American Independents

It all started when Scott Bourne and I were waxing lyrical about one of our favorite cities in the world–Paris. By the time we’d finished our coffees that June afternoon in San Francisco, we’d already made a vague-but-determined plan to shirk any conventional “company” tours this summer, meet up in Paris (with one or two others), and shoot this article.

The idea soon took on a life of its own, and like any good amoeba, the amount of Parisian participants kept growing in number. Skaters being the unreliable breed they are, I wasn’t quite sure just how many people would actually show up there. I hoped it wouldn’t be too many–no one wants to be in charge of an unruly football team. In the end, the crew consisted of a fairly manageable number–Scott, Satva Leung, Tony Cox, Jessie Van Roechoudt, and making an unscheduled appearance was Ben Krahn, who just appeared out of the blue one day and ended up skating with us the whole time.

The chief advantage of this non-company-sponsored arrangement was that instead of having to do autograph signings for hordes of squealing French children and skating makeshift wooden assemblages in demos, we’d have time for the more important things in life–sipping coffee at sidewalk cafés, pacing the banks of the Seine pontificating about Gide, and generally “smelling the flowers.”

The downside of it, however, was that it inevitably fell on me to be surrogate “team manager.” As much as I convinced myself otherwise, I was “the photographer”–not one of “the skaters,” and that was how it had to be. A bitter pill, but washing it down with a bottle or two of my favorite beverage helped considerably.

Never be a team manager. I know it seems appealing–packing a box or two and then fleeing the office to the exotic locale of your choice with the team and the company credit card. But that’s only the half of it. As a photographer, I speak to this rare breed of human a lot and have come to realize that to really make it in the realm of team manager-dom, you need some very special qualities. A good TM–while on tour at least–requires the patience of a saint, the sleep patterns of Einstein (twenty-minute naps only), the drinking tolerance of Homer (the yellow one, not the Greek), and the patience of a saint, again.

I wasn’t too good at it. Even though my “team” was the well-traveled, unspoiled kind, and not the whining, demanding kind–I still found it all a bit stressful. Everyone wanting to skate different types of things is great for photographers, but it’s a headache for TMs. I even developed a sty–a bulbous lump on my eyelid caused by stress, heat, drinks, Mr. Pharmacist, and French-filmer Phillippe–or, as Scott kindly suggested, “Herpes, but in your eye.” Personally, I put it down to TM-induced stressing.

But it didn’t matter too much–I was, after all, in Paris. More than enough praise has been lavished on the city over the years by writers far more talented than me. I’ll just add, “Go there if you haven’t.” It’s one of the best walking cities in the world, the buildings are beautiful, the skate spots plentiful, and the food’s deliciously rich and unhealthy (Henry Miller once wrote a whole essay expounding the virtues of French baking).

My good friend and favorite frog-photog Benjamin led us to untouched spots, some choice restaurants, and a wild Brazilian club where I had my annual dance. Cheers, Benj. And merci beau coup also to our other hosts Aurelie and Dennis, to Jasin at DLX, Pete at Euro-Vans, Rob at Powell, Brent at Systems, the mighty Howard Cooke (pictures coming soon), all the Parisian skaters and filmers, and petit-Seb for initiating the drive-by hotdogging (long story).

Anyway, about the title of this article–it seems that every country has one day a year which is an excuse to use fireworks. I’m from England, where on the fifth of November it’s Guy Fawkes Night. It’s a rather perverse celebration of the demise of anarchist Fawkes, who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament (hence fireworks). All over the country, effigies of him are tossed onto bonfires every year. In America, the national fireworks excuse day is the Fourth Of July, of course–American Independence Day. In France, it’s the fourteenth of July–Bastille Day. This is the anniversary of an angry mob storming the prison in 1789–the beginning of the French Revolution.

So my groundbreaking concept was to get the American skaters (well, okay one was Canadian) to meet up in Paris on fourth of July and get, like, totally radical until the fourteenth of July, when I’d shoot my epic intro photo for the article: the whole crew standing ’neath the sky as the fireworks exploded in a plethora of color behind them–the Eiffel Tower silhouetted against the rich, showering pinks and blues, the skaters’ eyes upturned like excited children. Just imagine.

Of course, being the poor TM that I was, I failed to assemble everyone that night. I didn’t even see the fireworks, actually. I ended up talking about F-stops with some French skate photographers at a Chinese restaurant instead. Ah, well. C’est la vie.