Rolling Through the Shadows: Arto Saari

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: Arto Saari
Age: 31
Hometown: Seinäjoki, Finland
Sponsored by: Flip Skateboards, Destructo Trucks, New Balance Numeric, WESC, Poler, Ricta Wheels, Mob Grip, Mizu Life, Home Watches

Q: Hi Arto, how did you first get into skateboarding?

A: I saw my uncle and his buddies skating little street ramps in the late 1980s. I must have been 7 or 8-years-old. A few years later I went to a Finnish skateboard championship just to see what was going on. Since then, skateboarding has been in my life everyday.

Q: How did you first get into photography?

A: My 7th grade art teacher was super cool and would let us borrow a 35mm camera with a few rolls of film. We would take off from class and go shoot skateboarding around town. Later as a pro skater, I was around photographers all the time and became interested in it again. One of them sold me a camera and gave me a little cheat sheet to help me learn. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Q: What has skateboarding done to the way you see photography, and vice versa?

A: Skateboarding tends to take you to new places all the time. You might be in a fancy part of town one minute and in the ghetto the next. Wherever you hear of a good spot to skate, you want to go there and check it out for new possibilities. Photography is very similar. It can be a vessel to travel and explore, it gives you a purpose for being there, and you get to show other people what is going on in the world. They go hand in hand for me. Photography has also been a great teacher for me as far as what to do and what not to do on a skateboard. I’ve been blessed with the chance of being on both sides of the lens and know what skate tricks will look like in a picture. I really enjoy being behind the lens these days. Skateboarding has been extremely kind to me and allowed me to do a lot of traveling over the last few years. I am hoping photography will do the same for me.

Q: Where do you generally find your favorite images coming from (ex. portraits, on the road, action scenes)?

A: I love shooting life on the road and skate action also. Landscapes are close to my heart. I’ve been studying a bit of portrait photography lately. A lot of my favorite moments are spontaneous things though.

Q: What first drew you to Leica cameras?

A: The first person I saw shoot with a Leica was Ed Templeton (fellow professional skater). I’ve always been a huge fan of his photography. He sparked my interest in Leica cameras.

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

A: Leicas are very small and discreet, lightweight, and very unobtrusive, especially when shooting people. You tend to get more of a relaxed setting when shooting with Leicas. I am a big fan of rangefinders, and the image quality is superb compared to any other camera that size.

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

A: You can have it on you all day and night and it won’t weigh you down. It is super easy to travel with and you can be quick on the draw with it.

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

A: Freedom. Style. The simple things in life are beautiful.

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

A: I have an M7 with a Summarit 35mm f/2.5 and Summarit 50mm f/2.5. Lately I have been shooting a lot with the 50mm.

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

A: In skateboarding, Jon Humphries, Thomas Campbell, Ed Templeton, Tobin Yelland, Anthony Acosta and Dennis McGrath. Outside of it, I really like Annie Leibovitz’s Rolling Stone stuff.

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

A: The next one I’ll shoot.

- Mark Whiteley

View more of Arto’s work on his website and Tumblr.

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.