Sam Ashley Interview

Posted on
INTERVIEW BY NEIL MACDONALD (@SCIENCEVERSUSLIFE) / Self Portrait with Junior by Sam Ashley
INTERVIEW BY NEIL MACDONALD (@SCIENCEVERSUSLIFE) / Self Portrait with Junior by Sam Ashley

 

If you have any interest in modern skateboarding, then there’s a very good chance that Sam Ashley shot some of your favourite photos. From the time of three big UK magazines all competing for your £5 every month, to these days of digital sharing, longer lenses and shorter attention spans, Sam’s been helping show the world how good UK and European skateboarding is for some twenty years now.

From his work shooting for (and photo-editing) Sidewalk, Document and Kingpin to his current role at Free, the bi-monthly magazine he co-founded with Will Harmon and Arthur Derien, Sam’s photographic work has always covered a genuinely exciting mix of people and places, of the unknown and the familiar, always with nothing less than absolutely banging results. Every issue of Free has skateboarders and spots you hadn’t yet known, and they’re every bit as exciting as—if not more than—any photo of some travelling US superstar skating the same spots we’ve been looking at for years.

Discussing in depth the ever-evolving landscape of modern skateboard culture, Free’s bi-monthly dose of European skateboard reality is a consistently refreshing, surprising, inspiring insight into some of the most interesting people and ideas in skateboarding alongside some of the finest photography to ever grace a skateboard magazine. The magazine exists with no outside investors and Sam, Will and Arthur only ever have themselves to answer to, which has led to one of the most genuine, honest, egalitarian publications there is.

Stylistically, the magazine’s feel is certainly informed by Sam’s eye for composition and knack of finding spots, and the images he makes have undoubtedly gone on to inspire his skateboard-photographing contemporaries’ styles too. Free still looks unique, and is therefore the perfect platform for the level of skating it features and the care, time and attention that goes into its writing and layout shines through, making each issue something wholly worth owning. That’s pretty important when the photos are so good and the writing so relevant.

As skateboarding evolves, so should the way it is documented. A photo shot now can still be considered classic a few years down the line, and whatever you think, right now is still going to be the ‘Golden Age’ for a hell of a lot of people. I called Sam up to find out about the changes in skateboard photography, the media, the geographical lines and his own journey through it all.

 

Tom Knox adding a bin into this back lip equation. Taken from his Free interview. Photo: Sam Ashley
Tom Knox adding a bin into this back lip equation. Taken from his Free interview. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

You were just out shooting with Tom Knox, while he was filming his part with Jacob Harris. How was that? The back lip over the bin in Hackney just ran in Free too.

We just went out for a couple of days, I think. He needed to get something for a shoe ad, and we shot two things that day. For one reason or another New Balance couldn’t use the back lip… For pretty boring reasons, really. It wasn’t because they didn’t like it, it was just problematic for a few reasons, so we got the 5.0, into the high-up bank, the one he did the switch 50 on.

The little house thing.

Yeah, that ended up being the ad, but there was a problem with that too. After it had gone to press we found out that Zac [Riley] had also done this 5.0, so I think that might be why he went back and did the switch 50-50. I guess he wanted to go back and do something that no-one else could do on that. That spot is terrible and I cannot believe he switched 50-50ed it. Going into that normal is insane anyway, but going down it backwards is absolutely insane. You really have to go there and see it.

There are barely any skate spots in that video.

80% of it is just stuff that everybody else would skate right past.

Not even skate past. Walk past. The surfaces aren’t what a lot of people would even skate on, let alone the obstacles.

Exactly. It’s a really incredible part. It’s a real milestone video part and I’m really excited to see how that influences kids that are starting skating now. If kids starting now think that’s what’s normal, in ten years they’re going to be crazy. Just so good.

Hopefully it’ll inspire people to explore a bit too.

Yeah, exactly. People like Tom have already opened people’s eyes to what can be skated but I think it’s different when you’re actually changing people’s ideas. How new kids will see that almost as being normal. The rough ground. It’s going to open doors, I think, for what can be skated. Hopefully.

What was full lockdown like for you, as a person whose job it is to be around people, shooting skateboard photos?

At the beginning it was really tricky. No-one was really doing anything and people were quite strict about not skating. I know a couple of people in London who carried on filming throughout it but for the most part people were not skating at all.

I shot that article for Free [issue 31] around the end of May, when people were starting to learn what was and what wasn’t safe to do anymore. If you’re outside, and you aren’t with tons of people, then the risk is very small. That was why we decided we’d do it, and we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t think we could do it in a reasonably responsible way where I’d meet up with one person at a time, we’d be outside and we wouldn’t use public transport. All the people I’d met up with that week mentioned how many weeks it had been since they last skated.

I was actually in Barcelona in March when it all kicked off, and I managed to get one of the last flights back, before they started cancelling them. Then when I came back, that was the longest I’ve gone without shooting since I started. It was really weird.

 

More bin based lockdown activity. Ollie Lock grabs his tail mid nosegrind revert. Photo: Sam Ashley
More bin based lockdown activity. Ollie Lock grabs his tail mid nosegrind revert. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

What did you do instead? Did you organise your archive?

I started doing a bit of that but honestly, with the magazine, the stuff that you need to do is never-ending and we had to figure out how we were going to make that next issue. When we finally kind of decided we were going to go through with the idea for that shoot from May 25th it meant dealing with all the photographers; it meant picking the other ones who’d be doing this too.

Another thing we did was set up subscriptions for the magazine, which we’d never done before. It was quite a process, trying to figure that out, but all the skate shops were shut so we had to do something to make it easier for people who were trying to get the magazine and couldn’t get into shops. It’s good because now people who couldn’t get it before can get it for not very much money. Including people in America now.

That must be a pretty big operation.

Well we eventually got Parade to do it for us, but even just dealing with them to figure out how that would work took time. The world just suddenly changed and we had to deal with it. So just figuring all this stuff out took ages.

That issue was kind of stressful because the shooting of those articles was right before deadline. We finished shooting and then a few days later we laid the magazine out. If two photographers hadn’t been able to do it for some reason, the whole issue would have been completely screwed. There was one photographer who wasn’t able to do it but because everybody else killed it so much we had enough content to fill it.

It was stressful but we couldn’t really do it before then, because of various lockdowns in Europe. We were just guessing the whole time, wondering if we might be able to shoot by mid-May. It just about worked but it was kind of annoying.

Were you already skateboarding before you were interested in photography?

Oh yeah.

Alright, so what photos were you starting to really notice when you were getting into photography? What magazines were you looking at?

The main magazine that I bought when I was a kid was RaD. Tim Leighton-Boyce’s stuff in that was really influential to me, but when I started shooting photos RaD was long gone. They were a massive influence though. When I moved into shooting properly it was just after when Sidewalk first started.

So 1995.

