Skate The World
Interview With Jonathan Mehring
Interview: Jaime Owens
All Photos Are Courtesy of National Geographic And From The Book
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A lot of people talk about making shit happen. And that's about as far as it gets. Well, Jonathan Mehring didn't just talk about it. He went out and did it. After years of traveling the world to the least likeliest skate destinations and trying to get a book made of his adventures, Jonathan pulled off a feat that all photographers in any field would dream of; a book published with National Geographic which made the whole collective skate world say, "Holy shit, he did what?! That's awesome." I'm super proud of my friend and former coworker at Skateboarder Magazine. I can't wait to see what he pulls off next but in the meantime, here's a little interview of how it all came to be.—Jaime Owens
You're the Kenny Reed of skate photographers. You've really separated yourself from other skate photographers by seeking out the farthest reaches of the world that are practically untouched by skating. Where does that drive come from to document the unfamiliar or go where no one has skated before?
I think it has a lot to do with growing up in the sticks of Virgina, and wanting to see more of the world. When I was 10 my parents took me on a cross-country road trip and I was so excited about it the whole way. Years later, Slap Magazine sent me to Hong Kong on my first tour and that really got the travel bug going. After a while I wanted to go to different places than what was popular in skating at any given time, so I started producing my own trips to places I thought were interesting.
How did this book first come about or what was the origin of wanting to do it? You've been working on it for many years during our Skateboarder Magazine days.
Yeah, the first conversation happened in 2009 when I had a chance conversation with National Geographic Books editor Susan Hitchcock. We were at a Christmas party at my parent's house and I'd mentioned some recent travels to her and she asked if I thought I had enough material for a book. I said, yes, but in reality it's better that it took so long because it's alot better now than it would have been back then.
It must have been very intimidating to have the first meeting with them?
I once heard Gerd Ludwig speak in NYC about shooting for National Geographic and he said, "You don't find them, they find you." Which definitely happened in this case. The first meeting I had was totally overwhelming. I was so nervous I barely remember it. I had Kodak photo paper box full of 11 x 14s and there were about 10 people in the room. We just passed them around and everyone seemed stoked. But the book still took nearly seven years from then.
What was the hardest part about getting this book made? Obviously money, but did you only want to do it with National Geographic? But Levi's paid for it. Talk about that partnership.
That was the original hold up. Because NG had never done a skating project they needed a sponsor to help back the project. It took those several years to find an appropriate sponsor. The Levi's meeting was pure chance. They hired me to shoot a job for them and while on location I asked their head of marketing and he was into it. All of a sudden the book was happening. It was totally thrilling.
The book is mainly your photos but you did get some help from other well known skate photographers. Talk about that process of getting them involved? Did it take much convincing? Or once you said "National Geographic" they were on board?
Yeah, there are a few guys I brought it to because they had covered areas I'd never been to or shot with skaters I hadn't. I wanted a certain vibe and style to the photos so that's how it came about. The book is about the global culture of skating, not my personal story, so having contributors was a nice fit. Most people I asked were super into helping out, only a few didn't respond to emails.
Did you or the other photographers get paid? Or was it just for the opportunity?
Everybody got paid for their photos.
Did anybody turn down the opportunity?
Not explicitly. As I said a few guys didn't respond when I reached out. Also a number of photographers who submitted work didn't have anything chosen by the photo editor.
Did you ask Tony Hawk to write the forward or was that suggested by the publishers to get a "big name" endorsement? And let's be honest, I know you would have chosen Fred Gall to do it if it was solely up to you.
Haha. It was a bit of both. That question of Tony being involved came up early on with NG, so I reached out through a mutual friend. He was into it right off the bat.
Since it's a National Geographic book, did they request that there be more "native boobies" in your photos before they would agree to do it?
Well, you know, those are in appendix B.
Amazon.com description says "You'll have an adrenaline rush on every page," Is that true?
Haha, I mean, it's a photo book. I think you can witness an adrenaline rush on most pages. Some people might have one of their own.
How big has your head gotten now that you've successfully published a book through National Geographic?
Shit man. I hope it hasn't grown at all. I'm super honored and humbled to have been given this opportunity. It took a long time for it to feel real. It has made me feel a sense of validity with skateboard photography though. It might be part of living on the East Coast, away from the majority of the skate industry, but this sentiment of, "When are you going to get a real job" used to always be in the back of my head. Now that the greater photo community it recognizing my work, I don't really hear that anymore, which is a relief.
What's next for you? Where do you go from here?
Ha! Damn, that's a good question. I'm not exactly sure. I'm going to keep following my passions and while continuing to shoot skating, I'm going to explore some other avenues as well. I have a lot of ideas, but I'm not ready to talk about them publicly yet.
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