I had a buddy of mine buzz me up on the phone last week. He’s been wanting to get into skateboard photography for a while, so he finally went for the gusto, and bought himself a spiffy new camera.
“Oh, sweet! What’d ya get?!”, I asked. He told me… but I’ll be damned if I knew what in the world he was talking about. All I know is that whatever it was, it sounded pretty darned fancy.
“How much did that set you back…?”, I wondered out loud.
“Oh, not much. Only five grand or so.”
Not much. Only five grand or so. Holy shit, that’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of money to me, at least. I’m guessing that it might be a lot of money to you, too. And I would also have to guess that five grand (or so) is an absolutely astounding pile of money to the average skater kid.
It made me do some more wondering… but this time far more quietly, and strictly to myself. Is that seriously the “cost of entry to skateboard photography” these days? Five grand (or so)? Boy, I sure as hell hope not. Because if it is, then nobody’s ever going to be able to afford to take up skateboarding photography as a hobby.
Maybe that’s why we don’t see kids taking it up anymore. Maybe it really is because they think that it’s just too damn expensive.
Here’s a funny story. A couple years back, I went to Palm Springs to cover the El Gato Classic for Concrete Wave Magazine, my publisher at the time. When I submitted my article, Mike asked me if I had shot any photos while I was there? Well, of course, I had… but they certainly weren’t “professional photos” by any stretch of the imagination. At least, I didn’t think they were, and I made that opinion pretty clearly known. Mikey asked me to send them in anyway, so I did; nobody with any brains ever argues with a publisher. And, turns out, my photos ran in the magazine. Much to my immediate amazement.
“Mikey”, I asked, “why in the hell did you run my crappy photos?! They weren’t very good!”
“Oh, they were great! What’d you shoot them with, anyway?”
“A Canon Elph”, I embarassingly admitted.
Silence filled the other end of the telephone line. That silence said something like, “You’re pulling my f’n leg, right…?”
No, sir, I am not. My go-to camera to this very day is, indeed, a Canon Elph 180. You can go to Walmart right now, and pick one up for just over a hundred bucks… which, incidentally, is exactly how I got mine. I bought my current Elph on tour in Tucson last year when my previous Elph got whacked (and destroyed) by a flying skateboard. It’s my go-to camera these days because it is truly and utterly disposable, and “disposable” kinda goes along with my job. Flying skateboards, after all, do have a nasty (and all-too-predictable) habit of destroying cameras at a prodigious rate. I threw in a fresh battery, a photo card, set it to “toy camera effect” (a nifty little application, right there), and let ‘er rip. I was back at the session in under an hour, ready to rage and destroy another Elph. At a hundred bucks a pop, who really cares if it gets a scratch or a ding along the way?
A hundred bucks is no five grand. That’s a price point that many kids can (hopefully) afford. It actually costs less than a skateboard, for pete’s sakes. And my camera takes some pretty spiffy photos.
I think it does, at least. Apparently, so does Concrete Wave Magazine.
Last week, my go-to programmer set about tidying up some of the back-end programming here at the site. One of the persistent problems that I’ve been noticing, is that the headline images on the Archives page randomly come up “fuzzy” on my screen. Here, I put all this work into creating neat, nifty little headline images, just to see them go straight to shit on the g’damn Archives page. Man, is that ever f’n maddening.
My programmer advised that it might be really smart of me to create those images as .png files, instead of .jpgs, so that they’ll display a little tidier on the screen.
“No problem!”, I said. “Paint will allow me to save my art in whatever format I want…!”
Again, an uncomfortably lengthy silence filled the e-mail airwaves.
“Paint?!”, my programmer replied. “Oh, dear……..”
Everything Skateboarding is built on a few cornerstone principles. They may seem like utterly idiotic principles, but I’m burly and bold enough to stand upon them anyway. One of the most important principles that I stand upon, is promoting active participation in skateboarding. Naturally, part of that includes promoting active participation in Everything Skateboarding… both figuratively, and literally. And I do go to some pretty extraordinary lengths to promoting active participation in Everything Skateboarding, even going as far as paying people to do it. Nobody that works here, works for free. True: they might not make much working here. But everybody makes something from their contributions.
