Designer, photographer and author, Julian Bleecker recently made a visit to London. In a café in Camden, we discussed his ongoing project; a photo-book entitled – ‘Hello, Skater Girl.’ – a venture he has been working on for the last year.
Photography by Julian Bleecker, Interview by Jenna Selby
What is your background with photography/skate photography?
I’ve always enjoyed photography for as long as I can remember. My dad built us a darkroom in the laundry room in the house I grew up in. I spent a couple of summers as a gofer [assistant] at a New York City photo studio, so I learned a bit about photography as a kind of journalism and reportage. Later on photography became a way of exploration and investigation of things like cities and people. I enjoy being an urban scout in cities using a camera to capture the life of the city.
Skate photography came about because I wanted a way to learn about the community I live in — Venice Beach. The photography became a comfortable way to meet locals and begin to excavate a bit of the Venice skateboarding legacy and history. You know — you shoot and hang out and gradually get to know people and then you participate and share-back.
How did the idea for the book come about?
I shot skate for a year or so, which was great fun. I learned how to shoot this particular sport and do it in a way that was maybe a bit different from the norm but satisfying to me. I also ended up travelling more than I would’ve thought to follow events and competitions. At the end of that year I asked myself if I wanted to continue shooting skate. I thought I would but I’d need a bit of a project around it rather than just shooting for the sake of filling another hard drive with images. Very quickly I realized that a good project would be one that not too many other people were doing – focusing exclusively on women’s skateboarding – a compelling topic because it had creative challenges that were exciting.
With regards to the look of the book, you have a quite specific style of the way you like to shoot your images-
It’s the gear-geek side of me that’s trying to help develop a visual aesthetic that is different from the canon of skateboard photography. The aesthetic that makes me excited is one that looks like it was shot in a studio, perhaps with a faux scenicbackdrop. So — foreground quite sharp and brightly lit, with the back depth-of-field drop-off quite dramatic. It requires a very heavy, very fast focusing wide-angle lens with a very wide aperture on a 35mm sensor; lots of fast flash; those ND filters to allow me to shoot the lens wide open in very bright sunlight.
Is there a certain feel to the type of image you want to capture?
I’m trying to show the progression to “perfection” — as well as perfection, but you have to show the story. There’s work that goes into what these women are doing, and I don’t want to dismiss or ignore it.
I was at Banzai, on the North Shore of Oahu with Lizzie Armanto. She is a hard worker and really an exceptional skater who’s fun to work with. It didn’t take long to get a good shot, but we had to go several times until both she and I were happy. But — as it turned out, I was happy before her mostly because the shot I love and I’ll use shows her trying to get to that perfection, whereas the one I think she liked best shows her comfortable — where she’s got it locked.
How long have you been working on the book and how many images are you looking to get in total?
It’s a year project on my time-management list. I guess technically I started when I shot at X-Games 16 in 2010 and stumbled on the women’s vert competition. So that means I should be done already, but I’m giving myself until the end of 2011. I don’t really have a set
number of images. It more a sense of visual completeness. Rather than a catalog of images of skateboarders, I know when I’ve got enough images once the personality and capability of each skater is well represented.
Are you planning a worldwide launch?
It should be launched at a proper art gallery with a mini-ramp and lots of skaters. That’s the goal. I don’t want the project to be exclusive to the skate community — I want it to be something that is legible to the photography community and others outside of skateboarding, as well as skateboarders and the skateboarding industry. I see it as a real photo book, done by a photography/designer who also happens to be enthusiastic about the sport and its communities.
Julian will be back on these shores towards the end of the year to shoot with UK and Euro Riders. To keep up-to-date with the progress of the project go to – www.helloskatergirl.com