He’s of skateboarding’s finest, most respected photographers. He was one of Transworld‘s original founders and has inspired countless lensmen in skateboarding to progress and perfect their art. And he’s still out there shooting ads and hopping on sessions to this day! Grant Brittain recently sat down and got Chrome Ball’d… here’s a peak. Full interview here!
So going all the way back, what was the best and worst thing about working at the legendary Del Mar Skate Ranch?
Well, I started working at Del Mar in August of '78, only a few days after it opened. Wally Inouye actually helped get me the gig. But it's not like Del Mar was some glamorous industry job. Skateboarding was dying at the time and I was just a young kid anyway. I wasn't even taking photos yet… not until February, 1979. But I did it all there, man. And not just the skatepark either, there was also the mini-golf course, the arcade and the pro shop that I had to tend to as well.
The initial attraction was being able to skate for free, obviously. But in retrospect, I think the most beneficial thing in the long-run was meeting so many people that I'm still friends with today. It blows my mind to think of how many people from back then are still part my life.
The worst part was just the typical stuff that comes along with working at any skatepark. People sneaking in and having to call them out for not paying. Cleaning up the park. Sweeping the bowls. Someone craps on the bathroom floor and writes on the wall with the crap. No one wants to be the guy dealing with that stuff.
You also had to do night security there, too. I'm not sure if a lot people know that... but it actually worked out in my favor because I needed a place to live for a while. As I was saving up to get an apartment, I did night security and slept on the pool table there for 8 months. So I literally lived at the skatepark for a while and took showers at the trailer park next door. That was gnarly.
But yeah, I worked there for years. And even after I quit, I was still there all the time anyway to shoot photos.
So you start shooting in '79, was this always an artistic endeavor or possibly more about documentation at first? Did you have any interest in photography before working at Del Mar?
I always thought I was going to be an artist. I grew up drawing and had always planned on working in the arts somehow. I originally wanted to be a cartoonist but looking back on it, I don't think I was all that good at it. (laughs)
I never really shot photos before Del Mar. I had an Instamatic camera when I was a kid and shot some family photos on vacation, but that was about it.
Photography was all just for fun. There was no such thing as a "skate photographer" back then, that wasn't something you could do for a living. There were photographers in the '70s but they'd all split after skateboarding died. You could count on one hand how many skate photographers there were in the early '80s. So no, I didn't really have any plans for this.
I didn't take it seriously until around '81, when Sonny Miller asked if I wanted to go check out a darkroom to print some of my negatives. I was shooting a lot of negative film back then because it was cheaper. We ended up in the darkroom at Palomar College, where I was also taking general education and art classes. I had no idea what I was doing but as soon as I saw my photos come up in the developer, I knew right away that photography was what I wanted to do. It really was a light bulb moment for me.
Luckily, this was right at the beginning of my semester, so within a week, I'd changed all of my classes to photography courses. I knew absolutely nothing about shooting photos so I was basically starting from the ground up. But with my art background and being surrounded by so much skating, I was able to translate my ideas into photography more and more as I began figuring out how cameras worked.