Yeah. That was the thing I bought every issue of. I’d buy Transworld and Thrasher and Slap, all that stuff, but they were always a bit more difficult to get hold of. Skate shops would maybe get one copy, or a newsagent in Manchester would get one copy, and if somebody beat you to it, you wouldn’t see it.

So RaD first, and then Sidewalk. When I started properly shooting skating it was Sidewalk that I wanted to be in. What Wig [Worland] and Andy [Horsley] were doing was really sick.
 

Joel Curtis ollies a Sheffield double set in 1999. One of Sam's first published photos
Joel Curtis ollies a Sheffield double set in 1999. One of Sam’s first published photos

 

Did it take long to get in Sidewalk, once you started trying?

I’d been messing around for a couple of years, not really trying very hard, but when I started trying I was getting stuff published within a couple of months.

I think I was very lucky on the timing because it would have been 1998, ’99, just before the Tony Hawk game hit, but skating was already growing. Every month the magazines were getting bigger… That video game existed for a reason, you know? Obviously it made skating huge but it was getting big anyway and that’s why that video game existed. They could see that skating was getting big and that was the fuel on the fire.

When that game hit Sidewalk just got huge. It went from being a team of Wig and Andy and being held together with staples, to this much bigger thing. Leo Sharp started shooting a lot more for them, Ollie Barton too. They needed more people very quickly to help fill it, I think.

And then Document started.

And then suddenly in the UK there were almost twice as many pages that needed filled. I think for someone like me there was a lot of opportunity, even though I wasn’t that good. I think that when you’re given an opportunity like that you have to get quite good quite quickly. You suddenly see the standard of your stuff in the magazine, and you don’t want your stuff to look shit in public, you know?
 

I think that when you’re given an opportunity like that you have to get quite good quite quickly

 
Did you ever do any photography courses? A lot of photographers recommend that people don’t.

I did, but it was a press photography course. It was a pretty gnarly one, in Sheffield. It was really intensive and pretty much everyone who did it ended up getting a job on a newspaper. It didn’t really teach me much about skate photography, I can say that much, but it taught me a lot about the industry. Particularly that if you don’t make the deadline, your photo’s useless. No-one cares how good the photo is if it’s past the deadline, so it taught me a bit of discipline with regard to that stuff.

It didn’t teach you much on a technical level, it was about going out and getting the picture, hitting deadlines and doing your captions properly. We’d go in on a Monday morning and get sent out to get a picture, so two hours later everyone would come back but if anyone came in five minutes later their film would just get thrown in the bin and they’d be sent home. People would be crying and all sorts.

Who were you shooting with in Manchester when you were coming up?

I was still just going skating, with a camera, rather than actually going out to shoot photos, but there was Joe Gavin, Mot, John Starkey, SA Mike, Woody, just all the Manchester locals from that time, but I would shoot anyone who was doing anything, just to kind of practise. You’re just shooting your mates but it was sick to be able to bring the photos out the next weekend. It seems so quaint now, now that everybody has their phone and Instagram, it’s normal now but not many people were doing it then.

 

John Starkey backside nosegrinds in Manchester in 1997 while Sam cuts his teeth behind the lens
John Starkey backside nosegrinds in Manchester in 1997 while Sam cuts his teeth behind the lens

 

Are you avoiding saying it was ‘more special’ then?

Well, back then if somebody brought out a video camera everybody would be trying to get tricks for it. It would be borrowed from someone’s dad or something, and only be out one weekend and then that’d be it. Of course that’s special. If somebody came back with photos from the previous week, and they were good, that’s special.

There was a guy called Seb Pattenden who was shooting too, and his photos were really sick. Very ‘documentary’ style; black and white with a wide-angle lens, and he put on little exhibitions. I was definitely influenced by people like him, but I don’t think many people outside of Sheffield or Manchester really saw his photos because he didn’t have any in Sidewalk or anything like that. He just wasn’t really bothered about that.

You went from shooting for Sidewalk to shooting for Document. Were there any inter-magazine politics?

Umm… Yeah! Haha! Oftentimes there was quite a bit of rivalry between the magazines. I started working for Document because they asked me, almost straight away, to come on as staff. At that time I was maybe getting one or two photos per issue in Sidewalk. Leo was already pretty well established there and I didn’t really see that much opportunity for me at Sidewalk. I might have been selling photos in for about a year, but mostly I was still only getting one or two photos in an issue. It wasn’t really going anywhere, and Document were expanding and told me they wanted to bring me on, so that was it.

There was definitely stuff between the editors over the years. I’ve always got on really well with the Sidewalk guys but I guess there were times when I was caught in the crossfire a bit. Sidewalk actually tried to buy me back, maybe about two or three years later.

 

Vaughan Baker fakie flip from Document Issue 19, 2001. Photo: Sam Ashley. Inset Below left - Kris Markovich floats frontside while a rogue wheel remains in the foliage. Photo: Sean Cronan
Vaughan Baker fakie flip from Document Issue 19, 2001. Photo: Sam Ashley. Inset Below left – Kris Markovich floats frontside while a rogue wheel remains in the foliage. Photo: Sean Cronan

 

Once you’d made yourself comfortable at Document.

Yeah and they offered me quite a lot of money to do it, so I said to the publisher of Document that they’d offered me that, and that it was quite a lot more than what they were paying me. They were paying me very little, even though it was a staff photography gig, but it was cool and I was happy to do it for almost no money because I was really young. But then I got offered this proper money from Sidewalk. I was going to leave because it was real money now, but then they kind of matched that, or close enough, so I stayed.

It seems crazy to hear the phrase “a lot of money” in a sentence about UK skateboard magazines.

This would have been around 2002, sometime when Nik Taylor was doing the layout and when he changed the logo into that clean logo. Those issues were huge and they were full of ads. They should have had money to spend! I’ve got no idea how much money they were making but they had enough to offer me something decent.
I think this was around the point where Wig had left. I don’t know exactly what happened there.

Both those magazines had very distinct, identifiable eras. Like when Document changed from being stapled to being bound it was a completely different magazine. How did that happen?

I think that was because of a publisher switch, and then we brought in Joel O’Connor to do the design. I think that publisher helped a lot on the production side of it, because they already did Ride BMX magazine. They knew how to put a magazine together properly. It definitely looked a bit more professional straight away.

Do you meet many other photographers? You’re unlikely to be in the same spot at the same time as somebody else who does a similar job to you.

I guess in London just now there’s quite a lot of guys doing it so it’s not that unusual to bump into someone on the rounds but it’s not like you hang about on someone else’s session when they’re shooting. You’ll just get out of there and let them get on with it. We don’t work together but I’ll hang out with other photographers socially. There’s a lot to talk about!

You said once that you didn’t like a photo if it’s got the filmer in it. Has that got harder since lenses have got longer? Are skateboarders having to do everything twice now?

