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: Ben Gore
Hometown: Originally Pompano Beach, Florida but currently San Francisco, California.
Sponsors: Magenta skateboards, MIA Skate Shop, Venture trucks, and Bones Swiss.
Q: How did you first get into skateboarding?
A: Originally I started skating in my neighborhood in Florida before hurricanes would come. We would get the day off school to prepare for the storm and a few friends and I would grab our hand-me-down skateboards and use bed sheets as sails to let the wind take us down the street. Just the feeling of rolling down the street did it for me. I didn’t need to do tricks or anything. Just rolling made me happy enough to keep doing it.
Q: How did you first get into photography?
A: It started with a little digital camera that my parents got me when I first started traveling to skate. I had hundreds of photos on that camera and I lost it one day with none of it saved. I remember thinking, “If I can be this bummed about losing something then it must really mean I care about it.” Right then and there I knew I had to keep shooting, but I had to do it differently. I bought my first film camera and I’ve been hooked ever since. Thanks Mom and Dad!
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: For me, skating has always been about what looks good — the difficulty of the trick didn’t really matter. Shooting photos is the same for me. Photography is a lot like looking for new spots to skate; just being out and watching and waiting for the best obstacle to skate/shoot that also has some aesthetic value. I feel skateboarders have an advantage to become photographers because most of us are constantly looking for cool things on the streets or being put in situations that wouldn’t happen to the average Joe. I have my skateboard to thank for everything I’ve done throughout my life.
Q: Where do you generally find your favorite images coming from? Portraits, on the road, skate action scenes, etc.?
A: It’s a blend of all these. Action, portraits of the friends that influence me, on the road or at home. Just capturing moments that I am lucky enough to be part of.
Q: What first drew you to Leica cameras?
A: Originally it was the people that were shooting with them, and then it changed to the physical feeling of them. I remember holding an M6 for the first time and knowing that I would own one. No matter what, I would make it happen.
Q: Why do you like them? Do you use them for particular kinds of work or specific scenarios?
A: They are small, quiet, durable, quick, and the image quality is top notch. I use my Leica in every situation. It’s permanently strapped around my shoulder.
Q: What makes Leica cameras a good fit for documenting skate life?
A: They withstand the beating that I put them through — whether it’s bombing hills, jumping a fence, or being thrown around the tour van. But skate life is child’s play for these cameras; the things have literally gone through wars.
Q: Are there similarities between skateboarding and Leica cameras in your mind? Get philosophical.
A: In skateboarding and photography, you make the decisions. They are both about being an individual and having your own outlook on things. My skateboard and my Leica are just the tools that make these things possible.
Q: What bodies and lenses have you had or used most frequently?
A: I have an M6 with a 50 mm Summicron and a CL with a 40 mm Summicron. I probably use them both equally.
Q: Who are some of your favorite Leica photographers, non-skate or skate-related?
A: Non-skate: Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Elliott Erwitt, Bruce Davidson, Boogie, Jill Freedman.
Skate: Ari Marcopoulos, Mark Whiteley, Joe Brook, Greg Hunt and everybody else that’s included in this project.
Q: Do you have a favorite image or memory from using a Leica?
A: Every day that I leave my house with that thing strapped around me is my favorite. I’m very thankful I own such an amazing tool and am able to capture amazing memories on the daily.
Thank you for your time, Ben!
– Mark Whiteley
Mark Whiteley is a photographer, writer and life-long skateboarder hailing from the San Francisco area and currently living in Portland, Oregon. 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.