We started this feature to hear from the photographers at the front lines of skateboard action. It’s they who fill our pages and screens with the stunning visual imagery we all desire. What they’ll show us is a selection of their favourite images they’ve shot, and offer us some insight into how they got their start and what gets their heart pumping. We can all take a picture, but these are some of the people that do it best and with the most thought put into it. First you’ll see a gallery of their photos with extended captions, and below that is an interview with the photographer. -Jeff Thorburn
Name: Rich Odam
Hometown: Lima, Peru/Toronto, ON
Currently lives in: Vancouver, BC
Website: Coming Soon (I hope)
Social media handles: Instagram: RichOdam
Sascha Daley, 5-0. One day on our way to this laundromat, we walked right by this hubba. This is one of the reasons why I like China so much: you can find incredible spots that have never been skated or been out in a magazine or video just by cruising to the corner store. The Muslim fried rice is also a favourite.
Matt Berger, Back Tail. China 2013, the crew was heavy, Jordan Hoffart, Sascha Daley, Scott Decenzo and Matt Berger. Matt originally back lipped this rail but we couldn’t remember if it had been done or not, so we went back the next day and he threw down this Backside Tailslide on a 15 stair wooden rail. That same day Scooter did Switch Frontside Boardslide at this spot, we celebrated by blowing stuff up with fireworks.
JS Lapierre. This image of JS pretty much sums up the first couple of weeks of our Carlsbad monthly stay. Lots of spots where nothing was working out, JS was working on a pretty sick trick at this spot. The bank is actually insanely rough and after trying a few different things we packed the cars and drove onto the next spot.
JS Lapierre, Frontside Feeble. A group of us had rented a big house in Carlsbad for a month; it was a crazy month, lots of driving, not getting anything done and the house antics weren’t helping the situation. A lot has changed since that trip. This spot has a super short landing area and high risk factor, and the lifeguards at this beach weren’t hyped JS was skating the rail.
John Hanlon, Frontside Bluntslide. This is the “Liquor store” rail, and it’s the same day Cameo Kickflip Backside lipslid this thing. Getting two bangers in one session is pretty sweet. John ended up getting the cover of the Concrete Photo Annual in 2011 with this move.
Jamie Walker, Backside Flip.We came to this school to skate a different spot, but it wasn’t working as well as we had hope for, so we went around the building looking to see what else this place had to offer. This was one of the options, with some stairwell providing this high angle it was the perfect vantage point to catch Jamie’s Mega pop and style.
Derek Swaim, Frontside Heelflip. A skate spot by the beach. It doesn’t get any closer to the ocean than this foundation gap. Formerly a big night club, this place is now abandoned and is home to this flat gap. It was really windy and the chances of your board going into the ocean here are very high. The tide was coming up and the waves crashing were spraying the flashes I had set up.
Dan Redmond Nollie Flip. This is in Costa Rica, the hubba is super chunky and the ground is rough. Redmond found a creative way to skate it just in time before it got too dark and sketchy to be out there.
Charles Deschamps, Lipslide. This is another spot in Costa Rica. It’s out front of a University and the angle is pretty crazy, Charles killed it on this trip.
Cameo Wilson, Backside Smith. I shot this photo with Cameo in Las Vegas while I was staying at his place. It was beyond too hot to even step outside so we did most of the skating in the late afternoons when the temperature would go down to a cool 35 degrees Celsius.
An interview with Rich:
What came first, skateboarding or photography? How did one meet the other? Do you remember them coming together? Skateboarding definitely came first. I started skating back when I lived in Peru it went side by side with surfing. When my family moved to live in Toronto I would always go buy the new magazines. Back in Peru, they would arrive months late; but in Toronto they were on the shelves nice and fresh, I would never throw them out either. I would use them as inspiration for when I would go out and shoot. I used to hang out at the Empire shop downtown Toronto and that’s where I met Jason Corbett, Bill Weiss, Justin Bokma and the blood brothers.
