but in the video it passes you by.

I think it’s on purpose too, he likes to make it more difficult for people to realise what he does. Self-imposed torture.

Jeremie Daclin - Bercy Boardslide – Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Jeremie Daclin chooses a Bercy boardslide for dessert, 1999


“He had tried the boardslide a few months earlier and got worked … After a full dinner when all you want to do is go to bed, he calls on the mission.”


This is gnarly and right at the beginning of Cliché working on Europa? Jeremie setting the tone for what would come here.

Yeah, basically. The first ever issue of Sugar had an interview with Jeremie where he announced starting Cliché. He’s been the boss of French skateboarding for years. This was a few years later, fully in filming mode for what would become Europa.

Pontus [Alv] was in town and the focus would’ve mostly been on him to get some footage. All I remember is that after a long day out skating, with me following them, we went for a dinner at this Indian place and ended up having one of these giant meals. We were all stuffed and Jeremie announced that he wanted to go back to this spot. It was the beginning of winter and starting to get cold. After a big dinner, it’s the last thing you want to do but I guess Jeremie has never been afraid of putting his body on the line.

He had tried the boardslide a few months earlier and got worked. We had tried to shoot a sequence and I ended up running the slam in Sugar for a subscription page with some tagline, like, “Even the best of us eat shit.” It was a really bad slam. So after a full dinner, when all you want to do is go to bed, he calls on the mission. We took the metro there and he just went for it. Typical Jeremie. He smoked a cigarette, stretched – he’d always pretend to stretch but he’s really doing some weird movement that probably hurts more than anything whilst smoking, then he just goes for it and he did it fairly quick.

In the footage you can see Pontus sitting on the ledge at the bottom, cheering and stoked. I’m sure that deep in his mind, he was thinking, “Oh shit, I’m going to have to really go for it. The boss is going hard so there’s no time for slipping.”

Is this another spot Jeremie got to before Scott Bourne?

For sure. Another instance where Scott had eyed something up, he ended up getting smoked there too. It was on the SLAP trip with Joe Brook.

Scott and Howard Cooke were skating together a lot and both wanted to boardslide it at the same time. There are two of those hubbas so it worked out they could skate them simultaneously. They tried the doubles idea but Scott got smoked and that was that.

Many years later I ended up getting a shot of Slash doing a layback front board down it on some Altamont trip which was pretty crazy. These would be the only two tricks. Jeremie, Slash – maybe Howard – and rollerbladers are the only ones who got anything on it.

Jeremie is still killing it.

It’s great that skateboarding is at a point where he’s able to dig deep into his bag of tricks from maybe thirty years ago. Stuff he learned on ledges or kerbs or even tricks he’s only learned now with a body that functions less than it used to. In many ways skateboarding is now at one of the best places it’s ever been in terms of being open-minded as to what’s good and what’s supposed to be good.

Jeremie is here to stay. He’s like Wu-Tang, he’s here for the children.


Dom Henry - Switch Flip From 2014 – Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Dom Henry secures an early morning switch flip before taking his train home, 2014


Dom is one of my all-time favourites, his output is next level. Is this the result of him making things happen off his own back to shoot with you?

Yeah, this is when I first met him. He was in town with James Cruickshank who was filming one of his own projects and Dom was working on a part for it. They came on their own, paid for their trip and were meeting up with friends.

This is when my body was starting not to function so good. Through a couple of friends, or maybe Dom hit me up through social media, I met them in Bastille. I have a funny photo of them where they were filming some line and I just happened to be there walking. I couldn’t follow them around all day shooting but I said if Dom had something he really wanted to shoot we could go and do it. Dom had already filmed the switch flip but he hit me up because he was leaving so we met in the morning before he had to take his train.

I’m stoked on this photo. Dom is amazing, he must have a part in every city in the world. So many local videos and underground projects. He ends up somewhere, works for six months and produces a part. It’s so cool. The vast majority of his footage is done on his own terms, with his own money, with no specific brand involvement,. We ended up getting that photo, going for coffee then he took his train and I went back home to my kid. Perfect, that’s how it goes these days.

