Unknowingly making a satanic mockery of the Japanese culture, to the initial wrong interpretations of Fred Gall’s character, as well as Mike Anderson’s happy bloody smile. We caught up with Matt Price to hear some tales from behind the lens. He received the greatest kind of compliment you can get from Spike Jonze, and rightly so. Enjoy –
Interview by Stephen Cox
Photos by Matt Price
Let’s start off with the usual. Tell our readers where are you from and how you got into skateboarding photography.
I grew up in Mesa, Arizona, started skating when I was about nine. Didn’t really catch the bug until I was about eleven or twelve. I didn’t have a cooler older brother or anyone I knew that was into skating. It was purely something I saw from a super outsider perspective and for some reason just thought was the coolest fucking thing ever. Turns out I was right. Shooting photos just came from being such a super fan. I wanted to document everything my bros were doing because they were, and still are the best skateboarders I have ever seen. It also didn’t hurt that I was a giant pussy and wasn’t ripping quite as hard as all my buddies. I never really cared about photography for any reason other than documenting skating and making my friends look cool.
Who taught you how to shoot?
I actually learned almost everything I know about shooting skate photos from a website that used to exist called skateboardphotography.com. It had a forum and a critique where you could post your photos and other skate photo nerds would tell you how bad you sucked. Some of the dudes on there that helped me out a lot were Chase Wilson and Matt Mecaro. I probably owe all of my knowledge of shooting decent skate photos to those guys. When I first started posting I would get ripped so hard on there, but eventually from the friends I made through the site and the feedback I was getting I started to get the hang of it. It’s funny that the Internet is kind of taking precedence over print mags now. That breaks my heart, but I wouldn’t have any idea what I was doing and never be where I am if it wasn’t for the Internet.
It’s a good way of embracing the change. Did the criticism ever put you off?
Well when you’re sixteen and someone gives you a critique it usually comes off like talking shit. So at first I was a little bummed, but once I realized they were right and I did suck, it got me sparked to get better and rub it in their stupid shit talking faces! I’m kidding, but it did feel good to post on there and finally have people giving me some props.
Do you think there is now a lifespan on all printed skateboarding magazines?
I really don’t think so. I can’t see people ever fully being over seeing rad pictures in print, but I do think it will change.
What conflicts of interest arise in terms of trying to satisfy younger and older audiences?
All of them? [Laughs]. But seriously, it’s tough. You’re never going to please everybody so in the end I think people need to do what they think is rad and not worry about who they’re trying to market to as much. Once the market fully dictates your product, you lose your originality and then a product that started out amazing will just start to suck. You see it happen all the time. I’m recently realizing how important it is to not give a fuck about what you think will sell. Just do what skateboarders have been doing for decades and just make shit you think is rad.
How have you seen ads change over the years? I might be wrong on this but I think other mainstream sports enthusiasts wouldn’t take into consideration the adverts affiliated with their interests as much skaters would themselves. Perhaps this is due to the nature of skate photography. What is your opinion on the idea of ads in skateboarding magazines being an art form in itself?
I think there is so much radness that can come from a good ad and using your layout to enhance your photo and skating is something skateboarders have been awesome at forever. In the last couple years I think people have maybe tried to structure ads too much or stick to campaigns and are being a little too influenced by big business on how they present their product. It sucks to show a rad photo to a company and have them go “oh sorry that sequence is amazing, but we need a still”. I think the skating and photography should dictate the ad layout and not the other way around. If you have an epic photo of an epic trick then that’s what you use. I once had a marketing director tell me we couldn’t use a rad photo of Freddy Gall skating a ditch because that wasn’t how they were trying to market him. To me that’s ridiculous because if that’s what he wants to skate then that’s him. If you’re trying to force another look then you’re not even marketing the skater anymore. You’re marketing some weird idea of a skater that some dude has who doesn’t even skate anymore. There used to be a lot more “fuck it” involved in skateboard ads.
What equipment do you use?
I shoot almost all digital these days. I have a Canon 1DsMK2 and a Canon 7D for sequences and video. I also usually use small Nikon SB flashes rather than the big strobes with battery packs. An extracurricular camera I have been shooting a lot with lately is the Panon Widelux. It’s a swing lens panoramic 35mm and it’s one of the coolest cameras I have ever owned.
Which photographers inspire you?
One of my all time favorite photographers is Spike Jonze. He might be one of the most talented people on the planet and he’s constantly inspiring me with everything he does. As for other skate photographers that have or still do, I love Brian Gaberman, John Humphries, Scott Pommier, Atiba, Anthony Acosta, Dave Swift, and of course Grant Brittain. Also, some newer dudes that I’ve been hyped on are Patrick Driscoll and Brian Kelly.
Have you met Spike?
