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Proof Sheet: Aaron Pettigrew

I can’t remember exactly how I met Aaron, but it must have been through my gallery because he ended up being an intern for us for a few months. He was the worst intern we ever had, but most of them suck in their own way. One thing I do remember is he didn’t know how to use a broom.
He did have a passion for skateboarding and even more for photographing it. He never asked me many questions about it, he just showed me his photos on his phone to get my reaction, which most of the time was, “You’re not close enough,” on fisheye photos and, “You’re too far away,” on long lens photos.
He lives close to me in San Jose’s downtown area which is kind of a small place, and I would often see him shooting photos of his friends and I would always yell old man stuff at him while riding my bike by, “Hey! No skateboarding here!” Or “You’re not close enough!”
Aaron has always been a good skate photographer in that millennial, oh so perfectly lit, exposed kind of way that all the kids are doing these days, but over the last few years I can tell that the school side of photography and photography in general has taken hold of him. He uses different kinds of cameras, shoots film, develops it, uses the darkroom in all kinds of experimental ways and has passion for portrature, landscapes and architectural photography to boot, which always comes in handy while shooting for skate mags.
He recently posted a photo of himself on Instagram laughing holding his camera and the caption said, “In case it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I take my life very seriously, especially when it comes to shooting skating,” smiling emoji with glasses and upside down smiling emoji without glasses…
I think the thing I like about Aaron most is an almost frantic thirst to learn, explore life and photography so much his head actually starts to spin around, and then all the sound in the room gets drown out by the explosion of his brain synapses firing at such an alarmingly fast rate. I’m glad to call him a friend and have high hopes that he someday learns how to sweep.—Jai Tanju

How old are you, where do you live currently and where are you from?
I’m 21, about to be 22 next month, I have been living in San Jose for four years but was born and raised in Los Angeles.

How long have you been shooting skating and what got you into it?
I’ve been shooting skating for six years now. I started during my sophomore year of high school during winter break. My friends and I were always skating at La Canada High School because it was only one mile down the road from our high school and we never really got kicked out. One day my friend Corbin decided he wanted to ollie the 11-stair that everyone skates. We were all super young at the time, so it was kind of a big deal when someone wanted to try anything down it. He started rolling up a bunch of times so everyone started taking out their cameras to film him. I didn’t want to miss out so I pulled out my shitty slide phone and opened the camera. I stood at the top of the set right next to where he ollied from and snapped a photo when he popped. I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t think I was going to get anything, but I somehow managed to get him right when he snapped. The photo was total trash, but I was stoked that I had managed to get something. When I went home that night I told my dad I wanted to start shooting photos of my friends skating, and I knew that he had a Nikon DSLR he never really used, so I asked him to use it. After that I took it out with me for about two months everywhere I went. My parents eventually saw that I had a genuine interest in photography and decided to sign me up for a beginning photo class at Art Center. About four weeks into the class I brought some prints in for a critique. After I put them up on the board the teacher walked over to them, picked them up and looked at me really excited and said, “Dude! You did it! This is exactly what I wanted to see from you!” It was a really humbling moment, and later on in class while he was giving some kind of lecture about light, something just kind of clicked in my head and I thought, “Yeah, this is what I want to do now.”

Is there one photograph or photographer that inspired you to take up photography?
I can’t really say that there was just one photographer that inspired me to pick up a camera, but Dave Chami, Joe Brook, Oliver Barton, Mike Blabac, Mike O’Meally, and Grant Brittian, have always been huge sources of inspiration.

What’s the best and worst advice you’ve been given on photography?
The best advice I’ve personally been given was just to get in closer, and slow down on my process, in the studio. I can’t really think of any bad advice I’ve been given.

Do you have a favorite photo of your own?

Malik Barnett, 360 flip.

My favorite skate photo as of right now is this tre flip of my dude Malik Barnett. I’m not really sure why these barriers were put around the fountain at City Hall, or how long they were even there for, but when we we saw them that day I knew we had to take advantage of the situation.

What’s the most interesting story behind one of your photos?

Ryan Farley, frontside wallride.

This day was actually pretty stressful for me. I had been super busy with school for a few weeks and hadn’t gone out to shoot anything in a while and was itching to get something. Me and a few friends went out to try and hit a few spots on campus at San Jose State. We got kicked out of our first spot pretty quickly by campus cops and then headed to a ledge spot by the library, where some dude tried to fight me because he thought I was stealing his bag, when I was simply moving it out of my frame. After that we skated to a pole jam spot down the street that was in front of a new condo building, and the guy that lived in the unit right above the spot got annoyed that we were skating, so he decided to throw water at me from above which almost soaked my camera. At that point I was super frustrated and wanted to call it a day, but I didn’t want to walk away empty handed. My friend Max suggested we hit one more spot in downtown before calling it, so we piled in a car and headed to the spot. It ended up being at the top of a parking garage that we had to sneak past security to get up to, but when we got there I knew I was going be able to get something. After probably a good 30 minutes, my dude Ryan Farley started battling this frontside wallride, and rode away like a champ. By the end of the day I was super stoked that I pushed through all the bullshit that happened and walked away with a photo I was proud of.

What advice would you give to up and coming skate photogs?
First off, don’t shoot photos of just skateboarding. Shoot photos of everything, have substance to your work. Definitely reach out to photographers you admire and ask them to critique your photos, constructive criticism is the best thing to get when you are trying to progress. Don’t be afraid to fail, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blown a photo or fucked up in some other way, the only thing you can do is improve. Lastly, learn from your bad days when everything goes wrong and you walk away empty handed; skateboarding owes you nothing. You’ll appreciate your good days even more.

Best thing about shooting in your hometown?
San Jose is the best place ever man. I know I’ve only been here for four years, but when I first moved here I barely knew anyone that skated. I’ve met the most amazing group of homies up here that are always down to put in work, get shit done and have a good time. I couldn’t be more thankful. Shout out to my Toga 4 crew, shout out to all my roommates at the STARS house for always holding it down, and to the rest of the homies, much love! Let’s keep the good times going!

Do you prefer digital or film?
For shooting skating I definitely prefer digital, it’s way more cost effective and accessible in the long run. But over the past year I’ve fallen in love with shooting film for more personal work. I shot medium format for the first time last semester and was instantly hooked, and I work at the photo lab at school so I have full access to a giant lab, so I’m always in there developing and scanning in film.

What’s in your camera bag?
Nikon D600 w/ grip
Tamron 70-300mm f/4
Nikon 16mm f/2.8 fisheye
Nikon 50mm f/1.8
Sigma 12-24 f/5
X2 Nikon SB-700 Speedlights w/ shitty adapters that love to break on me
X3 Pocket Wizard Plus III
Hot Shoe Mount flash cord
Hella rechargeable batteries
Extra batteries for the D600
Wax
Extra Laces
Usually some sort of snack
Filters I never really use
A blower that I should use and a lens cloth that I use every now and then when I remember I have it.
Pentax 6×7
Yashica T4
120mm/35mm Trix-400

Your photography website if you have one:
Tumblr is pettigrewphoto.tumblr.com, but I’m terrible at updating it.
Insta: @pettigrewphoto because that’s where everything ends up anyways.

Self portrait

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