Dom’s style on this one is amazing, it’s a very Quim Cardona switch flip. Not many tricks have been done over this. I shot a good photo of Lucas [Puig] here I like too but I really dig this photo of Dom.


Glen Fox - Frontside Noseslide – Bastille - Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Bastille-based Jenga – Glen Fox frontside noseslides the gap, 2008.


Glen Fox’s quick feet in a front nose. This spot wasn’t around for long?

Yeah, this is a few years after Republique got completely re-done and they announced they would do the Bastille plaza too. For a year, they had these wooden boxes and banks lying around, designed so people could feedback ideas about what they wanted from the new plaza. The banks were kind of good to skate for a minute but then you can tell the bottom started to get rough, then they became un-skateable. I’m also sure someone got killed or badly hurt trying to jump out of one on a bike after too many beers, so one day they took them away.

This was a typical skateboarding day. Glen had a spot in mind around the corner but it rained so we got a coffee and waited for it to dry. He told me a million stories about projects and crews and friends he was involved with while we were waiting. I think maybe he was living in Holland at the time, he’s one of those guys who move around.

We talked and then went to the spot but it was still wet so I suggested we went here to warm up. He started messing around with this setup. I knew it could be a good photo and that those things would be gone at some point soon so it was worthwhile shooting. He started skating it, if you’ve watched Glen skate you know, his skating is amazing to watch but hard to document and translate into a photo. This thing is very hard to skate, the lips are messed up, the whole thing is a nightmare. He was skating it with no gap at first and I suggested we make one for the photo. It made no difference to him. It’s one of those where the passer-by makes it even better too, you can’t plan that.

Glen hit Augustin Giovannoni’s fisheye filming a line shortly afterwards, which spoiled the vibe because Glen was mortified. We ended up never going to the spot we were meant to go to, it’s just around the corner but it got too busy. One of those days you have a plan and end up getting something completely different, then months later the spot is gone. There haven’t been that many photos shot there but I have this shot of Glen.

Preserving Parisian history.

Kind of. It’s funny, this area – Bastille – is where I started to shoot skate photos; shooting photos of my friends and trying to get better at it so I have photos of all of these different eras at that spot. So many of the spots I’ve shot have been modified by the city or aren’t the same as they used to be. I’ve started compiling the photos and it’s pretty interesting. Now I need to shoot the new configuration of the plaza. That could be a good idea for a zine or an exhibition.

We’re actually trying to show that to the city of Paris but I don’t see them being too excited about showcasing illegal activities there over the years, but who knows? My friend is a photojournalist involved in many projects, including some with the city, so it could happen. He’s an old skater, he used to document wars and war zones for many years. He’s one of those guys I always joke with, saying I’m happy we don’t have the same portfolio. He does a job which needs to be done but it’s not for me. He’s been involved in many of the projects we have done postering the streets of the city.


Soy Panday - 360 Flip on a Charles Daudelin Statue - Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Soy Panday times a picture perfect 360 flip on a busy Parisian street, 2008.


Here he is. This Charles Daudelin monument makes for an epic photo, as does Soy’s quick tre of course. This is a super busy street, right?

It’s very busy and very touristic, lots of foot traffic. This sculpture is almost on a roundabout so you have to ollie up after getting speed on a corner where the streets all converge. There are so many factors to weigh up on the timing. It’s one of the spots where if someone wants to hit it, you organise an early Sunday morning meet-up. Then everyone turns up at 11:30am, it’s already busy and you have to deal with it.

That photo of Soy is a thing of beauty because he did a beautiful 360 flip. He always jokes about it but Soy is responsible for the fisheye angle on this one. I wanted to shoot long lens, and tried to, but he really wanted it shot fisheye. Thank Soy for that one but I’m sure that 360 flip would look good regardless.