I have met him a couple times, but one of the coolest things for me was when we were cruising around in the van with the Girl and Chocolate dudes filming skits and intro stuff for the Pretty Sweet video. Spike was looking through an issue of The Skateboard Mag and stopped on a photo that I shot of John Motta. He turned to Raven or someone he was sitting next to and told them what a rad photo it was. He didn’t have any idea that I shot it or probably that I even shoot skate photos, but I was sitting behind him and just fanning the fuck out. That shit was cool.
How do you feel about the idea of inspiring others?
I’m always stoked when kids hit me up telling me they’re hyped on my photos. Anytime I can help get someone hyped to do some cool shit, whether it’s go skate or shoot a photo I guess that’s probably the raddest part about doing all this stuff. Skating hooked me up as a kid and taught me how to not be a complete tool. So the more kids out there who don’t turn into tools because of skating, the better.
Loved the short article ‘Drinking Ze Beer of Ze Girls’ in the Mag, especially the customs I wasn’t aware of in other countries.
The whole chopstick thing actually happened to me in Japan. We went out to eat one night and I had a few too many Asahis and thought it would be funny to make a pentagram out of chopsticks at the dinner table. Luckily the Japanese aren’t very confrontational, but I found out later that they were all pretty bummed on the fat white guy making a satanic mockery of their culture. Also Thailand has an ancient custom where the girls have dicks, and they will steal your wallet.
[Laughs]. In what way do these photo articles come to you?
When I’m on a trip or putting together an article, there’s really no process other than just shooting as much as we can in the time allotted and then throwing it together the fastest way I see fit that looks half way decent. Nothing I do takes very much time. I’m more into getting things done quickly and moving on to the next thing rather than spending hours on one layout or editing one photo. That might sound really lazy, but from my experience all of my stuff I like the best has come really quickly and the things I have spent lots of time on I usually end up hating.
It is a lot better as reader to have some sort of written prelude to the photos I think.
The same goes for writing for me as well. There’s almost always one draft and that’s it. Chances are it’s not getting any better if I look at it more and more. That usually just makes me want to start over or take things out. Writing always feels like homework and I usually put it off to the last minute and then have some beers and hammer it out as fast as I can.
Let’s talk about the perks of being a skateboarding photographer: traveling.
The perks of this job are pretty ideal for anyone who grew up watching 411 videos and drooling over the lives of everyone on those trips. Traveling has become one of the best things for sure. I never grew up having a desire to go anywhere, but once skateboarding sent me to Europe for the first time, I was fucked. From that moment it’s kind of been a non-stop blur of planes, passport stamps and seeing things that only existed on the travel channel. I can’t even explain how much traveling has helped me grow up and changed my perspective on life. I know that sounds corny as fuck but it’s true – and I’m pretty corny. My other favorite perks are friends in the industry who keep me stocked up on gear so I can always keep shredding when I get the chance. Getting a box of boards sent to your house is still the best feeling ever.
What sort of friendships have you built up through your career?
There’s way too many and it’s awesome as fuck, but a funny one is Fred Gall. I can remember the first time I met him. I actually thought, “this guy is a piece of shit, and I don’t wanna hang out with him”. I don’t know why I would think something so lame. I was young and he must have been being shitty or something [laughs]. Turns out after years of traveling with him, Freddy is one of the people I trust the most and has ended up being one of my closest friends. That was a surprise for sure.
Where do you want to travel that you haven’t?
Shit, at this point I still just want to go anywhere I haven’t been yet. I really want to check out Cuba really bad. I just want to go anywhere tropical where I can be around the beach all day. I’m a sucker for some relaxation.
Loved the Ryan Lay switch backside lipslide photo. Great angle. Is there ever a point when trying to create an original photo can carry the risk of missing the trick?
Thanks. I was stoked on that one too. For angles like that, if someone is trying a trick a few times I will make sure I get a safety angle first. In the case of that photo I shot your classic fisheye at the bottom of the stairs with Ryan just above the rail, but it just felt kind of boring. Sometimes you can shoot that angle and it’s just so classic and awesome that it looks sick, but for that rail I wanted to show how close his tail was to the wall too. That particular angle I shot I always have in my head from a rollerblade photographer I knew named Scott Dukes. He shot that angle of a lot of dudes doing fish brains or topside soles or whatever fun boy shit they do down rails. Despite the offensive content of the photograph, the angle always made the rails look kind of sick. Scott was a rad photographer so he made it look really good. I tried it a few times before, but that was the only time it really worked out the way I wanted. Sorry Ryan, your photo was inspired by giant sweatpants, triple XL tank tops and the September 2003 Issue of Daily Bread.
[Laughs]. How do you try and change things up creatively? Can this depend on the skater you are shooting?
