Proof Sheet: Alex Papke

I met Alex two years ago when he came to California to see some mutual friends. We were awkwardly introduced when he came into the room and a friend of ours yells out, “East Coast versus West Coast photographer!” Or something along those lines, but we became friends right away from nerding out on photography. It’s always awesome when someone shoots as much film as he does, whether it be skating or lifestyle. His style is definitely unique and awesome, he kills it at shooting natural light, getting rad shadows as well as always finding an interesting angle that most people probably wouldn’t have thought of or would want to because it’s too difficult. Like one time he was chilling on a barbwire fence, I can’t think of many people that would do that. He’s the kind of guy on the mission that is always hyped, no matter what. He’s always trying to motivate and be positive, and tries to make the best out of any situation. He’s so motivated he moved to California from Pennsylvania just for skating and photography, and from what I’ve seen it’s paying off.—Mikey Gould

How long have you been shooting skating and what got you into it?
I started taking skate photos sometime around my sophomore or junior year of high school, so I guess around five years ago or so. I got into it because this girl that I was dating at the time had just bought her first camera and I thought it was pretty cool. I found myself playing with it more than she was, just taking photos of her and other stuff around me. I knew that I wanted one but I didn't have a lot of money at the time and wasn't sure if I should do it or not. I ended up going for it and buying an entry level DSLR and shortly after started taking it to my local skatepark and shooting photos of my friends. Not long after this I broke up with my girlfriend and consequently got fired from my job because I was working for her dad, so I had a lot of free time on my hands to go skate. I kept meeting new people skating and it opened up a lot of doors for me, so I decided that I wanted to invest as much time in it that I possibly could.

Is there one photograph or photographer that inspired you to take up photography?
I'm not sure if there’s just one. When I was younger I’d have a bunch of different subscriptions to mags and my friends and I would cut out the photos and hang them on our walls. I was always really stoked on Atiba, Mike O'Meally, Blabac, and Grant Brittain. When I started shooting my own photos, I was always looking at Zander Taketomo's stuff because we were both from Pennsylvania and he shot a lot of skaters that I was into. He's super articulate about his lighting and I would constantly email him questions about where he put flashes for his photos. All of his work made me really appreciate medium format and made me want to start shooting more film.

What's the best and worst advice you've been given on photography?
Best advice that I have received is just keep shooting. Everyone has phases where they don't like what they’re shooting or what their photos are looking like but you just gotta keep doing it. Worst advice would have to be from the dude who shot my senior photos. I was asking a few questions about his camera and light setup and told him I was into photography. He got all upset and uncomfortable and told me to stop shooting photos and give up. He told me photography isn't how it used to be and that it’s a dead end where I’ll wake up hating my life someday.

Do you have a favorite photo of your own?
One of my favorites that I have shot is the photo of Zach Funk doing a back lipslide on this ledge in Pittsburgh that goes into a big hill bomb. We were trying to get this photo for a long time but there is always a car parked in front of the porch where you do the trick. He randomly hit me up one day because he saw a car wasn't there earlier in the day so we went back later around sunset and the car still wasn’t there, so we got it real quick.


What's the most interesting story behind one of your photos?
The day that I shot the photo of Tony Karr walking through the LA river was sort of a crazy day. We drove 45 minutes to go skate this one rail Jeff wanted to check out only to realize that the park it was in was under construction and they tore out the rail. We were about to head out of that area when someone saw this ditch spot in the LA river that looked really fun. It was this bank to manny pad that also had a cool wallride that looked pretty fun so we pulled over to check it out. Tony was really stoked on it so once he got warmed up he was just going for it. He was trying to do this line ending in a wallride but there were a handful of times that he didn't land it and his board went down into the river. He kept going down so hard but every time would get up, run down to grab his board, get back to the top and try again. The first couple of times it went down there it avoided the water, but just as it started to get dark it went down and ended up going right into a fat puddle. At that point he was pretty over it, as was everyone else, and focused his board. It wasn't the most ideal day, but it was fun just kicking it at that spot with everyone watching Tony go at this thing all crazy.

*Click to enlarge.

*Click to enlarge.

What advice would you give to up and coming skate photogs?
That’s a tough one because I feel like I'm still an up and comer, but my best advice I could give would just be keep shooting. You never know where shooting photos will take you. It's brought me to a bunch of places I never thought I would go and I have a blast doing it. Oh, and also, respect the people that you are shooting. I've seen some photographers pull dumb moves on their friends and burn bridges, so I would just say stay true to your friends and have fun with it.

Do you prefer digital or film?
I prefer film more than digital. When I was living in Pennsylvania and going to school I worked in my school’s darkroom for a year and loved it. I was able to be around it so often and would get paid to develop my film and print my photos. Currently I don't have a job and am living off of whatever money I can get from shooting photos so I don't have the funds to process as much film as I used to. I still shoot a bunch of 35mm but I don't get it developed as often as I would like to.

What's in your camera bag?
Nikon D7000
Yashica Electro 35 G
Nikkor 35mm f/1.8
Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5
Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 fish
1x Nikon SB900 speedlight
1x Vivitar 285hv flash
1x Alien Bee B800 & Vagabond Mini
3xPocket Wizard Plus ii
1xPocket Wizard Plus X
Skatetool, shoelace, wax, spare socks, rechargeable batteries, rocket blower, sync cords, etc.

Your photography website if you have one:
instagram @alex_papke

Alex Papke

Alex Papke