When we first started talking about doing this interview, I was stoked that you mentioned were out with Soy, shooting photos, still at it.

Yeah, I mean we cut this short the other day because I had to meet Soy again to shoot a photo.

I’m working on this thing now with the SB Skateboard Journal, a Japanese magazine. It’s an article about skating in Paris. We ended up getting a photo of Soy which could end up being his last one for a little while. He’s having surgery on his ankle, one of those scrape and clean things getting rid of some bone, which is very painful. We have the photo and he has the footage so it should be in a Magenta edit sometime soon.

We’ve been shooting together for what might be twenty years now. I always remember the first photo we shot and I always remind him of it if he is trying to play it too cool. It was Osiris sponsored, he was wearing the worst shoes possible. It’s a nollie heel on a super steep bank but all you can see is the Osiris logo on the sole. The skating is sick but the times have changed, for sure. We’ve shot photos all over the world: New York, India, Paris, Spain, London. It’s still always fun. Maybe he gets his ankle fixed and we have another twenty years of shooting together.

As an old friend, you must be proud of what he and Magenta have brought to the table too?

Those guys have done so much. In many ways, I was inspired by them. They used to visit me in London. They were inspired by what inspired me too which we’ve talked about. Toby doing his thing with his clothing company, Suburban Bliss; Landscape; Fos starting his own brand – being exposed to this and seeing other people making it work makes it seem possible. I’m sure they were inspired by some of those visits.

They’re very involved with the skate scene here and it’s been ten years [of Magenta] now. They’ve carved their own niche and built their own thing with Ruben [Spelta] in Milan, who skates completely differently to Gunes [Ӧzdogan] but you can feel it’s the same vibe in many ways. It works. They really refine what they want to showcase and do, it’s sick to see. Vivien Feil was there the other day and he’s still ripping, channeling the frustration of having four boys in a house into whatever minutes of skating he can get. He has four boys including two twins all with the same energy as him so I think his skating is fuelled by that stress.


Leo Valls - Pivot Fakie - Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Leo Valls turning heads with a mayday, 2008.


Following the Magenta theme with another family member. This is very early on in Leo Valls career, on a short-lived spot. You’d previously mentioned having trouble getting this one to run.

I think it ran in Kingpin but I’m not sure. He was young and starting to develop his skating into what he’s been doing since. He’s always been into finding spots, a very East Coast approach. He was very inspired by some of the articles I wrote and shot back in the day about going to New York and the way people were skating. Then he was exposed to videos and the Japanese side of skateboarding.

The first time we went skating, we shot a couple of things and I was trying to get him a ‘Check Out’-style article in Kingpin. There was a discussion about the photo where the argument was that “the trick wasn’t that hard” and my argument was that this guy has something unique to show. This whole area was being rebuilt, and this spot wasn’t there for long, so not much was done. You see the photo and it looks fun, then you get there and it isn’t. It was fun to try but not easy to skate at all.

It has the look back which made the Glen Fox photo too.

Yeah, the four girls make the photo in a way. Without, it’s a bland street being fixed with construction. It’s typically one of those photos where you’re hoping for someone to show up and that one worked. I guess Leo is good enough and smart enough that he was already aware of trying to get people in the background.

Recently, Soy and I went back to this one spot, trying to get a better photo than the one we already got. Now and then, he would really go for it when people were walking in front of me. Sometimes it’s even better like that and it’s funny how some skaters will go for it at a weird time when there are cars or pedestrians. They’ll look back to see if you’ve got it and sometimes you just can’t tell. It’s good to try, then you find out at the lab. Push for it and hope for the best.


Samir Krim - Backside Tailslide - Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Samir Krim backside tailslides blocks away from Bercy, 1999.


“I want to have an article or story about the rules of skateboard photography because quite a few things have been rubbing me up the wrong way recently. The rules need to be reassessed again I think.”


Going further back in time now; did you shoot this with Samir when you were living together?

