Proof Sheet: Tal Roberts

In an age of noise and distraction Tal’s work imposes a kind of deep focus and patience. The well-planned lines inspire thought, and ghosts dwell in the spaces between them. Tal speaks respectfully to everyone he meets as if they are the professional and he is the novice. He asks questions, remembers names, and truly enjoys the experience of a session whether it is productive or not. It’s photographers like Tal that inspired me to start skating, and it’s friends like him that keep me from ever stopping.—Josh Love

How old are you, where do you live currently, and where are you from?
I grew up in Gig Harbor, Washington, where I found skateboarding and later photography. After that I lived in Ketchum, Idaho for about ten years, and that’s where I started to take photography more seriously. I currently live in Portland, Oregon. I am 36 years old.

How long have you been shooting skating and what got you into it?
I actually took a couple photo classes in middle school where I shot my first photos of my friends skating. I really liked those classes but for some reason the interest didn’t stick at that point and I didn’t start again until I was around 20 years old, so like 2002. One of the main reasons I wanted to learn to shoot photos was to preserve memories and be able to hang those on the wall. Since a lot of my time involved skateboarding it was pretty natural to want to document that.

Is there one photograph or photographer that inspired you to take up photography?
Around the time I was getting interested in shooting photos, I had been skating at the Foss skate park in Tacoma for a long time and knew that a guy named Jeff who I would see there pretty often was into photography. I started asking him some questions about cameras and it turned out that he worked at a camera shop so he had me come in and helped get me going with my first set up which was a Nikon SLR and a 50mm. He also did the coolest thing for me, when I was starting he would develop my film for free, then go through the shots with me and teach me what was going right, what was going wrong and how to get it to turn out how I wanted. It sure wasn’t like the sharp learning curve you have today seeing what you’ve done right away on a digital back, but I was able to learn so much quite a bit cheaper than I would have without his help. We both ended up moving away soon after this and lost touch—I wish I could say thanks for setting me up for such a rad path!

Do you have a favorite photo of your own?

Jess Adam_diptych_TR
Jess Mudgett, kickflip. Adam Soles, frontside air. *click to enlarge

Oh man, that’s so tough to single out one shot. If I had to make a choice like that it would probably be something like these shots of Jess Mudgett and Adam Soles. A lot of the time keeping things simple makes the best shots. For me, these are usually images that I have thought about before hand and talked someone into going to skate at 7 a.m. because the shadow will look cool, haha.

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

JoshLove_5050 1865
Josh Love, backside 50-50. *click to enlarge

Josh and I were riding bikes from spot to spot one summer afternoon and came across this awkward windowsill ledge. Compositionally it looked pretty good but the light was kinda flat as the building was in the shade. A couple minutes in, the sun had started to bounce off the windows behind me right onto the spot he was skating, then after just a few minutes Josh got a grind on the sill and the light went away. If I had been here before and seen how the light reflected onto the spot I would have wanted to go shoot this exact photo. I think after this we rode back across town and put some bondo on a jersey barrier spot and got beers—great day.

What advice would you give to up and coming skate photogs?
With photography there’s always something new to learn, try shooting lots of different things and different techniques and don’t get stuck thinking that there’s one formula that you need to follow to make great images. Find inspiration outside of skateboarding. Your camera is a great excuse to explore new places and ideas.

Best thing about shooting in your hometown:
I spend a lot of time on the road, so shooting in Portland means that I’m home, and if I’m out shooting skateboarding it usually means I’m skating with friends.

Do you prefer digital or film?
Both! Digital is so good now, but there are still situations where I think certain film cameras will work better to make the image I’m looking for. Not really because it’s film vs. digital, but because of the format of the camera or the way that camera lets you shoot. I like how you can use digital to figure things out super fast and make adjustments based on what you’re seeing on the screen, and I like how shooting film makes you slow down the process and think about all the pieces of the image you’re trying to make before you start firing.

What’s in your camera bag?
Digital Bag: Nikon D5, Nikon 16mm, 50mm, 85mm, 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm
Analog Bag; Hasselblad Xpan, Hasselblad 503cx, Leica M6 and lots of B&W film

Your photography website if you have one:
IG: @talroberts

Willow_SkateTow_RayGadd 4412
Tal and his dog Willow. Photo: Ray Gadd.

Sound off in the comments below!

Join the conversation