The one man photographic warrior known as Chris Johnson rounds off our Photographers Stories series for 2012, following on from Sam, Reece, Matt, Jerome and Joel in bringing you a handpicked selection of five shots from the last twelve months, delivering a short tale about each.
Engage your eyes and brain and have a scroll below now…
For the most part, trying to shoot photos and work on interviews in the cold, damp winter of our domestic setting can definitely have its limitations; the terrible weather and the fact that it gets dark in the mid to late afternoon being the main ones. Back in January, Kris Vile, who can usually be found somewhere in Europe, on a tour or filming a video part, called me up to tell me that he was back in his hometown of Birmingham for a few days and wanted to shoot some photos. Faced with either sitting in a pub pretending that I’m interested in football or taking one the best skaters in Europe to some of the lesser seen spots that the Midlands has to offer, I obviously opted for the latter.
The reason that this photo stands out as one of my favorites from this year is as much to do with the setting and circumstances around it and what it went on to kick start just as much as the fact that it’s a switch front board down a total bust of a rail on a freezing Sunday morning. Kris shot this and six other photos before the sun went down in the late afternoon, and that day was the beginning of what turned into a gnarly interview and a solid video part.
Friends of mine who used to skate have in the past asked me if, as a skateboard photographer, there’s a small aspect of living vicariously through the people in front of the lens. I do know that there is a certain level of coaching, sometimes manipulating, that goes on behind the scenes and I guess there’s a side of you that wants somebody to do what you were never able to.
I’ve been lucky enough over the years to meet and shoot photos of some of my favorite skaters whom span most of the incarnations of popular skateboarding and this has been a great privilege. But, there’s something about shooting locally with someone who’s just breaking out into the wider skate world that’s unique. Also, you get to take someone to all the spots you were too much of a pussy to skate and help to make stuff happen. So yeah, in answer to the initial question, I guess there is some level of self-fulfillment at times.
I’ve seen Luke around for over ten years but he seemed to just do his own thing and from time to time you’d hear via word of mouth that he’d jumped onto some rail or other. Having spent a week on the road with A Third Foot earlier in the year and seeing what he was now up for throwing himself at, I was more than keen to get him over to check out the one of the larger rails in Coventry.
Luke is not someone who’s going to spend hours slow-moing the latest video part or worrying too much about the brand of his jeans. He’s just a fucking lunatic whose blatant disregard for his own wellbeing is what gets him to the other side. I guess the fact that he still watches a worn out bootlegged compilation video of the gnarliest sections from ‘Welcome To Hell’and ‘Fulfill The Dream’ before going out skating may have a hand in it as well.
With just a few kickflips on the flat and with dragging some plywood to the top of the stairs to cover the blind bumps as his warm up, a backside 5050 was put down within a few tries. At that point I began to head back over all stoked to show him the photo. Before I’d even got halfway he jumped straight onto a back lip giving me just about enough time to get back to my vantage point before he was rolling one away fourth try.
Whilst the rest of the UK skateboard industry crammed themselves into various hired vehicles and headed all over the country fulfilling Big Push duties, Gav and myself spent the week concentrating on wrapping up his interview. Having been given a rental car with a questionable top speed and limited seating or boot space following an incident on route to the Flip Demo the week before, we tried to fit as many bodies in the car as possible in an attempt to keep the already injured Irishman ticking over.
After five days in the blistering sun and the steady diet of Haribo and fizzy pop that he’s now famous for, my good friend Gav was lookin’ a bit worse for wear. With elasticated supports just about holding him together at the seams, we hit up a last minute spot before he made his way down to London and I headed off to Downtown Showdown. Gav seemed optimistic but after a warm up ollie over the stairs he looked to have given himself a hernia. At one point Gav couldn’t even bend down to pop his board let alone clear the awkwardly narrow gap to rail. With threats of the caretaker turning up, he battled through, managing the gap to 5-0 before collapsing in a heap by the car.
For anyone into skateboarding and growing up in the 1980’s like myself, there’s pretty much no real need to explain the significance of this photo on both a personal and profession level. To be honest, for anyone who’s had any real interest in skateboarding as a whole for the past thirty odd years, there’s again no real need to explain it.
Back in July, a cross section of the Flip team headed over to the UK as part of their European tour. With the weather being typically terrible during The XC demo and having gone to bed thinking “don’t rain’ don’t rain, please stop raining now and don’t rain tomorrow”, we were all pretty stoked to wake up to one of the only scorchers of this past summer.
With the rain forecast once again for the afternoon, we wasted no time, gathered everyone into the vans and headed over to Romford. This was a special occasion for everyone involved as Romford is definitely one of our longest standing proving grounds and with Lance and Rune as well as the new generation including Greyson Fletcher and Curren Caples, we were all in for a treat. This visit proved to be even more special for Lance as the last time he was at Romford was thirty three years ago in 1979 and he was reunited with Seth Gittians who he’d skated with all those years ago.
With the remaining residue from the down-pour of the previous day hindering the session slightly, the pool was kindly pumped out by Romford legend Dion. Having shot a backside crail block and an invert within five minutes of the pool being dry enough to skate, Lance began trying to get the line for a frontside air. I managed to get four or five photos of this whilst he was trying to get the line to go higher and before too long he reached terminal velocity with this particular frame. F*cking stoked – a Lance Mountain photo and it made its way onto the cover of the Buyer’s Guide a few months later.
First off, that’s a waist high bench with a typically British tarmac run up. Secondly, that’s a Pop shuvit. And thirdly, that could be one of the cast of Made In Chelsea in the background.
Anyway, one of the rad sides to being a skate photographer in Britain is that it’s pretty unplanned and you can never really predict the outcome of your travels until they unfold. Despite only being a few hours away and one of the easier places to get to by car within our motorway network, I never seem to get into London as much as I’d like.
I headed down to London for a few days with Kris Vile in order to wrap up his WORD interview away from our home setting of the West Midlands. Our time spent in London was pretty much centered around handrails and stair sets but after a pretty heavy day of watching Kris and others throw themselves down various drops, we decided to go take in a spot across town that Karim wanted to skate. Although we’d met before, I’d never really seen Karim skate in person let alone shot any photos with him. I’d heard the rumors and seen the footage but f*cking hell this dude has got serious pop!
Like I said earlier, you can never really predict the outcome of your travels as there are so many chance meetings along the way. A trip down to London with Mr. Vile opened up the door for me to shoot one of my favorite photos from the past year with one of the raddest people I’ve met along the way.