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: Tobin Yelland
Hometown: San Francisco
Brand affiliation: I shoot video for DC shoes but shoot stills with my Leica.
Q: How did you first get into skateboarding?
A: I had a little plastic board when I was 7 years old. When I was 11, my friends started skating more so I did too, just because it looked fun.
Q: How did you first get into photography?
A: My mom had a camera and taught me how to use it. When I was little, her boyfriend was a filmmaker and always had still and movie cameras in the house.
Q: How have they influenced each other in your life and work? Meaning, what has skateboarding done to the way you see photography and vice versa?
A: The majority of the skating I shot was in the street and we would be trying to get the perfect photo quickly before being kicked out. I had to be fast and make sure I got the shot, so I set up my camera and lights as simply as possible to increase the chances of getting my shot. Skateboarding photography has influenced me to be ready and be quick and I think that’s one of the reasons I like my M6 — it’s so simple and fast.
Q: Where do you generally find your favorite images coming from? Portraits, on the road, skate action scenes, etc?
A: Action and portraits, or impromptu moments, are equally important to me. My first job is to get the best action shots possible, and then I want to be busy always shooting the in-between moments to see what I can get. I love to capture something that I didn’t know was going to happen but I was ready and I got the shot. It’s like winning a bet for me.
Q: What first drew you to Leica cameras and what do you like about them?
A: Seeing my photo heroes shoot with them, and then trying the M6 out and really wanting one.
I love the design and the technical perfection. Also, the history and magic I believe lives in each Leica.
Q: Do you use them for particular kinds of work or specific scenarios?
A: I use my Leica M6 for the diary of life on earth, which includes people I meet and places I visit, self-portraits and family. Basically, whatever that’s interesting and in front of me.
Q: What makes Leica cameras a good fit for documenting skate life?
A: Leica cameras are invisible and quiet. That helps when people are shy and reluctant to have their picture taken. They are built well for travel. Also, to be honest, it’s a famous camera and by having one you sometimes get respect or admiration just because of the name.
Q: Are there similarities between skateboarding and Leicas in your mind? Get philosophical.
A: When I look at a skateboard and a Leica camera as objects, they are simple. But when I skate it takes a lot of practice to do anything cool and likewise when I pick up my Leica it takes a lot of practice to get a good photo. I think they are both great tools for creativity, and it’s really up to the individual what they make of it.
Q: What bodies and lenses have you had or used most frequently?
A: I had a silver M6 that I lent to a friend and was lost, but he paid me back. I got a black M6 .85 pre-T TL classic, and I have collected a few lenses over the years: a 35 mm Summicron f/2 ASPH., 50 mm Summilux f/1.4 and a 75 mm Summilux f/1.4.
Q: Who are some of your favorite Leica photographers, non-skate or skate-related?
A: Henri Cartier-Bresson is the most important Leica photographer. So many others like Eugene Smith, Larry Clark, Robert Frank, Ari Marcopoulos, Cheryl Dunn, Lance Dawes, Greg Hunt, Dennis McGrath, Jon McGrath, Leigh Peterson, Dave Schubert, Dan Boulton and Ray Barbee.
Q: Do you have a favorite image or memory from using a Leica?
A: I got my first M6 and took a photo of Andy Roy shooting a gun at a Sacramento gun range. I remember making the proof sheet and being really impressed by the contrast and sharpness of the shot. Oh, I also like to draw my Leica.
– 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.