I’m pretty sure it was around the time when we lived together for a year or two. I mentioned learning to shoot in Bastille and Samir is one of the first people I learned to shoot skate photos with. When I moved on from trying to shoot my friends to becoming a photographer, that was the area and the crew I was skating with the most. Bastille crew: Samir and his brother, Salim and all the others – guys who were good enough at skating that you could suggest shooting a photo, and friendly enough to allow you to experiment even though you have no idea what you’re doing. That way there’s no stress if it doesn’t come out and it’s a nice surprise if it does. Back then there was no skateboard media, nowhere to run skate photos, so we weren’t losing much if we missed a trick. Samir is one of my oldest friends in skateboarding and someone I learned how to shoot photos with thanks to his patience and motivation.

This one has a funny story too. This photo was shot when Sugar Magazine was happening. Samir has some sponsors, the mag has advertising, he’s fully wearing Emericas there so I’m sure it’s at a point where we could use any good photo we get. It’s the two of us and no filmer in the winter, we’re shooting by Gare De Lyon – a couple of blocks from Bercy, the famous ledge spot. Somehow, another photographer walked by, maybe on his way to Bercy or the train station home, and I asked him if he could hold a flash for me. He helped us out for a minute and had to leave. He held the flash for us, Samir lands his trick and we get the photo, it was used in the mag – maybe it was a Street Machine ad.

I walk into Street Machine a couple of weeks later. It was the main skate shop back then and the meeting point for everybody. The photographer who held the flash is there, explaining to everyone that he was there and Samir didn’t even do the trick and now the photo is full page in the mag. He didn’t see me walking in and I kind of had to raise my voice a little bit and he had to shut up. Samir was so mad that he ended up going back and filming it just so this guy and a couple of other guys would have to be quiet. Silly skate beef but it’s funny.

This is for another time but I want to have an article or story about the rules of skateboard photography because quite a few things have been rubbing me up the wrong way recently. The rules need to be reassessed again I think.

Watch this space. Samir is part of the glue which established transatlantic relations too, right?

When we first met, Samir and his friends would go to the States whenever they could. Once a year they’d take summer trips to San Francisco to skate EMB and all the following spots. After I went to New York, he started going there too and became friends with all of those guys. That’s when this strong connection developed.

Samir had a place and then all these people began coming to visit. Peter Bici came a few times, then he made Keenan Milton come and stay with us and then Gio Estevez. All those guys could come stay with us and there was a strong connection between the two skate scenes.

Peter Bici - Frontside Noseslide - Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Peter Bici brings a slice of New York to a short lived ledge in the Bastille, 2000.


“It was nice to be introduced to badass, New York firefighters as ‘the guy’ who made it happen.”


Considering that connection, this photo of Peter Bici makes sense as the next.

I remembered the other day, when digging out this photo, that Pete introduced me to some of his firefighter friends at a bar as, “The guy who shot his first interview ever.” I’m not sure if that’s true or not. He came to stay with us for a month and he was in full-on skate mode so he ended up getting a lot of photos. He had a really cool interview in Sugar in 1999 which could have been his first full interview in a mag.

Whatever, it was nice to be introduced to badass, New York firefighters as ‘the guy’ who made it happen. It was probably the best conversation I’ve ever had in a bar. It’s funny how after a bit, you realise you can ask all of these really dumb questions about firefighters that you’ve had all your life because that’s who you’re with. It’s also when you realise you don’t know shit.

I wanted to know what you do when you get to a super high security apartment, with a reinforced door and the fire may have jammed everything. I asked the question and the guy looked at me like I was really dumb and said, “You just blow up the wall next to it” so matter of fact. Apparently, they have these explosive things they just stick on the wall and it blows up.

That frontside noseslide is sick, it’s one of those spots which didn’t last too long. The building was being renewed and same thing [as Soy’s photo], it’s a super busy corner but they built this metal ledge which lasted a year or even less. It looks great for a photo but it’s not that easy to skate. Pete was on a tear though, we got a lot of really good photos from that trip. I lived at the end of that street so it was basically wake up, make coffee and go there for the photo. The jogger in the back makes the photo too.