I don’t think there’s really a rule on that… You’ll either shoot it until you get one and then let the filmer get in there, which I don’t really like to do but once you have ten photos and they all look the same and you’re pretty sure the one they make is going to look the same too, there’s no point in ruining the filmer’s shot or whatever. With some tricks you can do that, anyway.

Because the photos in skate mags aren’t always the make.

It depends on the trick though. Sometimes within five tries I’ll be saying to the filmer that the one I need is going to be the make. Sometimes you need a photo where you can tell the skater is all-in, committed, and they’re not just half-assing it. Nine out of ten times when they’re in a certain position you know they’re either going to make that one or the one after it. You can see skaters going through the process of convincing themselves to go for this thing. On certain tricks you can fully tell when it’s a bail though.
 

Sometimes within five tries I’ll be saying to the filmer that the one I need is going to be the make

 
On other things, like if it’s a rail, they can be fully committed but if they keep hitting a crack on the floor when they land, is it really going to get any better? If I get one there, then the filmer can go in and get it.

If I’m shooting long lens with a tripod then I’ll shoot another frame with no-one in it and just paste in the space where the filmer is. Once again, it’s something that I really don’t like to do, and don’t do this very often, but there are some things that people really don’t want to do twice. It’s just a compromise. If you’re on a trip or something and you try to tell the filmer twenty times out of twenty-five that he can’t be in the shot, it’s just going to be an unworkable situation. Doing the tripod thing is a way to get around that, but as I say it’s not something I like to do because it means I have to fuck around in Photoshop, combining photos and erasing out filmers. There’s always that paranoia that you’ll leave his little finger in.

It has happened.

Yeah, I’ll always think of that photo of Kris Markovich in Big Brother where they moved him but they left a wheel hanging in the air. He’s doing a frontside ollie on a miniramp and they left the wheel hanging there.

They fucked up a Huf cover too.

That’s all more funny business than what I’m doing though, I’m literally just erasing a bit of a photo and replacing it with exactly what would be there if there was no filmer. Literally one second after I’ve got the photo I’ll be screaming at dudes, “Get out the way! Get out the frame before the light changes!” Usually the skater makes it, then everyone crowds round the filmer to look at it and I’m just screaming, “Move! Move!” and they’ll all be looking over like I’m crazy.

Just to be clear, everything that runs in a magazine has been landed, right?

We try and make sure everything in Free has been landed, but back in the day there’s definitely been instances where stuff has snuck in which hasn’t been, but that was honestly just production fuck-ups. People would get photos and it wouldn’t be a make, but then because of the scanning time and the layout time being so much longer you would often get stuff that wasn’t made scanned up because you knew the skater was going back in a few days to make it. But then it’s getting scanned and laid out in some office and you’re not there, and you don’t see it until you get the magazine.

But I’ve known for a fact that people have straight up run bail photos, this isn’t a secret. But everything we run in Free we try our best to make sure it’s a make. Everything of mine is a make and there’s a bond of trust with the photographers that they know not to submit bailed stuff. It’s 2020, everybody wants to see the footage of everything anyway. Having said that, I still occasionally shoot stuff with no filmer there, so people shouldn’t automatically assume that ‘no footage’ means ‘not landed’.

Have you ever had a member of the public get in touch because they’re in one of your photos?

No. Sometimes if it’s a demo or something, some kids in the crowd would get in touch because they’re in the background or whatever, but not with a street photo.

Actually… One time I was walking down the street in Sheffield and these two guys were fighting on the floor and one was obviously a chef because he was dressed in the full chef outfit, so I shot one photo of it and carried on walking. I ended up using that photo as a flyer for an exhibition I was having, so the picture was in every bar in Sheffield at the time, and the chef guy was basically after me and he was really pissed off that this had happened. The exhibition was something to do with Sumo, and he’d hit them up demanding to know who I was, and he was really pissed off.

 

Street photography further incenses already angry chef. Photo: Sam Ashley
Street photography further incenses already angry chef. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

Chefs are gnarly.

Yeah, I never spoke to him. Haha!

What makes a good skate photo?

Hmm. There are really two answers to that. I think not having weird things in the background behind the skater, and framing the skater with some sort of intelligence, I guess. There are all these photography rules, like the rule of thirds and all this, and it’s quite boring stuff but there is something about where the lines in a photo lead your eyes. This isn’t something that people look at photos and are conscious of, people look at photos and decide which one is pleasing and which one isn’t, but there are reasons for that.

On the other hand, it should be surprising because you can do all that other stuff and it still be boring if it’s somebody doing something not very interesting, or if the spot looks boring or whatever it is, it’s completely pointless.

I think the subject, and what they’re doing, is really the most important thing. That’s what makes a good skate photo. I think if you combine the other stuff with an interesting subject, it’s great, but you can also do other stuff that completely ignores those things and still make It really exciting.

OK. I’d agree that, say, a switch flip over a picnic table at Lockwood is going to be better if it’s Keenan doing it, or Gino doing it, and if it was somebody otherwise unknown we wouldn’t like it as much. But it seems to me that Free make a big effort to run a lot of photos of people that aren’t so well known.

Yeah but at some point Keenan was someone that no-one knew. That’s the thing with legends that people forget. At some point no-one knew who Mark Gonzales was, or who Guy Mariano was, but Grant Brittain and Spike Jonze realised, and they went all in with these people. They realised how special they were.

I think with a lot of the people in Free, you might not have heard of them but they could be the next Lucas Puig or whatever. Incredible photos can be taken of people nobody knows, and who might only have one good photo. Slap was full of people who maybe only had one or two photos, and some of those photos are great. It just makes it easier when it’s one of those legendary people; people are gonna want to see it when it’s Cardiel or Gonz or whoever. But those guys always bring something interesting anyway. They’re legends for a reason, it’s not like they’re just some name-brand that got away with putting out half-assed stuff through their careers.
 

Rare Buckingham Palace photo opps. Will Bankhead 50-50's for Paul Sunman / Spence Hurricanes for Channon King
Rare Buckingham Palace photo opps. Will Bankhead 50-50’s for Paul Sunman / Spence Hurricanes for Channon King

 

One of my favourite photos ever is Channon King’s shot of Spence’s hurricane in the Buckingham Palace fountain. Nobody really knows Spence, and Channon King isn’t known as a photographer, but it’s amazing.

It’s so good. That photo has the surprising thing to it. “Fucking hell, they’re skating Buckingham Palace fountain!” I think before that it had only been Will Bankhead who’d had a photo there, and that one came out ten years before or something.

Spence skating it through the puddle is sick in itself, but the way the water’s spraying up, the way he’s doing that trick… The whole thing is just surprising. The spot looks insane and he’s doing a really hard trick on it, in the water. That’s good! Any skater would look at that and think it was sick; it doesn’t matter that it isn’t Keenan or Gino.

I thought that about the Will Bankhead photo, I thought that was sick too. It’s not as surprising as the Spence one but it was just sick that he was skating outside Buckingham Palace. The spot looks amazing and it makes you want to skate there, which is always a factor as well.

