Introduction by Trevor » trouble » Andrew
ITW by Guillaume LeGoff
I’ve been skateboarding since I was 8, and Grant’s photos were amongst the first I’d ever seen. They changed my life forever.
I think that no other person managed to capture the awesomeness that surrounded skateboarding at that time, the beginning of a culture. We will never again feel what they felt, or recreate it today. Grant Brittain wasn’t just another skateboard photographer, for me he represents a time, a lifestyle, pointing me in the direction of what I’m doing now, so you could say that he influenced my life choices. That’s what I’m always looking for in an artist: that he doesn’t just create stuff, but that he sticks with his time, becoming a witness, a catalyst, in order to influence another generation.
Grant is all this and more.
Could I just start by asking what you’re up to right now?
I am trying to get the new issue of The Skateboard Mag out of here and getting some photos together for a group show next week.
How is The Skateboard Mag doing and what kind of work do you do for it those days?
We’re doing okay, the economy is hurting and the skate industry is hurting too, we’re paying our bills so it’s cool. I am shooting some portraits, product and some of my friends skating Vert pretty much. I am the Production Manager here, so a lot of my work is getting the photos together with Dave Swift and getting them to Ako Jefferson the AD.
Apart from your amazing website where people can see your skateboard, art or Polaroid pictures, you also run a blog. What do you talk about on there?
I do the blog now and then, but I get caught up in Facebook and Instagram and in the Social Media Time Suck. I am kind of all over the place and waste a lot of time. I’m bad.
Let’s go back to the past for a bit. I heard you used a lot of Kodachrome and you said with a bit of nostalgia, « colours were pretty true to nature, there was more truth to real life as far as colour goes. » You also used a lot 35mm colour slide films. You must get asked this a lot but in the digital era we live in now: what has changed in skate mags and in the art of making photos?
I have been going through a lot of old slides and negatives and the colours are definitely different, grain is definitely evident when you drum scan a frame of film, I miss grain. I think it’s funny that people were resistant to shooting digital at first because it didn’t look like film and now that they have finally switched over to digital, they make their photos look even less like film. They go crazy with over sharpening and color shift. As far as magazine photography goes, a magazine would go over budget if we weren’t shooting digital, it makes my job shooting and photo editing a lot easier. I love the convenience of it. I can shoot a photo and send it to Ako or a client within minutes and I don’t lose analog photos anymore.
Do you still shoot with Leica and Hasseblad and what could you tell us about your style & technique please?
I shoot my Leica M6 and Hasselblad 301CX for my art stuff, I shoot TriX 35mm film and on the Hassy I use Tmax 100 film. I shoot mainly portraits, landscapes and abstracts and it’s what I take on vacation camping, and I carry my Leica with me. My style is pretty simple, I just try to simplify everything down to the bare basics compositionally. After shooting skating for a year or so I started taking photo classes at Palomar JC College and was exposed to the photographic masters, Adams, Avedon, Ralph Gibson, The Westons, Minor White, Penn, Cartier Bresson, Walker Evans, etc and that helped me find and define my style.
As a French skateboarder in my mid 30s, as far as I can remember I have seen J.Grant Brittain pix in the magazines. Magazines were our only link, besides VHS videos, to the US skate scene back then. What could you tell us about the Transworld Skate early years, shooting all those guys, all those places, having your first publications…?
I was kind of just doing what I wanted to do for the moment, I didn’t know it would become so important. I didn’t know it would be such a big influence on our culture and society. I was just stoked to just get photos in the mag and not have to work a regular job. It is a weird way to make a living. I was just having fun doing a magazine, I was just in the right place at the right time. Just lucky to be working at Del Mar Skate Ranch and just borrowed my roommate’s Canon one day.
I read you first picked up a camera at the age of 25 while working at Del Mar Skate Ranch (San Diego, CA) in the early 80s. I guess even if that wasn’t your first encounter with skateboarding, how was it working there?
I skated since I was about 10 years old and started surfing at 14 and we skated when the waves were down and we bombed hills and got tubed under bushes. I just happened to live next door in Cardiff to Wally Inouye and he got me a job at the DMSR the day it opened in 1978 and I shot my first photo in 1979. I just shot the locals and visiting pros and got better over time, same as any photographer’s story. I worked at DMSR from 1978-1984, it was bulldozed in ‘87 and it was my second home. In ‘83, Larry Balma and Peggy Cozens started Transworld and I gave them photos for the first issue and then became the Photo Editor/Senior Photographer from 1983 to 2003.
You also studied photography in school back then: what did it bring you?
Like I said, it helped me develop a style and to see the rich history that was available to us through photography, it opened my eyes to a vast field. I had a really great teacher, Kean Wilcox, who changed my life and got me going on my trip. Another teacher I had for art, Doug Durrant stoked me out on the art world. I look at these two men as my mentors and I hope I make them proud, they were giant influences on me.
Apart from truly documenting the skateboard scene, you have always had an artistic perspective in your pictures. How would you explain this?
I think the whole composition thing I spoke about is key. I just want to simplify everything down to the basics, get rid of the stuff that’s not needed or is a distraction to what I am trying to capture. I go for a graphic look, I’m really into positive/negative space.
A lot of previsualization goes in before I ever press the shutter button, I try to slow the whole process down. The one problem with digital is that people go too fast and figure they can just fix it up in Photoshop.
Things have changed a lot but skateboarding is still about passion and doing tricks on a deck. As we all know and live it, the skateboarding scene and industry has evolved a lot too. According to you, what are the positive and negative aspects in this?
It never really changed for me, I have always tried to think of what’s good for skateboarding and skateboarders and it’s always been about that energy I felt back in the 70s and 80s. Within the scene it’s still the same. Skaters are different, people who don’t skate, don’t get it, we’re alone in the end and I think we like it like that, don’t we?
You also shoot a lot of art and places. On your website we can see you’ve been to numerous areas and countries… How this influenced your work in skateboarding and vice versa?
I always treated each trip like it was my one chance there and I better take advantage of it and not waste it. I was traveling on another person’s dime and I would just get out walk around, go to museums, get up early, I can sleep at home. Some of the skaters I was with didn’t even know what country they were in. I just walk around and shoot my art stuff and learn about life, art and the world.
What is your relationship with other legendary US skate photographers such as Craig R Stecyk, Hugh Holland, Glen E Friedman…?
I was inspired by Stecyk, Friedman, Cassimus, Terrebonne, Goodrich, and Bolster to borrow my roommate’s camera in 1979 and shoot a roll of Kodachrome 64 and keep shooting. Those photographers of the 70s were the pioneers who figured out how to shoot skateboarding and everyone else has pretty much been doing the same thing ever since. The gear has changed, but the angles are pretty much the same. My peers in the 80s kept me motivated to keep pushing it, Mofo, Kanights, Swank, Ogden, Yelland, Ortiz, Sturt and others kept me on my toes. It was pretty competitive, TWS vs Thrasher.
Finally, amongst the « new blood » in skate photography, who do you prefer, and why?
There are some hot dudes out there, the next wave in the 90s, starting with Atiba, Gaberman, Spike, Blabac, Swift, Rhino, Skin, Humphries and then the up and comers in the 21st century like Acosta, Price, Bart Jones, Rodent, Landi, Trinh, Barton, O’Meally. All of those dudes are pushing skate photography even further and it will be hard for the kids coming up on their heels to get a spot in the big leagues. There is a lot of competition now. There were only four photographers when I started.
Any last words?
I always tell people younger than I one word, Perseverance. You just have to love what you do, don’t give up, don’t take « No » for an answer, have patience and everyone starts in the same place, the bottom.