The quintessential New Yorker, skating what could be a New York spot, but the July Column gives it away.

Definitely, even the jogger could be a New Yorker, it’s a good time capsule – those Axions with the yellow and orange.

Pete is one of the funniest guys, being a New Yorker he had that full-on thing where he would dress to be outside then change to skate when he got to a spot. I remember he had those pants you could zip off into shorts. They were a craze back then but his were the first I ever saw. He was skating Bercy and he zipped off the legs into shorts and said, “Transformer baby. Skate mode”.

This was the first time he came to Paris. He came back on another trip with Keenan and spent a couple of weeks in Paris. Keenan was hurt so he wasn’t really skating. We tried for one photo but he hurt his ankle again so we were just hanging out. I have a photo of Pete and Keenan sleeping on the floor of the main room in our house. Camping, sleeping on the ground like skate rats. It’s one of the photos I’m most happy to have. Good memories because of good people of course. Keenan could have been on tour somewhere, in a nice hotel, but he’s sleeping on the ground just to hang out with us and he’s happy with it.

We’ve all been there. One day you’re in a fancy place and the next you’re scrubbing some floor at your friends to pretend it’s clean enough for you to be sleeping on it. But both experiences are totally great.


Mark Gonzales - Layback Wallie - 2008 - Benjamin Deberdt's Paris – An Interview – Slam City Skates
Mark Gonzales entertained requests but this layback wallie was the winner, 2008/9.


We had to have a Gonz photo in here. There’s been many Gonz visits to Paris, I’m sure each one memorable in its own way. How did you first meet Mark?

I’ve been trying to pinpoint it over the last couple of years. I remember seeing him in Paris back in the day and seeing him skating one of the first Blind boards. We were showing my friend’s girlfriend around Paris, and didn’t come with our boards because we were still living in the suburbs, then we pass by one spot and someone tells us Gonz is there with Ron Chatman and they are skating the sundial, the wave which was next door. We tell the girls we really need to go and check out this church. We ended up watching Gonz and Ron Chatman skating the wave and they were skating these boards which we realised, months later, were Blind boards when they finally came out. We were two guys from the countryside outside Paris, we had no idea Blind was about to happen. That’s the first time I saw Gonz in real life.

He moved to Paris for a little while when he was officially out of skating and working to be an artist, that was the word on the street. I remember him walking by Street Machine a couple of times, trying to sell boards he had painted. I very much regret not buying one back then but I obviously had no money to. They weren’t expensive but I was too broke to be buying artwork. We talked there for the first time but we met later in New York in ’96.

This is when you were spending a lot of time at Alleged Gallery?

Yeah, this is when he was doing that show. Alleged was in between gallery spaces so he did a show in Aaron Rose’s apartment. This is when I was stopping by every morning to take showers so I would see Mark working on his collages and drawings.

You’ve been on your way home in Paris and ended up on an unplanned evening with him before too, right?

I have a very long history of missed opportunities when it comes to skate photos with Gonz. He’s quite difficult to catch, basically. He’s trying to do whatever it is but once it’s done that’s it. He’s not necessarily trying to get a photo or making it easy to.

There’s a cover of Sugar that I ended up shooting on January 1st 1999. There was this spot that Julien Bachelier wanted to skate, a metro exit so we need to go on a quiet day. It’s New Year’s Day,  you wake up hungover and start cleaning up your apartment. I finished and decided it was a good time to go and do that. We met up, shot the photo then went out for dinner so I would have been heading home around midnight. I lived by Bastille back then. I saw these two guys skating so I stopped by to see who and say hello. Turns out it’s Mark Gonzales who is in town for a few days and since he doesn’t sleep he goes out skating at all hours of the day. The other guy is an Italian tourist, a skater who was in town with his girlfriend. He went for a little skate around, bumped into Mark and had been skating with him for hours. He can’t just go, so he’s skating with Mark as much as he can.