What kind of photo will you never run? Is there anything in a photo that’s a definite ‘no’ for you every time? What makes a bad photo?

One that isn’t surprising. One where I’ve seen fifty photos of people doing that same exact thing. I always think that about the drain-kicker-to-green-electric-box photos. Unless it’s a really big one, or there’s something about it that’s really crazy, I just don’t want to see any more of those. I’m sure they’re fun to skate but every one of them looks pretty much the same; they’re all the same green and all photos of them are kinda the same. I say this in the context of having seen them for twenty years, or since 2005 or whenever…

Whenever people started doing that it was fun and exciting because you could do it anywhere but I just don’t want to see another one of those. Haha! Unless it’s some crazy trick or it’s shot in some crazy way, then my rule is broken and I’ll throw it straight in there but they’re all shot the same and it’s all the same tricks being done. “Here’s somebody backtailing one in… Leicester!” They’re the same everywhere.

Life is too short for stuff like that. Not for people to do the trick, but to print it in a magazine. I’d rather give more space to the stuff that’ll surprise people, although it’s really hard to put your finger on exactly what that is.

Free had the Primitive Progressivism article, amongst many others, and tends to push different sides of skateboarding. How much responsibility do you think experienced media or industry people have to push the less-trendy sides of skateboarding?

I think people are trying to do it more. I think what we’ve done—and we could definitely do it more—has been a factor in other people doing it. I think for a lot of magazines there’s always the fear, like, “We might lose advertising if we say that, or print that”. The stuff we do, we try and do it in a balanced way, we’re not just, “Burn the industry! We’ll do what we want!” because that’s not constructive at all.

I think things are moving in the right direction and I think people are far more willing to print things than they were three or four years ago. Even if it’s just stuff in interviews that other people are saying. I think people are a bit less scared now. Thrasher are definitely doing some good stuff.
 

I think things are moving in the right direction and I think people are far more willing to print things than they were three or four years ago

 
Look at the world just now, the way it is. Skateboard magazines just could not remain the same as they were, pretending it’s 1994 forever and pretending you can’t talk about this stuff. I’m sure some of the things we’ve printed have probably pissed off certain people at certain brands, at least for a minute, but I would hope that they would all have a look at the bigger picture on this and realise that it’s better that some things are put in the open so everyone can move on.

There are a lot of skate photos now where a big part of the appeal is the surroundings. How does that affect the spots you seek out, and how does it affect the overall picture? Are you gonna drag somebody somewhere weird because you’ll get a banging photo with all the other stuff that’s around?

Yeah. Absolutely. But finding that is not something that’s happening every week. These things are few and far between but when you see them you make damn well sure that you’re the first person to get someone there, and as quickly as you can.
 

A view from the bridge. Stars align for Kenny Anderson's frontside wallride. Photo: Sam Ashley
A view from the bridge. Stars align for Kenny Anderson’s frontside wallride. Photo: Sam Ashley

 
Any good examples?

When Kenny Anderson came to London… I’d seen that wallride that I’d shot off the bridge, with all the traffic, at night, months before and there had always been a problem either with rain or roadworks they were doing which meant I couldn’t shoot there. He did it easy. There are countless examples of things like that.

What’s your favourite place that you’ve been, for whatever reason? Beirut looked pretty interesting.

That was a great place to go. I wouldn’t say it was on a plate, photographically. It was hard to find spots and we kind of got a photo on anything we could see that was skateable.

So what we saw in the mag was definitely the highlights.

Oh yeah, that was it! It was a struggle. There are lots of bits of it that aren’t skateable at all.
 

Razor wire fails to render this Beirut barrier un-skateable for Pontus Alv. Photo: Sam Ashley
Razor wire fails to render this Beirut barrier un-skateable for Pontus Alv. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

Where’s been better?

The best place I ever went to was this place in Sicily that I went to with Mauro [Caruso]; we went to this place called Gibellina for a Carhartt project. There had been an earthquake in the 1960s, and they moved everybody from this town which had been demolished by the earthquake and built them this new town, and I guess it’s a Sicilian version of Milton Keynes? It sounds terrible but everything there had a very particular look to it and just looked completely amazing. Mauro was the only skater, and he’s really sick, and he’d try and do something every day… He’s really photogenic so that was just the dream ticket.

The whole town is deserted because they took so long building this new town that all the people who were meant to move into it got sick of waiting for it to be completed.

It was a farming community, and Sicily in the sixties was very basic living, and their whole town gets demolished by an earthquake… They were all living at the bottom of this ruined town in tents, waiting for their town to be finished, but because of all the corruption and the Mafia basically just taking the money, it took ten years longer than it should have and they all just ended up moving to cities or to other places.

Finally this town got built and they’d spent millions installing all these public art sculptures, like sixty pieces of art commissioned from Italian artists, and when they opened the town there was no-one to move into it, and to this day it’s still just dead. All these empty houses.
 

Mauro Caruso ollies a chasm in a Sicilian ghost town. Photo: Sam Ashley
Mauro Caruso ollies a chasm in a Sicilian ghost town. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

Dan Magee’s been known to check what somebody’s wearing before he’ll meet them to film. Have you ever had to check what somebody’s planning to wear before arranging to shoot a photo?

I don’t think so… Maybe when we shot film it’d be a nightmare if someone wore all black at night, but they can take the hoody off if they’ve got a white t-shirt on underneath or whatever. These days that honestly wouldn’t be a problem though. I don’t really care if people want to wear some crazy illegal outfit. All the outfits look illegal sooner or later anyway.

When you were at Document, Plus One was a thing, their skateboard/music/lifestyle offshoot magazine. That’s the kind of thing that people have tried and failed to do over and over again and while it’s never really worked I thought Plus One was the closest to succeeding in that space, even if it didn’t work out either. Do you think that sort of thing could ever work?

Umm… No. Haha! I think that was kind of the window, and it didn’t work. Maybe if it had been done three years sooner, it might have worked. It’s different now, with the internet, but maybe someone could make it work but I don’t really see it. I think as long as skateboarding is involved, then skateboarders are not going to want to pay for it.

And skateboarders don’t want to see skateboarding represented badly. Or stuck in a magazine underneath an interview with a surfer or something.

That’s why I say that the moment has passed for that. Magazines are still relevant but they have to be somewhat niche. People are not interested in these broad-spectrum magazines anymore; everyone can hone-in on their niche exactly as they want on the internet and a magazine can really add to that, but if you’re trying to cover all these different bases it’s just going to alienate so many different people, these days. Back in the day things like Slap would turn me on to music, but nowadays you don’t need skateboard magazines to tell you about music, I don’t think.

