How did skateboarding become your life as a young man?
I was living in Huntington Beach, California, which is known for surfing and skateboarding culture in general. As a kid, I remember seeing a couple of kids skate by my house and ollie up a curb. And I just remember being blown away by that. When I skated I had to stop and pick up my board and put it on the curb, until I saw an ollie and I was like, “Okay, I want to do that.” That was the spark of the obsession.
How do you go from putting your board on the curb by hand to going pro? And you started shooting photos on tour, right?
Well, within five years I was pro. I started in ‘85, and I was pro by 1990. I immediately got immersed in going to the skate contests and hanging out with all the local kids here. So yeah, by 1990 I was pro and started traveling. Four years after I turned pro is when it kind of hit me: “Look at this life you get to live. You get to travel the world and get paid to do what you love.” It kind of coincided with seeing Larry Clark’s Teenage Lust for the first time and Nan Goldin’s book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. It made me realize: I’m living a life that’s kind of interesting—I feel a responsibility to document it.
Is it true your first cameras were disposables, or is that just apocryphal artist biography shit?
No, I mean, I think I got a Canon AE-1. Once I realized I wanted to do it, I wanted to use a good camera. There was a trend at that time of just shooting point-and-shoot everything. Just on-camera flash. But I always kind of hated the way those [photos] looked. I was really going for the black-and-white Cartier-Bresson, Larry Clark, Garry Winogrand style.
In the shoot in this issue, a lot of the tools that you use in your art practice are present: text, washes, collage. What led you to start playing around with those things, and what guides you when you feel like painting or washing a photo versus just doing a pure black-and-white image?
Yeah, there’s kind of two schools in photography, I guess. The traditional way is that you make your photograph and that’s it. You don’t mess with it. But I’ve always been a big fan of people who did more with their photography. Artists like Jim Goldberg. David Hockney spent the whole ‘80s doing photo collages. All of Robert Frank’s later work, past The Americans, was scratching the negatives, making prints and writing on them, painting on them. So for me, sure, I’m going for that iconic photograph. But when that fails, for instance, you can still use the photograph—maybe painting on it or writing something on it brings it up from that mid range and back into the good range.
What is the first memory that comes to mind from our shoot day? Off the top.
Oh gosh. My first thought was just confusion. I don’t do a lot of shoots, so when I first got there, I couldn’t even find the trailer. I was just in the parking lot, and there was no cell reception in Malibu, so I was looking around, like, I’m literally lost until someone comes and finds me.