The skater I’m shooting with always has to do with how a photo will come out. Ryan is a good example of someone that I can get my favorite photos with because we’ve been friends for so long that it’s completely comfortable for us to take extra time and try different things to get things the way we want them to look. He knows it might be worth it to try a few more if I want to get weird.
Run us through the story of your favorite cover.
My favorite cover was the backside 50-50 of Ryan up the wall rail in Phoenix. This was my fourth cover I think, but I had known about the first three before they came out so it wasn’t quite the same feeling when I saw them. Also, the backside 50-50 photo is a perfect example of trying weird stuff and having it work out. We had shot almost every angle of that dumb rail and I couldn’t get anything to look cool. Sometimes it’s hard to light someone against a wall and not have lame shadows. Ryan is tall and that rail wasn’t. After shooting for about an hour of him trying I almost just gave up because everything looked so dumb, but then for some reason I just turned up my ISO to eight hundred and put both flashes behind him and kind of just let the filmer’s lights light him up from the front and shot at 1/250th. That one where he was popping just looked so rad and I was stoked, but I had never had a digi photo run at an ISO over two hundred. I thought there was some sort of rule about that. Turns out I was wrong because just like skating, there are no rules in photography and when I saw that they had put it on the cover of the photo issue I seriously lost my breath for a minute. Being able to get a photo I was so stoked on, and getting one of my best friends from my hometown – who at the time wasn’t even really riding for anyone – on the cover of a photo issue of The Skateboard Mag was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
I didn’t think the mags wouldn’t run something like this by the photographer or the skater.
I think Swift actually texted me a photo of it before I saw it printed, but the mag has always kept covers a secret. Sometimes circumstances make it so you can’t. We always try and keep it as mellow as we can before it comes out. It’s just a really cool feeling for everyone involved seeing that and finding out for the first time, magazine in hand. Now though with digital subscriptions and social media there’s pretty much no way that can happen unless someone lives on a satellite free planet
Can you run us though some of the technical aspects of capturing the Mike Anderson back smith photo?
I always loved this photo that Atiba shot of Jamie Thomas doing a back smith on an out ledge where he slowed the shutter and gave the camera a fancy little twirl. Ever since I figured out how that worked I always try and use that effect when I can. I probably shot at like 1/20 or something, had two flashes set up, just held the camera low and spun it right before I shot. That took him a bit because he had to lock in so on top and then pop out early so I had a good amount of tries to get one I liked.
What do you make of Mike’s skating?
Mike is one of my favorite skaters. We were both on this Matix trip about five years ago. It was one of my first skate trips. It might have been his first too. We stayed in Salt Lake for a few days and every night while everyone would drink or play on computers, Mike and I would pack a small camera bag and just go skate around downtown by ourselves. Watching him skate those couple nights just blew my mind. He was skating so fast and having so much fun. At one point we were bombing a mellow hill and mike was just pushing full speed and right before a manhole he popped a 180 and almost squirreled out. Somehow he held on and then instead of falling, he switch 360 flipped the manhole going faster than I have ever seen anyone do that trick in my life. It was so cool to see a kid on a trip that was killing it and just having a good time. Right after that Mike got a nosebleed, just let the blood cover his face and kept skating. His face is covered in blood and he’s just smiling.
Tell us the story of the group photo of Brian Anderson, Sean Malto, Rick Howard, Alex Olson, Eric Koston, Ernie Torres, Ted Degros and Guy Mariano.
Ty had got a permit to skate Big Surf in Arizona for two days to shoot a Panasonic commercial and had called me the week before to shoot stills of the whole thing. It was the first time I had ever shot with most of those dudes so I was pretty stoked. During the shooting Ty had them all doing some funny synchronized skating type shit for the commercial and one of the moves was the ollie to fakie all at once. It was rad that Ernie and Ted were in town also and they got in the mix. It didn’t seem random then, but looking back it’s pretty funny that they were in it. Marty Murawski overslept that morning and missed being in that photo and was pretty bummed [laughs].
In terms of storage and hoarding of your own work as well as others what are you like? I imagine for photographers it’s either as messy as it comes or OCD to the max.
That’s funny because I am probably right in the middle. I’m fairly organized, but I still lose shit a lot. If I had to pick one side I’m probably messier than clean.
What sort of photos do you have on the walls of your home?
I just like anything that looks cool. I’m a big fan of William Eggleston and Lartigue. I have some Eggleston up at the house, but mostly I like photos that my friends have taken. I’m pretty fortunate to know some pretty talented people that will trade prints with me every now and then.
When will we see a printed book of your work?
No plans as of now for a book. I don’t think I’m deep enough to do something like that, but maybe one day.
Thanks for this Matt.
Special thanks – Nick McClelland
Follow Matt on Instagram: @priceyhot
Follow Stephen Cox on Twitter: @stephen_coxy