We recently had a chat with gentleman and skateboarding photographer Jody Morris about hitting up Havana’s skate scene, shooting Tommy Lee in the recording studio with Danny Way and how touring used to be different from today. Enjoy –
Let’s start from scratch – Where are you from?
I was born in Ottawa, Canada – moved to Vancouver about 20 years ago.
and where are you currently living?
So how did you first get into skateboarding and along with it, photography?
A friend showed up at my house with a board one day, first time I’d seen one up close, instantly captivated. It wasn’t until a year or two later when I finally got my first board. I’d get into the photography side of it until 4-5 years later. I was living in Toronto to attend Film School. One of the guys I skated with needed to shoot an ad, there were no photographers around but I had a camera for one of my classes so it fell to me. I guess you could say I found photography by default.
What was film school like?
Spending every day with a room full of people who each truly believed they were the next Coppola. A little too pretentious, but it did give me the basic foundation of film production to learn from.
- and do you still skate much?
After a few too many head concussions I stick to cruising, not trying to throw myself down the stairs.
Have you had any formal education with photography then?
I learned by trial and error, studying photos in the mags and trying to replicate them. Pretty early on I sent a package of photos to Bryce Kanights at Thrasher and he gave me a call. He let me know that the stuff I sent him wasn’t quite ready for the mag but if I was serious about it he’d help me learn. I started shooting for Thrasher with Bryce sending me film. Not having much money at the time I would have to send it back to him to develop – he would talk me through the rolls over the phone, letting me know what turned out what didn’t and how I could fix/improve things. The only time I actually got to see the photo was when something made it into the mag. That was 20 years ago, no YouTube or Google to learn from – just the mail and the telephone. Thanks Bryce (happy 50th).
What equipment do you use?
I use Canon for digital and video stuff – I started out with Canon when I bought my first real setup so I stuck with them. Personal stuff I still like to shoot on film with rangefinder cameras – mainly because I still love the wait and anticipation of getting rolls back from the lab.
Much change to the equipment over the years?
In the 90’s equipment didn’t change much – you had your setup and you replaced stuff as it blew out or got smashed. These days the work camera switched to digital and upgrades every few years but the film cameras have been the same for years – probably will be for years.
Which photographers influence you?
Even before I started shooting photos I always liked Peter Beard’s work, he is a storyteller in the classic sense. His adventure photos and fashion/portrait type stuff always overlapped heavily – real unique. Anton Corbin’s black and white was always great. Guys like Jim Marshall, Bob Gruen, Glenn E. Freidman – guys who capture deeper stories than just traditional portraiture. In skateboarding it was always the guys whose photos I admired before I even started shooting; guys like Grant Brittain, Bryce Kanights, Mofo, Tomas Champbell. Currently guys like Sam Muller, Ian Ruhter, Cole Barash and Chris Burkard are really inspiring.
Can you tell us about the Havana photos? Who was on the trip?
The Cuba trip was a part of a documentary shot by Tomas Crowder about the skate scene in Havana. There were two trips made down there with American pros visiting to skate with the locals and shoot for the documentary. I went down to shoot Ryan Sheckler’s portion of the film. We spent almost two weeks hanging and skating with the local crew, it was a great trip – really got treated to an insider’s view. Due to economic sanctions and financial condition of Cuba getting the basics that we take for granted here is a struggle – let alone getting something like a skateboard. The locals press their own boards, soaking ply’s of wood to try to mold them to a shape. It takes about two weeks for them to make a board, it usually lasts them less than a few days at best. With trade embargos and import costs they have no way to get boards from real companies unless someone visits the island and gifts one to someone.
What’s the talent like there then? Did you guys bring them some boards?
The first crew that went down brought completes. Sheckler arranged it with Etnies to bring a huge amount of shoes. Between the two trips they were fully kitted.
Some nice shots – kids look like they’re really going at it -
This was a boxing school in downtown Havana – a ring in the middle of an old abandoned building.
and this one?
This was a group of men that hang out in the front of a make shift store. The store was large room with only a small vintage floor cooler with a few. Basically it was just their hangout spot to survey the neighborhood.