What was your first camera and how did you acquire it? Do you still have it? My first camera was a manual Pentax my dad bought for me for my high school photography class. I had to decide whether to spend $250 on gear to tryout for the football team or a camera, come to think of it that wasn’t a tough decision at all, football sucks. But I was only taking the photo class because it was easy credits. I still have the camera at my parents place. I lent it to one of my brothers girlfriends once which she dropped and broke the mirror inside the body.
Early on, how did you figure out shooting skateboarding? Did someone with more experience help you? Was it books, the Internet, school? In Toronto we had a skate ‘zine I used to check out, as well as Concrete Powder, then SBC came along thanks to Ryan Allan. I did the ol’ trial and error hanging and skating with the T-Dot locals, which happened to all be either really good amateurs or big time pros. It was fun and it was a trip to skate through downtown following them around.
Who was the person you had the earliest success shooting with? Someone you got along with on a personal level that also happened to rip. I’d say it was my good homie Wes Loates. He always had a spot to skate and was down for me to come shoot. Nathan Olokun was another guy I would go out with lots. After a few years I started working at So Hip it Hurts which is a lifestyle/surf/skate shop on Queen street and Jason Corbett also started working there. He opened lots of doors for me.
What photos jump out at you in a skateboard magazine? Can you pinpoint something that the best photos all have in common? Which ones get you excited? To me the photos that stand out the most are usually the ones that have the best aesthetics, whether it’d be artificial or natural lighting, photos that would be Photo Annual worthy, you know what I mean? I can appreciate a gnarly trick in a photo but if the lighting and composition are shit, I’m gonna flip the page real quick. I’ll watch the footage later.
Tell me about a skate photographer that first caught your attention. As in you noticed something about their shooting style, beyond just capturing the trick. The first guy whom I followed his work was Derek Kettela. He had a great eye for things, not just his skate photos but in general. I still remember clearly articles he shot and the incidental photos that went with it. He then went to shoot snowboarding full time and is currently a big time fashion photographer in New York.
Atiba Jefferson has always been at the top of my list though, as far as creativity and innovation. He’s always been the number one for me. His angles, lighting, different types of cameras and film, post-processing tweaks—I’ve always studied his work through the pages of Transworld and The Skateboard Mag.
What is your approach to skateboard photography? Do you try to be right in the middle of the action, or watch from afar and document it without disturbing? Do you like more emphasis on the skateboarder and trick, or the overall environment? I used to be 100% about being right in the middle of the action, get in there real close with the fisheye and make spots look big and tricks look gnarlier, but as time went on I’ve now adapted a more environmental approach. Nowadays I try to scout the area for different possible angles that might show more than just a skater and a trick, something that would give more to the person looking at the photo, I think skate photography has been going in this direction in the past few years, showing more of an environmental side than just the trick itself.
Outside of shooting action, are there other things you like to photograph, either related or unrelated to skateboarding? I love to travel and enjoy walking around places endlessly with my camera taking a street photography approach. I do this everywhere I go; capturing things that haven’t been planned, whether it’d be candid moments or some good lighting; just keeping things interesting.
Is photography your primary occupation? If so, what does that involve? If not, what else do you do, and how do you balance it all? Yes, photography is all I do, there’s some side photo jobs I do aside from the skate stuff that help pay the bills as well.
Are there some photos you see that make you want to go skate, and others that make you want to go photograph? What’s the difference or similarity? Since I picked up a camera it’s been photographer first, skateboarder second. I’ve always been really sucky at skateboarding. I love it and wish I was a lot better at it but that’s just not the way it is. I think in my case when I look at photos that I like, it makes me want go shoot photos, but when I see my homies rip around on their boards having fun that makes me want to go skate.
Name one photo that we should all go look at right now. I have two photos in mind, but for he life of me I can’t find the one online [ed: I think we found it]. I’m talking about this photo of Chad Muska doing a Frontside Grind on a wall rail in LA. Atiba shot it from a high angle on this bridge above the spot, the lighting on it always stood out to Me. The other photo is of Andrew Reynolds Frontside flipping Vancouver’s Black Double on Wild in the Streets. It’s amazing on so many levels.