Thrasher always had bands that weren’t in the NME, bands that no UK press was featuring. That’s what was cool about it. It’s still like that, but now you don’t need that because you can go on some website or go on Spotify and find out what’s similar to that and so on. You don’t need someone to tell you about it. There’s still a niche where people want to know about a certain thing, they’ll go to a website about it or pick up a magazine about it. They certainly don’t want to be reading about skateboarding in a music magazine.

Do you think pro skateboarders need help with social media? There’s a lot of conspiracy theories going around just now, amongst other bad stuff, which then ends up on Slap where everybody can see it. Are social media managers going to be a thing?

That will probably come, but whether it’s a good idea or not, I don’t know. There’s part of me that thinks, “Well, if these are your views, let us know your views. Let me know who you are, good or bad”.

I’m not just talking about people who might say some stupid shit, but a social media manager will also stop almost anything interesting. “This might offend this person, this isn’t the right look”, you know? If every pro skateboarder had that it would be shockingly dull. At the moment a lot of pro skaters’ Instagram accounts are pretty dull anyway, but then you look at Kevin Bradley’s stuff and it’s hilarious, it’s so funny. If he had a social media manager, what would happen? Would the fun go away?

It’s not about, “Right, you can’t say racist things anymore!”, if someone’s racist I have no interest in a social media manager protecting them anyway, let them dig their own grave. If people really have these opinions, then fuck them. Let them see what happens when they put their opinions out there, let people decide. And on the Slap forum, people get called out for their shit—obviously the industry isn’t like that—and that’s not a bad thing.

Are there still brand allegiances in magazines? How advertiser-led is it?

I think in general that it’s a lot less than it used to be. Obviously in America, Thrasher and Transworld came out of skateboard companies anyway. There’s really only Thrasher now, and since they’re the one big magazine in America I guess they kind of have to have everybody in there. For us, we just try put the best stuff in there. Some of that stuff might be people who skate for companies who advertise with us, and some of it might not be.

And if it’s the best stuff anyway… If you’ve got Heitor in there, as well as an adidas ad, it’s because that’s what people want to see.

Exactly and all our advertisers are good companies. We’d love to do anything with any of them, and that’s the honest truth. The old model for magazines would be one where you had advertising people and their whole job was to go and try to sell advertising space to whoever. Just whoever. Ad sales guys get commission, so they aren’t giving a fuck what goes in the magazine, they just want to sell as many ads as they can into the magazine. Those people would also tell the advertisers that they’d put their guys in the magazine, just to sell the ad and get the commission.

So we’d have an ad guy telling us, “OK, we’ve got Bullshit Headphones advertising this month, and you need to go down the skatepark and shoot these five guys wearing Bullshit Headphones because we’ve promised them eight pages of editorial”, and we’d just be like, “No, we’re not fucking doing that”. So we don’t have to do that anymore!

Was that hypothetical example from a particular title?

I’ll let you figure that one out.

What’s been the worst trend for you, in all the time that you’ve been involved in making skateboarding look great?

Oh god. The old stinky-leg tre flip thing is just terrible. When somebody says they want to tre flip something, and then they do it like that, I just don’t want to take a photo of it. The fake arms-at-the-side thing, when people try to fake that. That never looks good in photos either. It looks worse in footage though.

I really hate the over-steezed photo where you can tell it’s a bail. Like the backside Smith where the board is like this [holds arm out at a 45-degree angle]. Everyone who has ever taken a photo of a backside Smith knows that’s a bail, that’s the one where he fell off. He’s just jumping off but they run it in a magazine. You can tell because the weight is wrong and they’re not on their back foot, and the board is just insanely dipped. When those go up on Instagram everyone is like, “It’s so dipped, it’s so sick!” but any photographer knows it’s just a fucking bail.
 

There’s so many things like that, where—as a photographer—you know it’s just a fucking bail, but then it gets resold as steez

 
There’s so many things like that, where—as a photographer—you know it’s just a fucking bail, but then it gets resold as steez. Sometimes it’s just so exaggerated. There’s maybe one in a million people that can pull that off, way fewer than the amount of styled-out photos of it.

We were talking before about how it’s not always the make that gets run, but the photo should have some kind of resemblance to the way they did it. Not just this fake thing so that people go, “It’s so steezy!” To me, that stuff ages really badly. You look at old magazines and see photos like that and to me it just looks really, really wack. When you can tell it’s just not a make.

You don’t really see sequences in magazines anymore. There’s the two-shots-one-frame photo, which I think I saw you do firstbut that’s about as far as it goes. Is that a stylistic thing, or is it because we can see it on Instagram anyway?

A bit of both, I think. Not every trick needs to have photos printed in a magazine. I don’t really want to see manual rolls in a magazine. Not because I hate manual rolls, but because I think looking at them on a screen is better. I don’t think seeing a sequence of them really adds anything, whereas you can look at a still of certain things and it does add something.
 

The art of Storytelling. Chris Jones firecrackers to kickflip. Photo: Sam Ashley
The art of Storytelling. Chris Jones firecrackers to kickflip. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

There are certain tricks that don’t make good stills, and certain tricks that don’t make good sequences. You don’t need to shoot everything. When you’ve got 100 pages to fill every two months, it’s never enough pages. We always try to run things that look good, and save anything that would be better on video, for video.

It’s like running interviews with freestylers, you know? It’s never going to look that great. Not that freestyle’s a thing, but that’s probably why freestyle isn’t a thing anymore. It never really translated into the magazines very well. I don’t think it’s the job of a magazine to show every different type of trick these days. We work as part of an ecosystem, and that ecosystem includes Instagram, our website, DVDs you buy from a shop and books. The magazine fits within that but that doesn’t mean we should necessarily be showing everything that would be hot on Instagram.
 

There are certain tricks that don’t make good stills, and certain tricks that don’t make good sequences. You don’t need to shoot everything

 
So do you think a great photo is just a great photo, and it’s a bonus to read that they kickflipped into it, or popped out forwards or whatever?

Well the photo has to tell the story somewhat, right? If it doesn’t, it’s kind of a let-down, but you can tell the story without being completely literal about it. When there’s a bit of mystery about it. Every skate photo is like that. OK, he’s in a backside Smith grind, but you don’t know how he went in or went out and that’s often why it’s exciting and interesting. And then you want to see the footage to find out how he got from this point to the landing or whatever. You don’t need to know everything for it to be entertaining and interesting.

Are your covers shot to be covers? Or do you pick the photo that’d suit the most, and then think about where the red dot should go?

No, but some people have tried to do that, where they’ve found red dots in real life and tried to shoot a cover around that. It doesn’t really work that way. I’m not saying we wouldn’t do that, but that hasn’t worked out so far.
So yeah, we normally look at everything we have two or three days before we begin laying out the magazine.

Have you got a favourite cover?

Hmm. One I really like is the Vincent [Huhta] switch nose wheelie on the loading bay on the hill that Gerard Riera shot. It is a hard trick, but so much of that photo is about the feeling it gives you, and I think that’s really important.