The Templeton portrait is cool -
The photo of Ed was for a trip to Finland for Transworld. Ed, Rick McCrank and Myself went with Arto back to Finland to check out his town and a few cities before Arto went in for a heart surgery. This was plastic film camera I found in a store in Helsinki – it shot a mini-sequence all in one frame. This was years before urban outfitters started pimping the out heavily.
Did you hear about Ed’s recent injury?
I did, happens to the best of ‘em. Great to see he’s out there skating hard enough for broken bones – inspiring.
Didn’t realise you were there at the hospital with Arto until I saw the photo -
At the end of the Finland trip he went in. He had some kind of defect they were going to correct. Ed, Rick and I snuck into the hospital after hours to see him and wish him well before we headed home.
How did you end up shooting Tommy Lee?
Tommy and Danny Way are actually good friends his kids skate and they met that way. This was at Danny’s, he built a recording studio in his house and Tommy was down to record drums for one of Danny’s songs.
Should we watch out for their kids?
Talent seems to run in the families.
True! – going back a while can you tell us about that collab trip in 1995?
This was from the summer – the Year Tom Penny won Radlands. There was no money in skateboarding at the time so the European distributors pulled together and did a joint tour. We had Blind,101, Menace, World, Prime and Plan B riders all on one tour – for the England section we had Workshop guys with us as well. The distributor in each country would pick us up at the border and hand us off to the next distributor after we passed through. You don’t really see tours like this these days, for a lot of us it was the first trip to Europe – great way to start. This photo wasn’t even everyone on the trip – it was just who was walking around Amsterdam together that afternoon.
So what’s the key to a great photo?
You need something that will make you come back to the image again, not just turn the page and forget it. A good photo needs something that gives it substance be it a great visual, a storytelling aspect, an air of mystery, a holy shit factor – something to make it memorable hopefully.
Any favourite skaters to shoot?
As a skate fan I always liked shooting people like Guy Mariano, Jeremy Wray, Colin Mckay, Daewon Song, Danny Way – guys who when you went to shoot it was almost guaranteed it would be something no one had done yet.
Were you at the Pretty Sweet premiere?
Missed it, I was working – would have been cool to see on a big screen.
Definitely – What sort of differences do you come across between shooting one skater and the next then?
There are some people who look at shooting photos as something they have to do as part of the “job” of being a skater. There are others who really enjoy being part of the creative process of making photos, who seek out spots with an eye for visuals and photographic potential.
What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you when shooting?
Kicked out with shotgun at your head in Manila with Willy Santos was kind of strange. Pulling up to Lockwood with Guy and Gabriel as they were loading Chuck Wampler into the ambulance after getting shot was kind of strange. Area 51 in Nevada, we went there for a Transworld trip, that was kind of strange.
A shotgun to your head -
I did an article for Transworld where I had them blindfold me and I stuck a pin in a map – wherever it landed I had to go. First try hit middle of the ocean , second hit Manila in the Philipines so I enlisted Willy and we went. Skateboarding was rather foreign to them at the time, let alone in the business district.
Willy saved the day right?
That was how they handled trespassing, security comes out guns drawn. One of Willy’s cousins smoothed it over – all I understood was “blah blah blah blah blah x-games blah blah blah blah X-games” and we ended up getting to stay. They didn’t really understand what we were doing but somehow they new “X-games” – strange.
What’s Danny Way like to shoot?
Danny is one of the guys who you know you’re never going to shoot anything “stock”. He has always thrived on pushing skateboarding’s progression which makes shooting him always interesting. He’s not enjoying it unless he is pushing himself which means it’s always something to see.
Is there a lot of preparation that goes into documenting this standard of skating?
Actually with Danny most times you wouldn’t get any preparation – just a last minute “let’s do this” call.
How many attempts did that 360 flip take?
He actually had already landed one a few days previously, when I saw the footage I pictured a still photo in my and asked if he’d do it to get it. He was into it so we went back and he did it a second time – pretty ridiculous for something of this magnitude. Can’t remember how many tries but it was a lot quicker than I’ve spent shooting some people tre flip a ten stair.