Part of promoting active participation, is making sure that taking part is both accessible, and affordable. It also helps if you don’t need extraordinary, superhuman skills (or an extraordinarily large bank account balance) to make a contribution. That’s not to say that our contributors don’t have talent, or skill; they do have talents and skills, and lots of them. But, at the end of the day, we are all amateurs. We make our contributions to the media landscape because we simply love doing it, above all else. I think I can speak for everybody on that one. Myself included.
I would have to guess that the advertisers that advertise here, probably don’t choose to advertise here because the headline images happen to be made with an Adobe product versus an Apple product versus a Microsoft product. I really don’t think they give much of a toss either way… and if I didn’t happen to tell them which programs I was using to create this media malestorm of madness, they’d probably never know which fancy-pants (or un-fancy-pants) program I happen to be using. I suspect that they care far more about the ends than the means, regardless of how austere those means may be.
Sometimes you can achieve some pretty remarkable results with “austere means”. Everything Skateboarding is the macro example of that philosophy; this photo would be a great micro-example. Shot with my trusty Canon Elph 180 (the camera pictured above, and available at Walmart for a measly $109.00), this is Kiya Jellison popping a shove-it down the Rio Vista Ten. Sure, it’s definitely not the “best photo ever”… but it’s also not half bad. It’s a moment caught on camera (and published) that might have otherwise gone by, completely uncaught and undocumented. If you’re ever in doubt, err on the side of making it happen, and tell the world of pansy-pants uber-perfectionists to fuck off.
I’d guess that the real reason that they advertise here, is that we’re the only mass media outlet in the world right now (outside of social media) that goes completely out of it’s way to empower and inspire active participation. Even that concept right there… creating and building a mass-media outlet… is something that you, the average kid, can totally participate in. I mean, having only one Everything Skateboarding in the world has never been our goal, and it still isn’t. Oh, nosiree. Anybody that has a home computer (or can buy one secondhand for $250, just like I did); forty-five bucks a month to spend on high-speed internet; twenty bucks a year to register a domain name; and ten bucks a month to spend on hosting, can do whatever it is that I do around here. The pay sucks, as it always does. But the perks are still absolutely outstanding.
And believe me on this: there is no better perk than ganging up with all your fun-loving friends, gettin’ creative, causing trouble, wrecking shit, getting a free skateboard here and there, and giving something back to the skateboarding community that has given us so much.
If there is, then I certainly haven’t heard of it yet.
I’m pretty sure that a lot of people inside this industry laugh their asses off at me, on a pretty regular basis. “Oh, that f’n kook! Not that jackwagon again…!” Ask Gentle F’n Jones about that one, I’m sure he’ll be happy to tell you what an asshole idiot I am (you can be assured that the feeling is mutual, by the way).
But, in all seriousness, I do have to ask this question: how successful would our pastime, and our industry be… and by that, I mean how incredibly, stupidly, filthy rich would all these guys (and gals) be… if we all made “encouraging and empowering active participation in skateboarding” Job Number One…? How many more kids, girls, women, minorities, and middle-agers need nothing more in life, than a little bit of helping-hand encouragement and sincere acceptance…?
To that end, Lew Ross, Claudia Yaw, and I brainstormed a fun little concept last month called “The Crappy Camera Photo Contest”. You’ll read all about it elsewhere in this issue, and for the next few months to come… but again, the whole point is to step back, relax a little, think a bit, and realize that you do not need to spend five grand (or so) to take a semi-competent skate photo, and share it with the mass media. That sort of haughty snobbery might be the going rule at the other skate mags, and that’s fine as far as it goes. But in the world of Everything Skateboarding, less is usually more. Especially if “less of a barrier of entry” means “more active participation” in this pastime that we all love so much.
That’s all for now, talk to you next month.
Bud Stratford, Executive Director, Everything Skateboarding