Inside that magazine we had the photo of Simon Isaksson doing the street loop, and there was a lot of discussion afterwards around whether that should have been the cover or not, but we really felt that it would have been ‘too much’ of a cover, if that makes sense. It’s fine for that to live inside the magazine, and be full-page, but sometimes a photo is just about giving a really good feeling, aside from being an amazing trick. I think with most of the covers we try to make it so it’s an amazing trick and an amazing photo too.
 

Vincent Huhta's evocative switch nose wheelie. Photo: Gerard Riera
Vincent Huhta’s evocative switch nose wheelie. Photo: Gerard Riera

 

You’ve spent a lot of years shooting street skating in London. How has the public’s perception of skateboarding changed in the last few years?

I think you notice the difference when you go out to the estates. People understand it a bit more, I think. Not always, but definitely a lot more than fifteen years ago. It doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get kicked out, but people understand what you’re doing a bit more. It’s easier being kicked out when the person is telling you that they understand what you’re doing, rather than having the misunderstanding that you’re just causing trouble.

Before lockdown, I don’t think it made any difference in central areas at all. It doesn’t matter how much the security guard might be down with it, they still have to kick you out.

Which UK company do you miss the most?

I don’t know… Obviously Blueprint was sick, and it’s a shame it’s gone, but then out of Blueprint came Isle and, I guess Blueprint going allowed Palace to get their ball rolling too.

And now Blueprint is price-point completes.

Yeah. This is what happens when you sell the company to whoever. As soon as the original guys left it, then as far as people like you and me are concerned, it’s done and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does with it. It’s seems it’s being remarketed as a beginners’ board brand and I understand that for the Blueprint guys that’s got to be frustrating, but it’s kind of par for the course with this stuff.

Any shops you miss?

In Manchester we had a shop called Sheep that was really good. It was fully on that Supreme kind of thing, but this was back in ’94. Shops in the UK didn’t look like that then and it was the coolest thing ever. It was fully boutique-style, and they had a basement with a pool table where we’d just hang out. So you’d go into the shop and you wouldn’t see one skateboarder, and you’d go downstairs and it’d be packed out with thirty guys smoking and drinking. It was sick. Obviously it didn’t last very long because the stock was like ten t-shirts and two boards. Haha! It was so minimal.

Also, they had Stüssy, so about once a year some dudes would come in with baseball bats and just take all the jackets. Manchester back then was still gnarly. It still is, but back then…

Have you ever had any grief out there with all that camera gear on you?

Only ever really once, and that was probably about twenty years ago. At the Ladbroke Grove rail. I was there Magee, and we were both at the bottom of the stairs and some guy rolled up on a mountain bike. We were a pretty big crew so we weren’t really that worried, although the dude seemed kinda sketchy. Everybody else was sat at the top of the stairs and he’s just watching from this little corner about fifty foot away, just watching the session for about half an hour, forty minutes maybe, and we’d sort of just forgotten about him. By this point the guys had all drifted up to where they were pushing starting from, so the spot’s about a hundred foot away and then they’re another hundred foot.

The dude just came up on his bike and pulled out a knife, going “Give us your cameras, give us your cameras”, and I just ran up the steps and he put the knife to Magee’s throat, going “Give us your camera, give us your camera” and he grabbed Magee’s VX. He had the knife to his throat so he gave it up instantly, and then the dude starts coming for me but I was at the top of the steps and he was on a bike. He didn’t want to get off his bike and then all the other dudes start running towards him when they realised something was going on, then he just cycled off. That was gnarly.

How many board companies does the world need?

I think it’s obvious that there are too many but you’d really need to speak to some board companies to find out how bad it is. I’d love for everyone to have their own board company but it gets to the point where the people who are really trying to push things forward can’t do that because the pie is cut too many ways. So instead of having ten people pushing things, you just have a hundred people losing money.

It’s bad, but I don’t know where that tipping point is, or who decides. The market has to decide, and that’s the thing. People should spend their money with people who are doing cool things, and that’s it. Then in theory everything fixes itself but it’s not as simple as that. We know that.

European skateboard photography is pretty distinct nowadays, it’s quite different from the American stuff. Do you think that style could ever cross over? There are sometimes photos in Thrasher now that could be in Free, and that’s a change for them.

There are differences in style, but I think that’s because the buildings in America look different. I’m not sure if it’s a different photography style. Traditionally, the photo editing in Thrasher has been quite different to what we do, and it’s different to what Transworld and Slap did. However far back you go, it’s a very different vibe. Thrasher have always had their own style. Maybe it is changing a bit, but they’ve had editorial changes so it’s going to be different. There’s Thrasher and then there’s all the small zines, so it’s harder to gauge if that’s a change for America or just a change for Thrasher.

Or for skateboarding in general.

Yeah. But also, Thrasher are publishing a lot more Euro stuff. Not just ‘The Antihero team go to Europe this summer’, which I’m sure they’ll still do anyway, but it’s just different. It’s not just those guys. Thrasher are more willing to feature content that traditionally we would feature, or Kingpin would feature, or Sidewalk or any of the other European mags.

Why do you think there’s never really been a European Skater of the Year event? There was the Bright thing, but it’s never been much of a big deal.

We were kind of involved with that one, with Kingpin. I can’t remember if we did one with Free or not… We worked on it in a kind of advisory way, where we could make sure that the right people were up for awards, the people who had actually put video parts out and things like that. It sounds really basic, but by the time it comes to the end of the year, no one has a clue what anyone’s done, so we were brought on to help with that but it was never really our concept.

The reason we did that was because we really believed that European skateboarding needed that recognition, but I’m not sure that’s really needed so much in 2020. I think that job has been done and the world has woken up to European skateboarding. People like Hjalte or whoever are seen at exactly the same level as all the top US guys and they don’t have to move to the US for that to happen.

That’s why we were involved, because we thought that was important, but we never thought awards and competitions were great, and we still don’t so that’s why we wouldn’t be involved in that now. It was a lot of work, a lot of going back and forward, but then you’d get tons of people talking shit on it anyway. And in some cases we agreed with them. I think the benefit now is much less. Anybody with any interest in European skateboarding now knows who those people are, whereas ten years ago I don’t think people in America necessarily would.
 

Neil Smith finding New lines at Livi. Big Push 2005. Photo: Sam Ashley
Neil Smith finding New lines at Livi. Big Push 2005. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

What about the Big Push? Would it be too hard to organise something like that now? King Of The Road stopped, but that had become a Vice thing, with contracts and stuff.

I don’t really know. I don’t really understand why it fizzled out in the UK, to be honest. Maybe it needed refreshing a bit; it’s quite a blank canvas in terms of what you can do with it, but obviously Sidewalk and Document are both gone. The UK was the ideal place to do something like that, just because of the size of it. Although it’s a mission, it’s manageable to cover a lot of it in a week, right? Most teams would really put the miles in, and at that time there were several board companies all doing good…

I guess this goes back to you asking about how many board companies are too many and this is one of the things you can’t really do anymore because no one has the budget to send their team out like that. People do, but not like it was back then.Maybe it’s had its time and it’s not new and exciting anymore. But then maybe bringing it back would be new and exciting. Haha!

