When Dave Chami first approached me about working on this project, there were two separate conversations going on: The one that I was typing back to him, and the other one happening only in my mind. It went a little something like this:
Typing: Hey Dave, sounds great…
In my head: ummmmm???
Typing: I'd love to be a part of that…
In my head: Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!
Typing: Thanks so much for including me…
In my head: Can I still pull this off? I haven't put a roll through the Hasselblad in years…
Typing: When do you need it by?
In my head: Please say next year, that'll give me plenty of time to screw up… I wonder if that camera even still works OK? If not…I'm screwed…how embarrassing.
Typing: Look forward to it man…
In my head: Where even is my Hasselblad?
Yup, that about sums it up. As the sweat trickled down my brow, I began to face the painful truth that shooting skateboard photos on film sounded really, really scary now. Even though I've spent the majority of my career working that way, those days are long gone and with them, I feared, went the skills involved to nail it. No checking the LCD screen to make sure everything is perfect. Just know your craft, trust your instincts, have confidence in your experience and vision, and go. I figured that only having twelve frames to work with on a roll meant that I had to make every exposure a masterpiece. I thought and stressed and thought some more, searching for some genius idea or concept that would make my contribution to the project valid. That was a waste of time. I decided this would be a good exercise in letting go, and it was best to just let the roll unfold as it wanted, and try to trust my way through it.
As luck would have it, the universe was feeling particularly kind at the moment. Evan Smith was coming through town, so I enlisted his participation knowing that not only is he up for anything, but he's also one of the best people I know at being in the present and going with the flow. And he's a wonderful lunatic in case you haven't noticed. We hung out together for two days and had a great time. I still tensed up every time I clicked the shutter knowing that I was quickly whittling away at my ammunition, but did my best to just let it happen (did I mention that the first frame I shot, the camera made a crazy sound and most definitely did not make an exposure?). 11 frames left and counting. With a few frames left, we popped in for some good country fun at the Busenitz's house and before I knew it the roll was done. I've never been so nervous to get a roll of film back in my life and I still can't believe I didn't screw it up after all. Thanks for the good times and high blood pressure, Dave.
Whilst being on last summer's Dwindle tour, I happened to get hold of a copy of Transworld in Innsbruck, Austria. I was flipping through the mag enthusiastically and one article caught my attention outstandingly. It was an article about giving a couple photographers one roll of 35mm film and trying to see what they could do with those 36 frames. Straight up, one thing ran through my head: If they would do something like that with a roll of 120 film, I'd be stoked to be in the mix as well.
When I got my Hasselblad back in 2002 it was straight to, "everything has to be working perfect." It was right before Girl's Harsh Euro Barge tour and I was the tour photographer for Germany's Limited magazine back then. Even though I had been shooting with a 35mm Canon for years already, it was still a thrill shooting Brian Anderson's backside tailslide at the Cologne hubba with a camera I had never used before. "Flashes on full manual power and as close as possible" was the only tip Helge Tscharn—my mentor in photography—had told me before. When the tour was over and I got the flicks back from the lab, I was screaming and dancing—everything came out as perfect as it could have been.
Since then, I have been using the Hasselblad any time possible. Throughout the first decade of 2000, any still photo I shot, I used the Hassi. It lasted until 2013, when Limited magazine closed doors, before I got my first legit Canon to shoot digital stills with, which I still tend to crop 6×6. I just love the format and look, even though this sometimes seems naive because magazines are not squared. It's still sitting in my camera bag all the time with black and white film inside, barely used but always available.
So, when Dave Chami told me this kind of article was going to happen again, I was super stoked. Again, it was high pressure because nowadays even I'm just used to looking at the flick right away. And even though Dave told me just to shoot skateboarders in my area, I had the urge to do more and try to get some interesting people in front of the lens. About 1000km of driving later, the 12 frames were done and I was just as excited as in 2002. And the result, if all flashes fired off (which they didn't on two frames, sadly) was indeed the same as in 2002. Thanks to everybody at TWS for this article—this got me fired up again!
I hadn't used my Hasselblad in years; hadn't even seen it. My cousin was studying photography in college and had borrowed it the last three or so years. I picked it up while visiting Australia and since this project I realized how much I had missed the thing.
I'm not going to lie—I was pretty bloody intimidated by my old camera. I even used YouTube to make sure I was loading the film right and hadn't forgotten something with my years of neglect.
I had an idea to shoot all of my article in Echo Park, which was the city that I blindly moved to two years ago only to find out it was the up-and-coming area that had been gentrified from gangland. The area is littered with spots that you've seen in all the videos and even some hidden gems that no one has really gotten to.
The first frame I pulled out flashes. I shot a few tests with the film back detached to make sure the flashes were firing, but of course, when it was go time they didn't fire. I was pretty bummed to blow the first frame because I really wanted to try to use every frame I had on the roll. I figured I'd just try again and luckily they popped the second time around and I was able to move on.
I decided to ditch the flashes for the next couple of skate photos, which means I was shooting at 1/500, not really fast enough to freeze motion all the time, especially if the movement is across the frame. I made sure in the next couple of skate photos that the skater was coming toward the camera in hopes of a sharp enough image.
I had two frames left and thought, "Fuck it, the flashes are coming back out," for Jon Sciano's wallride. Just as I set up the cops turned up but the officer was nice enough to let us try to quickly get the photo. One test without the back saw the flashes go, but once again, once the safety was off and I pulled the trigger it was a misfire. I had plans of a last frame with a multiple exposure of neon signs in Echo Park, but figured getting this wallride was more important so I tried to shoot another on the last frame. Luckily the image was sharp enough without flashes cause the bastards misfired the second time around.
I went to the lab feeling a bit defeated. I was sure I'd blown the roll and was going to miss the deadline that week. I was depressed about my fate, but it wasn't all that bad when I pulled out the contact sheet. Not exactly how I originally expected it to turn out but it was never going to be perfect and I figured it was only fair to stick to my first roll, so I drew a map and sent it off.
I got into photography shooting film and it was a big part of the magic for me. The speed and accessibility of digital photography is great for skateboarding but I realized after working on this project and pulling the 'blad back out, just how important it is to slow things down, concentrate and savor frames. The old beast hasn't left my camera bag since and I've been shooting one frame of each subject and moving on since, so there might be a couple more One Roll projects from me soon… but fuck flashes.