We ended up spending the next four or five hours together. Mark did all of this crazy skating and I managed to fuck up every single photo from that night. I was too tired and it was too stressful to capture it I guess. That whole night is a little book on its own basically. There’s the big Bastille ledge that Scott Bourne 50-50’d and Jeremy Daclin noseslid. Mark just ran up there and dropped in on it and there was no light up there. He was pretending to surf, swerving on the ledge all the way down just for fun.

He was having so much fun that night. He had this tape player with a speaker which you could hold in your hand, skating around with it and he managed to ollie this really tall barrier with it in hand. I asked to shoot a photo of it and he was down. He wanted to put the tape player in front of the fisheye because it would look cool but the point of the photo was how sick the big ollie was with him holding it. We shot that and I ended up fucking it up with the flashes. Then we kept on skating.


“It was such a funny scene, the typical things you end up doing with Mark Gonzales. The next day you wake up thinking, “Did this really happen? Did we really do all of this?”


In République there was a barrier next to the street and you could skate it from low to high. Mark wanted to feeble grind it and transfer for a photo. It’s nighttime with traffic and people drive really fast. I’m already stressing about where to put flashes so they don’t get run over and how to shoot it. It’s 3am, I’m exhausted and my brain is fried. Then Mark decides he wants to do it so he’s grinding when the cars are really close to him. He only wants to jump onto the barrier when cars are really close to him because he thought it would look better. It would have looked great but my brain had stopped working and I messed up those photos too. I only knew a day later when I got the film back which is in a landfill somewhere right now. I was so pissed that I threw all of the film from that night in the trashcan at the photo lab and walked away.

Obviously what Mark was trying was difficult but he’s the best at pretending to not be able to do anything. He’d say, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it, I’m too old”. He’s been saying he’s too old for the past twenty years now. I think the Italian guy’s name was Matteo and we were both telling him he could do it. Then he said if he does it we have to buy him a Coke. He ended up doing it, which was crazy enough, then it’s 4am and we have to buy him a Coca-Cola.

We found this one bar that was still open and you know when you walk into a bar and everyone looks at you, like, “What are you doing here?” They both have boards, I have my photo bag and we’re walking into a bar which is full of men in their fifties, probably planning some illegal activity of sorts. We sat down and ordered four Coca-Cola’s and I remember thinking we need to get out of here somehow.

It was such a funny scene, the typical things you end up doing with Mark Gonzales. The next day you wake up thinking, “Did this really happen? Did we really do all of this?”

You do have a lot of photos that worked out though, this being one of them.

Yeah, I managed to not fuck up every single one of them.

This wallie was whilst filming for Diagonal, the first big adidas Skateboarding project. Mark was here and I think they had three days to film him. We ended up going all over the place with him and, of course, Mark didn’t want to skate the thing everyone else wanted him to but he’d find something around the corner. He was doing the wallie with the layback hand and flying out of that thing. I don’t know what came over me but I basically did what you should never do with Mark Gonzales: I suggested we shoot a different photo.

I wanted to shoot a kind of Spike Jonze photo with a fisheye. I said if it was a wallie, nobody would be psyched on so I convinced him to do the same trick but grab crail – back hand on the ledge still but other hand grabbing crail on the nose. I told him I was going to shoot it super close, like a Spike photo. He agreed but he wasn’t quite convinced. He did a few, and I shot it fisheye, but the photos aren’t good. Then I shot it from the back too but I think the crail grab, layback wallie from this angle would have been so much better. It’s one of those instances when you try too hard and it doesn’t work. I still can’t believe I got myself to ask Mark to do a specific trick.

On a Street Machine board.

Yeah he’s skating a Street Machine board. He broke his board earlier that day and he was always hanging out there over the years. I think it’s the series where every board was the name of a Parisian spot and he picked out The Dome.



Next: Benjamin Deberdt’s New York

Previously: Benjamin Deberdt’s London

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