Rolling Through The Shadows: Mark Whiteley

In the next part of “Rolling Through the Shadows,” we turn the questions around to find out more about Mark Whiteley, the man behind the series. “Rolling Through the Shadows” takes a closer look at the seemingly unlikely collision of skateboarding and M photography from the perspective of the skaters and photographers themselves.

Name: Mark Whiteley
Age: 36
Hometown: Originally from Los Altos, CA; currently Portland, OR

Q: Where do you work or what magazines do you shoot for?

A: I work at Nike SB, though photography is not my primary focus there. Previously I was the editor-in-chief of SLAP skateboard magazine, and have freelanced for many companies.

Q: How did you first get into skateboarding?

A: My parents gave me my first board on my 8th birthday. My dad had skated some in the ‘60s, 2×4 status, but always stayed interested in it and was super encouraging from the get-go. This was the mid-‘80s and there were several older kids on my street who skated and helped me learn some basics, and then got me some better used boards and such down the line. I basically skated in front of my house and with some neighbor friends for a couple years, pretty low-key. I had my mind blown by watching a kid ollie over a manhole for the first time. A couple years later I discovered magazines and videos and things just took off as far as my interest and influences. A brave new world opened up and I never looked back.

Q: How did you first get into photography?

A: My parents gave me a little disc film camera at age 7, and then when I graduated from junior high my dad gave me an older SLR kit. My father was a writer and photographer at a magazine his whole career. He exposed me to a lot of that creative process from a young age. In high school I took my first formal photo classes and worked for the yearbook as a photographer and editor. High school is when skating and photography really started joining forces for me. I went on to college and studied mixed media but it was always based in photography.

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 showed me how vibrant photography can be, how it can truly capture the essence of a moment in a beautiful and powerful way. It has shown me that the opportunity for great photos can happen at any moment no matter where you are or who you are with. It has also shown me that there is a balance to be struck between conveying information while still maintaining mystery. Photography has always reminded me that skateboarding is an art, and that you are surrounded by incredibly gifted and unique people who can’t help but create striking moments out of their lives and passions. Both of them constantly influence the way I see my environment. Once you learn how to look at things around you as a skater you can never see them the same way, just as when you learn to look at the world as a photographer you never stop seeing light, lines, people and moments in terms of a photo.

Aesthetically, skateboard photography certainly shaped my vision through a camera. All my first favorite photographers were skate photographers. This wide-angle perspective, alternative processes, different formats — these were all things I learned about from skate photographers long before most of my peers in high school were interested in those things. Skateboarding is such an intensely visual culture, and it is also such an experimental culture; you can’t help but be influenced to try out different ideas and see what happens.

Q: Where do you generally find your favorite images coming from? Portraits, on the road, skate action scenes, etc?

A: I love portraits. Trying to capture the feeling that a person gives off is one of my greatest goals. Getting that look, that vibe that encapsulates them is such a rewarding feeling. I also really like environmental portraits that show the space a person occupies, whether it is their home, their work place, somewhere completely foreign to them — how people interact with their space is really interesting to me and I think it says a lot about their personality.

Photos from the road always stay interesting to me, too. On the road, we are in this little bubble that is somewhat freeing. You are more open to the flow of life around you. There seem to be less responsibilities, and as a consequence so many interesting moments magically appear. The road always produces.

Q: What first drew you to Leica cameras?

A: Their physical form. I had never handled one, but even just seeing them from afar I knew they were special. Something about the way they look — it is a balance of tough and elegant, a beautiful but strong machine. When I held one in my hand, I fell in love with it. Operating it felt so different than any other camera. As many have said before, it just felt right. As I got more interested in Leicas, I learned about their legacy and was exposed to the most influential photographers of my life who seemed to have a similar kinship with the experience of using a Leica.

Q: Why do you like them? Do you use them for particular kinds of work or specific scenarios?

A: When I was shooting action more regularly I would always have my big SLR bag stuffed with bodies, lenses, strobes, cords, meters, etc., plus my Leica tucked in the corner. It was always the best part of the session for me when it was time to shoot with my Leica and get the moments of real life, the times behind the scenes. I would almost always shoot portraits with my Leica because it felt much more intimate and unassuming. Now that I rarely shoot action, my Leica is really the only camera I reach for, other than my phone.

Q: What makes Leica cameras a good fit for documenting skate life?

A: They are tough, small, simple, unobtrusive, and beyond that, they are just cool. Fellow skaters see one on you and it says something about the kind of person and photographer you are.

Q: Are there similarities between skateboarding and Leicas in your mind?

A: Absolutely. Skaters are that same mix of raw and refined, of power and beauty. We work hard at moving as cleanly, naturally and quickly as possible, and having a unique style and point of view without being forced or contrived. That’s Leica to a T.

Q: What bodies and lenses have you had or used most frequently?

A: I have an M6, M7 and M8. The M8 has been by far the most used over the last several years, but the M6 is my all-time MVP. I have a 21, 35, 50 and 90, but the 35 is on 90% of the time these days. I dream of having a Noctilux one day. I’m a sucker for bokeh.

Q: Who are some of your favorite Leica photographers, non-skate or skate-related?

A: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand, Elliott Erwitt, Nan Goldin, Jim Marshall, Robert Frank, early Annie Leibovitz. Those people inspire me endlessly when I open one of their books.

Skate: Ari Marcopoulos, Joe Brook, Tobin Yelland, Ed Templeton, Jon Humphries, Jerry Hsu, everybody I’ve asked to be part of this series — thank you all for the inspiration.

Q: Do you have a favorite image or memory from using a Leica?

A: So many of my favorite moments and memories in life passed through a Leica before they passed through my eyes. Friends, family, skaters, musicians, artists, so many parts of the world. I don’t think my experience of life over the past 15 years would have been the same without a Leica. They have helped me capture so many important and defining moments for me.

Thank you for your time, Mark!

- Leica Internet Team

For more information on Mark Whiteley, please visit markwhiteleyphotography.com. You can see more of Mark’s work at Equal Distribution and his monograph, “This Is Not a Photo Opportunity” is available through Gingko Press.