That Pat Duffy shot looks a little dangerous -
This is a spot in North San Diego County called “Dead Man’s ditch”, basically because a guy was found there hit by a train – the tracks are about 2-3 feet from the lip of the ditch. One of those ideas where at the time you’re thinking this would make a cool photo – in hindsight though not the smartest idea. Lucky to say Pat pulled through unscathed.
What’s your opinion of his skating?
The first Plan B video wrote Pat’s page in the skateboarding history books. For those of you unfamiliar with his questionable video part – YouTube it, then contemplate how this was before most skaters today were born.
Is Burnquist’s damage for real?
Knee slides on the mega ramp are no joke. Death to shoes.
How was Laos?
My wife and go every few years – it’s always an adventure. This was on the way back from visiting a huge cave system where people used to hide out during the war. This was just a place on the side of the road, couple elephants and other assorted creatures.
Loved the McCrank photo too -
This was just a billboard we saw out skating around in Vancouver. I had Rick climb up on it to give it the perspective – just dorking around.
How has skateboarding photography changed over the years?
Technically (equipment and techniques) there are all kinds of changes, but as far as the “feel” I don’t think it really has all that much. The spots change but I think someone reading a mag today gets the same feeling as someone reading a mag 20 years ago.
In what aspects has it changed positively and what aspects has it changed negatively?
On the positive side the learning curve has changed massively with the combination of being able to learn just about anything via you tube or online info combined with the instant results of digital. People can learn in weeks what it took years and large amounts of dollars in film and processing to accomplish previously. The negative side to this is that you are flooded with images before people learn their craft. It creates a lot of noise for the quality to cut through.
Is there room for aspiring skateboarding photographers?
I think now more than ever with the number of magazines around the world, the rise of web content, personal publishing via Instagram and Tumblr – it’s much easier for someone to get their photos out there and seen.
On your Tumblr you said “20 years worth of photos sitting in boxes and hard drives, got to put them somewhere right?” – Would you ever consider a book or some sort of publication of your work?
Sure, you buying?
[Laughs] - what about Plan B – can you tell us about working with them?
I worked for the original Plan B in 93-95. When they re-launched in 2005 they brought me on and I was with them until last summer (6 years). I shot the majority of the photography, oversaw all the video projects, handled the online content creation and was the marketing director as well for the last few years.
What do you make of the Team?
I think the current team is doing a great job of carrying the legacy of the original idea of Plan B. It was always about progression pushing the boundaries of skateboarding for Plan B and I think the team now is doing exactly that. I’m looking forward to seeing the full length they’re working on.
Any idea when we can expect to see the video?
Plan B’s philosophy was always the video’s ready when it’s ready – I know they’re working hard towards it though so probably in the near future.
Can you tell us about your involvement with Pudwill’s Big Bang part?
Shortly after we did Paul’s video Torey came to us saying he wanted to do a part of his own. He wanted to get it out to as many people as possible so I approached Thrasher with the idea of partnering on the video release. No one had released a video part through a magazine so it was a bit of an experiment but has since turned into a standard practice.
And what about Felipe Gustavo’s Year’s Best Brazilian? What do you think of him?
Felipe’s part was our response to the “best am” articles that came out in all the mags. Kind of our own article about our “best am”. Felipe grew up watching guys like PJ so he’s really got that technical ability wrapped up. His dedication and drive to make it to America and live his skate dreams is a true inspiration.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
Lately my time has been taken up with building a house. Trying to avoid hitting my thumb with a hammer.
Building a house from scratch?
We bought an old 50’s house and tore down about 80% of it. Learning as we go.
We saw the Black Sabbath photos – are you a fan?
I have always enjoyed live music so anytime I get the chance to shoot a band I enjoy I always up for it.
What music are you into?
Not really a jazz fan but most others work.
What’s next for yourself?
[Laughs] – what are you having?
Veggie buritto from Rico’s in Encinitas.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Thanks for the chat Jody and best of luck with everything!
Check out the Jody’s website: http://www.jodymorris.com/
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