Karim’s shove-it over the bench from the cover of Sidewalk is one of my favourite photos ever. How did that go down?

From what I remember, we went there once before to try and get the same thing, and he didn’t get all that close. Or maybe there were a couple where it wasn’t properly underneath him or whatever.The spot is a total nightmare, because it’s this little square in Angel, and there’s never anyone there but the landing when you go over that bench is directly in a bike lane, and that bike lane is for basically everyone who’s going from Central London towards Islington so it’s a really fucking busy bike lane. It’s got a pedestrian crossing but cyclists will run the red light if they think they can get across it, and they come out of the dark. So you can look, and it be clear, and you tell him to go but by the time he’s popped and landed there’s a cyclist on the landing. It’s gnarly. It was an absolute nightmare when it got dark, and into rush hour. Just thinking that he’s either going to maim someone or someone’s gonna maim him.

When we went back it was still a nightmare with cyclists, and it was getting dark so must have been approaching rush hour again, and it took a while. I think he must have had fifty goes at it. He just kept clipping it, it was so close but he’d always clip it on the way up or something…

Another thing with this: Kev Parrott was meant to film it. He was running late and I remember him texting me, asking what was going on, and me texting back telling him Karim was trying it, so he was rushing to get there but was stuck in traffic or something.The first one that he didn’t clip, he just went over it so high, and he landed it. And that was it. Then Kev rolled up two minutes later, and I had to tell him it was done. Karim was just on a hype that he’d done it like that, so much higher over the bench, he knew how sick he’d done it before he even saw the photo. Then he saw the photo and he was so gassed at how high he’d gone over it, so he didn’t want to do it again. That’s why there’s no footage of it.
 

Then he saw the photo and he was so gassed at how high he’d gone over it, so he didn’t want to do it again. That’s why there’s no footage of it

 

Karim Bakhtaoui's straight to cover superhuman front shove. Photo: Sam Ashley
Karim Bakhtaoui’s straight to cover superhuman front shove. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

So the one on the cover was the make.

That was the one he landed. None of the others even looked remotely close. It goes back to what I was saying about how the one I need is the one he’s gonna make. If he’s clipping it every time, you need the one where he goes over it. I wasn’t expecting him to land the first one he went over though. Incredible.

I should say though, that as a photographer, it’s so fucking terrifying being in that position when someone’s had multiple attempts at going there, and it’s a mission, and you’ve got that one shot that you cannot fuck up the timing on. It was such a relief to look at the screen and be like, “Thank god I fucking pressed the button somewhat at the right time”. Tricks like this aren’t like when people are flying over a rail.

Where there’s a bit more of a window.

Yeah, as a skate photographer you kind of learn to see things in slow motion, and a bit more with experience, but with things like that it’s still really hard. Where there’s just one little snappy point.

And if he’s clipped the bench every other time, you probably aren’t expecting it to suddenly look completely different.

You don’t know what to expect, that’s the thing. It’s unpredictable when somebody’s clipping something like that, and the timing is a bit different each time because he’s trying to adjust the timing to get over it.

I think if there was footage of that I’d have watched it a hundred times and that would have dulled the photo a little.

There are probably certain people out there who might think he never did it, that’s the thing. Or that he didn’t do it very good or whatever. But he did it absolutely perfect.
 

Lucien Clarke and a pigeon mid Era-encapsulating switch backside noseblunt slide. Photo: Sam Ashley
Lucien Clarke and a pigeon mid Era-encapsulating switch backside noseblunt slide. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

Lucien’s switch backside noseblunt slide at Victoria Benches is another one…

He did that pretty quickly I think. I just remember it being really cold. The one he did had that fucking bird in it, I couldn’t believe it. A fucking pigeon flying in it. He did it really sick. I think that was the last photo I shot there actually, before they demolished it last year. He really wanted that, so I’m really stoked he managed to get it. For me, that’s my favourite photo that I shot there.

 

Olly Todd's sinuous frontside bluntslide. Cover of Document July 2002. Photo: Sam Ashley
Olly Todd’s sinuous frontside bluntslide. Cover of Document July 2002. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

I’ve got a few to ask about… What about Olly Todd’s frontside bluntslide round the curved bench for the cover of Document?

I think that was from before I was living in London. I’d asked somebody where I could get film developed, and when I walked from Slam to the lab, that was right at the lab. I went back and told everyone that I thought I’d found a spot, and when we went back there at night they thought it was sick. I guess it was just up a road in London that most people—most skaters—didn’t really walk down so I just got really lucky with it. That’s the classic out-of-towner thing to do!

These people always come to London and find some spot you can’t believe, or they’ll skate something that everybody assumed was a bust and get away with it. They filmed there for ages after that photo, and there’s a bit there that was in a Landscape video where they set little picnic tables up into the paddling pool. I know Snowy had some lines there.
 

Ali Boulala backside tailslides in Lyon back in 2003. Photo: Sam Ashley
Ali Boulala backside tailslides in Lyon back in 2003. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

There’s a photo you shot of Ali Boulala doing a backside tailslide on a little bank in Lyon, and he’s all flared up.

That was kind of a weird one. I’d just been sent to Lyon to shoot something with a new skateboard company called Antiz, and they had a house right in the middle of Lyon. The Antiz house, this punk house…

I was shooting those guys, then there was a kind of lull in the middle where there was no one around so I was hanging around with Ali, who was living in Lyon at the time and who I knew from when him and Geoff came to stay with me and Baines in Sheffield about a year before.

We hung out, and it was funny seeing his life then. It seemed like he had quite a bit of disposable money at the time and it seemed like he’d just go around Lyon seeing what he could spend it on. Buying crazy stuff from the electronics store, and then going vintage shopping, then going skating. So it wasn’t set up or anything, it was just him fucking around, I think.

Just what he’d be doing anyway.

When you look at what he was actually doing around then… That back tail wasn’t him putting his life on the line! Haha! It was cool having him in Document.

What about Gonz at the Ideal ramp?

The Fourstar UK trip. I was so lucky to be invited. That was one where I remember being like, “Oh my god, this is the crew that’s coming?!” They got to skate it for a little while before anyone turned up, so that was rad. Maybe something was cancelled; I think maybe they were at Stoke and it got rained out.
 

It’s a fucking miracle that any good photos of Gonz exist at all

 

Mark Gonzales magic captured in Birmingham in 2009. Photo: Sam Ashley
Mark Gonzales magic captured in Birmingham in 2009. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

There’s footage of Mark at Stoke from that tour, skating a longboard in the rain.

