Mark Whiteley, skateboarder and Leica photographer, provides us with the next installment of his interview series “Rolling Through the Shadows.” This series takes a closer look at the seemingly unlikely collision of skateboarding and M photography from the perspective of the skaters and photographers themselves.
Name: Jon Humphries
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Shoots for: Nike SB
Q: How did you first get into skateboarding?
A: I first raced BMX, and at the dirt track I saw some guys skateboarding on this small slab of concrete after my race. I was getting better at BMX but my parents wouldn’t buy me a new bike so I wasn’t able to be competitive with the next-level kids. So I got into skateboarding- it was cheaper and more accessible.
Q; How did you first get into photography?
A: I actually failed photography in 11th grade. Next year I was a senior and reality was starting to set in. What the hell was I going to do with my life? I decided that I really liked photography and decided to take it seriously. I learned a ton from my high school teacher; he was a great photographer and teacher who prided himself on having the best photography class and darkroom in the city.
Q: How have skateboarding and photography influenced each other in your life and work? Meaning, what has skateboarding done to the way you see photography and vice versa?
A: Skateboarding and photography go hand in hand. For me, each one was a creative outlet. You can try anything on a skateboard and there are obviously endless ways to experiment in photography. Skateboarding changed the way I look at everything in the world. It made me an outcast most of my childhood, but that’s what I loved about it at the time- it was just ours. Photography also separates you from the mainstream; you look at everything as a photo. You don’t see life quite the same after picking up a camera.
Q: Where do you generally find your favorite images coming from? Portraits, on the road, skate action scenes, etc?
A: For a while I loved just shooting on the road. Everything is new and fresh in front of you, and you have your camera around your neck every second. But I do like shooting portraits; it’s probably my favorite part of photography. I shoot portraits as much as I can. Even if it’s not setup, I just try to snap some off here and there.
Q: What first drew you to Leica cameras?
A: I saw Chris Brunkhart, one of the best snowboard photographers ever, with an M6 at a bar one night in Portland. He was shooting in low light. He let me check it out and the second I put it in my hand I was hooked. I think I bought one two weeks after that. There is something about a Leica, the style, the way it looks, the way it works, the look of the negatives, how quiet it is. I love everything about it.
Q: What makes Leica cameras a good fit for documenting skate life?
A: You can take it anywhere and it’s not intrusive. Most people just think it’s some old camera. It allows you to get more natural photos of everyone, even skateboarders. Skateboarders are all crazy, even the non-crazy ones, so they are all photogenic. It’s nice to have a camera that can be on your body for multiple hours everyday and not get too heavy. You can document whatever spontaneous thing happens.
Q: What bodies and lenses have you had or used most frequently?
A: I have two M6 bodies and a CL. Lenses: 21mm, 35mm, 50mm, 90mm. I also have a motor drive that I use sometimes.
Q: Who are some of your favorite Leica photographers, non-skate or skate-related?
A: Elliott Erwitt is probably my all time favorite. Most of the Magnum photographers.
Q: Do you have a favorite image or memory from using a Leica?
A: All my Leica photos are my personal photos. All of my favorite photos are shot with my M6. I guess that says it all.
Thank you for your time Jon!
– Mark Whiteley
Mark Whiteley is a photographer, writer and life-long skateboarder hailing from the San Francisco area and currently living in Portland, OR. He served as the editor-in-chief of SLAP skateboard magazine for 13 years and now works on all things digital for Nike Skateboarding. His work has been published and exhibited internationally, and his monograph of photography, This Is Not A Photo Opportunity, is available from Gingko Press. For more information on Mark Whiteley, please visit markwhiteleyphotography.com