“LET US ROAM” is an ongoing short film series that shows stories about photographers, artists, filmmakers and musicians inside of the skateboarding culture. Ray Barbee, Arto Saari, Greg Hunt and Atiba Jefferson are all featured with their own film. We previously spoke to Ray about his role in the project. Here we speak with Arto about his passions for photography and skateboarding.
Q: Can you tell us where you’re from, where you currently reside, and some general background information about yourself?
A: My name is Arto Saari and I have been a professional skateboarder since I was 18. I am originally from Finland and currently live in Los Angeles where I raise my beautiful daughter Ella Aina Sisu.
My biggest accomplishment is receiving the Thrasher Magazine Skater of the Year award (2001), Flip Skateboards video part in “Sorry” and the fact that I can still stand on my two legs and keep up with my daughter.
I have been shooting photos since 2000. I had my first photo exhibition at Icon L.A. at the end of 2013. I am a lover of Leica Camera. I am a lover of nature, tools, scuba diving, adventure, food, pain, camping, bikes and all things fast. I have traveled the world through skateboarding and that has made me who I am.
Q: What do you do? Please share what other creative endeavors you do beyond just skateboarding and how they weave into your life, complement one another or what role they have for you.
A: I am currently a professional skateboarder and a photographer. Skateboarding has paved my path in life. It’s not something I do vs. who I am. Through skateboarding I was introduced to traveling, photography and cinematography which play an integral part in my everyday life. I have consulted in the design process of skate-related products such as boards, shoes and clothes.
Building is in my blood. It’s a Scando thing — building skate ramps, saunas, whatever is needed at the time. I love moving images. I direct photography for a friend when he directs music videos and commercials. We are gearing up to go to Alaska for a shoot next month. I recently did a photography class with YoungArts, which was amazing. I should and will give back more. It’s important to be of service. I love working with young kids, helping them skate and/or shoot and create art.
Q: Why is skateboarding important to you from a creative standpoint?
A: Everything for me came from the drive of skating. The constant pursuit and never stopping until I physically couldn’t move or I ended up in the hospital. I don’t approach all projects like that now. I can find more ease, but skateboarding has always kept me on my toes. No situation is ever the same; skating is like a video game — constant navigation.
Q: How is photography integrated in your life? What does it mean to you? What type of photography do you do or are you attracted to, and for what purpose?
A: After my six knee surgeries I had to slow down. I still need a seventh. Photography became a place for me to get lost and also a place for me to get focused. It became my passion. The thrill that I used to feel landing a trick, I found that same high when I could shoot something amazing and meaningful. Some people say I have an eye for it. I say I just shoot what I know. My photography is based in action sports, of course because of my current lifestyle. I love shooting portraits as well as landscapes. Some for commercial purposes, some of it is personal and some is just for the sake of art.
Q: What photo equipment do you use?
A: I shoot with the Leica M-System, both film and digital, and occasionally with the Leica S. I also dabble with some DSLR cameras and when I am director of photography, I shoot with the RED Epic. For lighting, I use Profotos.
Q: What’s your favorite photo and why?
A: The next one because it’s a new experience.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: I love black-and-white. I love light. Without light there is no image; without image there is no fun. I love Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, Lindberg, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Michael Muller and personal expeditions.
Thank you for your time, Arto!
– Leica Internet Team