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: Ed Templeton
Home: Huntington Beach, CA
Sponsors: Toy Machine, Emerica, Eswic, Thunder
Galleries: Represented by Roberts & Tilton Gallery, LA; Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium; and Nils Staerk Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Q: How did you first get into skateboarding?
A: I saw some kids cruise by my house on skateboards and ollie up a curb without missing a beat. I was hooked. I wanted to do that too.
Q: How did you first get into photography?
A: In 1994 I had a realization that not many people get to live the sort of life I was living as a pro skater and wanted to document it from the inside.
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: Skateboarding has taken me around the world, so travel has been a big part of my photography, and also the idea that as a skater you are literally in the streets. Not walking through, not going from point A to B, but living in and using the streets. You start to understand the people and ways of a city or suburb. I think that has been a very important aspect for me. And conversely, seeing the skateboard world through a photographer’s eyes has been interesting. Constantly stepping out of the moment to see it in a new way and make a photo of it.
Q: Where do you generally find your favorite images coming from? Portraits, on the road, skate action scenes, etc?
A: For me the camera is constant. Of course driving or flying somewhere new will inspire you to shoot, but most people forget that their own backyard can be interesting too. I shoot most of my images within five miles of my house on my daily walks on the beach and pier.
Q: What first drew you to Leica cameras?
A: Truthfully, and probably like many people, I read about the old masters using Leica. If it was good enough for Cartier-Bresson then it was good enough for me — the stories they told and the crazy adventures, and the dependability of them. There is a certain romance to the Leica Camera legacy. Then you find out the price and it becomes a whole new thing. When I see someone with a Leica I think money. I would see rich people with shiny new Leica cameras around their necks, and look with jealousy and contempt. But when I was able to afford one I bought one too. Once I started using the M6, it took some getting used to. It’s because of the ultra-quiet shutter on the Leica rangefinder that I have developed my style of shooting. I know the optics are great and whatever. But for me the silence and the compact size is the key.
Q: Why do you like them? Do you use them for particular kinds of work or specific scenarios?
A: I use a 50 mm lens for the most part, but I also get very close to people. The quiet shutter allows for a certain stealth. Just a few months ago I was in Zurich, Switzerland and there was a couple kissing near the lake. I was able to sit right next to them and shoot as close as my lens could focus without being detected. That is either the silence of the Leica or the intense passion of the lovers — maybe a bit of both.
Q: What makes Leica cameras a good fit for documenting skate life?
A: My Leica has been dependable. You are not always near a camera store and the M6 will work without a battery, and can withstand lots of wear. I have been wearing mine for over five years now daily with no real problems. The lack of a mirror flip means you can hold the camera more still in low light than most other cameras. So in those dingy hotel room nights, the M6 really comes in handy.
Q: What bodies and lenses have you had or used most frequently?
A: I have a black Leica M6 TTL body with a Summilux-M 50 mm lens that goes down to 1.4. That is what I use most days. If I’m feeling saucy or know I’m gonna be in a tighter crowd, I will put on a Voigtlander 28 mm lens I have with an M mount, but I need to use a slip in viewfinder on the flash mount to compose. I also have a 35 mm Summicron that I use sparingly.
Q: Who are some of your favorite Leica photographers, non-skate or skate-related?
A: Jim Goldberg, Koudelka, Alex Webb, Tobin Yelland, Larry Towell, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Wim Wenders, Eugene Richards, Saul Leiter, Rene Burri, Bruce Davidson, William Eggleston, Bruce Gilden, Mary Ellen Mark … there are so many.
Q: Do you have a favorite image or memory from using a Leica?
A: There are these certain night shots that just glow when you hold your hand steady enough and the light is just right and you can tell it came from a Leica lens. But my fondest memories are in self-portraits when you look back over the years at all the places and times you have lived with your trusty Leica.
Thank you for your time, Ed!
– 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.