I think that was the same day. I think they just decided they’d go to Birmingham, and some people thought they might skate the ramp so they went along. By the time they finished, it was packed. It was crazy. There’s not really anywhere to stand in there but the platforms were full and you can see the door in the background where everyone’s trying to cram in. There was a crazy vibe in there.

Mike Wright was kinda comping Gonz, I guess. He was fucking around with him and Gonz was fucking around with him back. That was really funny. That frontside ollie was one of those rare ones where he tried it and didn’t do it first time. Normally with Gonz it’s a fucking nightmare because he’ll try it once, and he’ll probably do it. You can’t be like, “Hey, can you do that again?”

Haha! Amazing.

I’m serious. It’s a fucking miracle that any good photos of Gonz exist at all. Sometimes he’ll be like, “OK, I’m going to do this!” and you just have to be there. I don’t think this was even like that; he tried one and me and Ben Colen—who was also shooting there—were straight in there. Ben has almost the same photo as me, just a little different. It’s funny seeing them both because they both look a little different, but also the same.

With most people you can be like, “Hey, can you do that over here?” or, “Hey, can you do that again, that thing you did ten minutes ago?” but he is not really bothered about that.

 

Rory Milanes back smiths the canary yellow incarnation of this hubba. Sidewalk January 2013. Photo: Sam Ashley
Rory Milanes back smiths the canary yellow incarnation of this hubba. Sidewalk January 2013. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

Rory’s Sidewalk cover, the Smith on the yellow hubba at Southbank…

That was a simple thing. He said he wanted to do it, and he did it. He didn’t give it many goes and that spot is a fucking nightmare. You get kicked out of there because of the restaurant next to it and there’s always a puddle. You have to deal with going up the two stairs, and then the puddle. It’s just such a photogenic spot and I’m so stoked I got to shoot Rory doing that on that spot. I was really lucky.

Hjalte and Pontus, the doubles wallride for the cover of Sidewalk? Did that take long?

Yeah, it did, I think. We were on tour in Sheffield, so obviously I knew the spot, and knew those guys would kill it. The doubles photo was hard. Normally in a doubles photo, one dude’s going one way and the other’s going the other way, so it’s about the crossover. It’s really hard when they’re both going the same way to make it look like they’re close. In that photo, they don’t even look like they’re that close.

Even just the physics of the trick… When Pontus would hit the wall, obviously he’d go from going really fast to slowing quite suddenly, so there was this weird speed compression thing so if they went too close going in they’d just crash into each other but if they were too far apart it’d just look shit. Them just figuring the timing took ages, I think. To get it so they were both on the wall and looked convincingly close, and one isn’t about to go up as the other one’s coming down, you know?
 

Timing a Polar expedition. Hjalte Halberg and Pontus Alv hitting the wall. Photo: Sam Ashley
Timing a Polar expedition. Hjalte Halberg and Pontus Alv hitting the wall. Photo: Sam Ashley

 

Photos and video fuck with you like that. You know when someone films you skating and you watch it back like, “Fuck, it looks so much slower!”? With doubles, unless you’re almost touching, it looks like you’re fucking miles away.

What’s your favourite photo that you’ve shot?

I don’t know. I’d have to think about that for a long time… I honestly don’t really have a favourite. I like certain things for different reasons. There’s so much to the context of things. Like there are photos I shot of Ben Raemers, and he’s not with us anymore so that makes them much more precious to me than something where I think I nailed it technically or something.

That’s a difficult question because I have a personal attachment to a lot of things. It might not be some insane skate photo but it means a lot to me because of the time, and what it represents, and gives me those memories.

 

 

there are photos I shot of Ben Raemers, and he’s not with us anymore so that makes them much more precious to me than something where I think I nailed it technically or something

 

Ben Raemers skated this place like nobody else. Crail sliding the door in 2017. Photo: Sam Ashley
Ben Raemers skated this place like nobody else. Crail sliding the door in 2017. Photo: Sam Ashley

 
What about a favourite photo that somebody else has shot then?

I know everyone says this, but I like a lot of the old Dan Sturt stuff. Recently I’ve actually been seeing stuff that he shot that I’ve never seen before, and I’m just blown away every time. Just so good.

Is there a time and a place that you’re particularly keen on photographs of?

Obviously I love that Sturt era, California in that time. I love all the TLB [Tim Leighton-Boyce] London photos, SF mid nineties, and then the East Coast stuff later on, the stuff going on in Philly in the late nineties was amazing.

So more [Ryan] Gee than Dimitry [Elyashkevich]?

I like both of those guys, they’re both really good. To be honest I don’t really have a particular favourite photo from that era but as I whole I think it had a really cool vibe. There was a good energy from that crew, that whole Eastern Exposure crew. I still like all of Wig’s stuff from the late nineties, that’s all amazing. The TLB stuff and the Wig stuff is what I really like. It meant a lot to me, seeing these guys doing that in the UK.

What have you got coming up next? What are your plans for 2021?

Basically, for the first time ever, there’s nothing. Just because we can’t really plan anything. The whole industry is in a weird place where nobody can plan anything. We think this might happen, or that might happen, but nobody knows and everybody is just waiting right now.
 

Korahn Gayle ascending lockdown with a Back to basics backside noseblunt slide.  Photo: Sam Ashley
Korahn Gayle ascending lockdown with a Back to basics backside noseblunt slide. Photo: Sam Ashley

 
For us it’s more about going back to basics, and I’ve been shooting more in London now than I have in fifteen years and I’m loving it. Obviously the whole travel thing is done for the foreseeable, but it’s been great being able to shoot in London and being able to skate anywhere in the centre because you don’t really get kicked out anymore.

We have to look at the positives of this whole coronavirus mess, and for now we can skate the City of London and no-one is there. Even the security guards will only semi-try to kick you out but they know that no-one’s gonna bother them about it, as long as you don’t touch this thing or that thing or whatever. And there’s no pedestrians anywhere. All these spots that you can’t really skate because it’s too busy… You can skate anything now. It’s amazing.

Just like when we started.

Yeah, it’s like taking it back to the beginning. When I grew up skating in the nineties, we could skate on Sundays in Manchester and there would be no-one around. That is the feeling I get right now. I can go into the centre of London on a Wednesday and it feels like a Sunday in Manchester in 1996. It’s incredible. This is what I’ve wanted to do when I started this and gradually that’s been chipped away over the years. A year ago if I wanted to shoot a photo in London it would be an absolute nightmare. It got to the point where you couldn’t skate anywhere and it’d take so many attempts to get anything at all. It was depressing, but this is like being back in the nineties. It just sucks what we have to go through for this to happen.
 


 
Thanks to Sam for taking time out from his busy schedule at Free to do this interview and for digging through his photo archives for us. All additional scans from @sciencebersuslife

Previous interviews by Neil Macdonald: Jeremy Elkin / Steve Kane / Pete Thompson / Tobin Yelland / Carl Shipman / Corey Duffel / Eli Morgan Gesner / Jeff Pang