Grant Brittain – portrait by Damon Way
I am really happy to announce that no one less than Grant Brittain has joined the United Skateboard Photography Project and he will be featured in the printed 300 page hardback book! Yes THE Grant Brittain everybody. It goes without saying that I’m stoked and honoured to be able to do this short Q&A with him today before we put together the 8 to 10 page interview for the book. Enjoy the interview and of course the photographs which are already part of skateboard history themselves and the reason for many upcoming skateboard photographers to do what they love.
Hi Grant. First off, it’s great that you can take the time to be involved with the United Skateboard Photography Project, thanks! You have been around for quite some time in skateboarding so you have seen a lot of things happen. What has been the biggest change in skateboarding you have seen over the years and do you feel skateboarding itself is changing for the good?
Probably just the popularity of skateboarding through video and the internet is the most profound change. How fast everything involving skateboarding gets out there. In the 80s there was a lag between the time someone did some groundbreaking move and when the skate world finally saw it in a magazine, that made it special and enduring. Overall, skating is just skateboarding and skaters are just skaters. The enormous amount of the skate content on the internet sometimes seems overwhelming and something has to be really great to stand out in a giant sea of tricks. More is not always better.
Who inspired you to become a photographer and what makes skateboarding so special for you?
I was working and skating at the Del Mar Skate Ranch in 1978 and I would see the skate photogs come in and shoot the pros and then see their photos in the mag a bit later and for some reason that really appealed to me. I knew I loved skateboarding and I was taking art in college and once I started shooting skating in 1979 and then taking my negs into the darkroom, I was hooked and my course was set. I could not not take photos after that first year. I studied the 70s skate photog’s photos in the magazines and learned to shoot by observing those photos. The skate photographers I was looking at were James Cassimus, Craig Stecyk, Jim Goodrich, Ted Terrebonne, Glen Friedman and Warren Bolster, they were the kings back then.
Animal Chin handplants
How’s a day of work look like for you at The Skateboard Mag?
I spend most of my time on a computer at work and help manage the magazine. I shoot now and then when I want to and just for fun.
How do you basically go about setting up to take a skate photo, what basic steps are necessary for you all the way up to pressing the release button?
Shooting skateboarding has not changed much from the 1980s. Taking a photo is basically the same as back then. Except for the gear and technology and digital format, it’s still just scoping the scene and figuring out the best angle. I usually show up at the spot, see what trick is going down, figure out the best vantage point from where to shoot it, come up with a lighting solution and shoot it accordingly. It’s pretty much a formula technically speaking and I let the skater and the light do the rest. Skate photography hasn’t changed much in 30 years and I am not sure if a photographer can really do anything that much different these days. The tricks are more advanced now but the photos are looking the same.
Christian Hosoi – powerslide
There’s an ongoing “discussion” about using the viewfinder and many photographers these days not using it to compose a shot. I’m pretty sure I know your opinion but can you tell us what you feel about this practice?
There is a viewfinder for a reason and I think shooting with your arm out just because you have a fisheye lens and hoping you get the skater in and the horizon straight or should I say “Horizontal” is a bad habit and not very professional. It’s just so haphazard and does away with the skillful eye and using the frame of the image in a meaningful and controlled way. I see photographers shoot that way and if they’re shooting that way because the decks are too crowded, with other photogs, maybe they shouldn’t shoot, aren’t the shots all going to be the same? The best shot I have seen lately is that shot of the 50 photogs shooting with their arms stretched out from across the pool by a photog looking through his lens. The classic thing about it is Chris Ortiz in the shot is the only one looking through his viewfinder, he’s comes from an era where you would get hassled like hell if you didn’t look through your viewfinder. Everyone has their argument or excuse why they do it, I would just rather take pride in looking through the viewfinder and compose a deliberate skate photo. I am sure that some wiseass will point out that one of my most notable photos is the Chris Miller Pole Cam shot. That took me two rolls of film to get that shot and I was the first one to do it, so suggit!
Chris Miller PoleCam
If you had to be put on the spot, what are some of your favorite skate photos that you have made yourself?
The Pole Cam of Chris Miller, the Swank Push shot, the Animal Chin Handplants one, the Mike Smith Acid Drop, The Hosoi Powerslide black and white and a few others.
What is your camera set-up, what equipment do you use for different situations?
Presently using a Canon 5D and a Canon 15mm lens and a 70-200mm/2.8. Also Pocket Wizard Multi Max slaves and Quantum Q-flashes. My setup is pretty basic and I haven’t switched it up for years. It seems to work for me and my needs. I also use a Leica M6 and a Hasselblad 503CW for my artistic photography.
Any special projects lined up for you in 2013?
Still trying to get a book going, do a couple of shows, shoot more film, travel a little, teaching photography, shoot more portraits, some tee shirt designs, sell some vintage skate shots online and get my new hip strengthened so I can keep shooting.
To finish off this short interview a little what if question: what would you have become if you never discovered photography?
Looking back on it now, I would say graphics or painting, something connected to art.
Pierre Andre in Japan
Mark “Gonz” Gonzales – boneless
Tony Hawk – crossbone at Del Mar
Rodney Mullen in 2012
Natas Kaupas – Venice, California