Over the years various talented skate photographers have momentarily covered the Scottish skate scene but until the tattooed frame of Alex Irvine came haring down the hillsides from Aberdeen none have stayed around for long. Alex has been leading the charge of documenting the utter carnage that comprises Scotland’s skateboard community for a good 5 years now and shows no signs of stopping, (thank God).
Aside from his work for Sidewalk and Document Magazines in the UK, Alex has contributed photos to every magazine worth its salt; from Thrasher in the States to Sugar in France. A talented skater, a great photographer and a man unafraid of the rigours of the road, the future looks bright for Aberdeen’s finest. In the words of Dirtswan themselves – Git it right up ye!
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve been “professional” since about 4 years ago I think.
How did you get into skate photography?
I was doing a photography course at college and found myself spending more time printing skate photos than anything else. Eventually I figured I’d try and turn it into more than just an obsession and thought maybe it was time to try my luck at freelancing.
What were the best and worst bits of advice anyone ever gave you in regards to your photography?
Smash (Sam Ashley) and Barton (Oliver), they’ve always put up with my numbskull questions, and usually manage to give me some well reliable knowledge, cheers dudes. My questions are less frequent these days though, somehow always seem to be learning…One my old bosses thought I was daft for quitting the studio job I had, so bad advice from him, to work my way up the company, blah blah blah. Didn’t take the advice which is good ‘cos it was shit advice, so fuck it.
Have you ever felt bad taking a photo? Is so, which one?
I shot a sequence once where Colin Kennedy smashed his head into the ground at Perth skatepark, his head swelled up like he had an testicle squeezed under the dome. I felt bad about the fact he stotted the concrete from 8 ft up but I was still more stoked than bummed about shooting it, imagine missing that quality action. Pretty grim watching it unfold before your eyes, and then sitting in Perth A and E waiting to make sure he was alright, before the nurse says “your friend’s fine do you want to speak to him?“, then whips back a curtain revealing an 80 year old man on a ventilator! Fucking comedy.
What image first inspired you to take up photography?
I don’t know if any one image helped me to make that decision outright, I remember some picture of Vinnie Ponte back fiftying a ledge down a rough triple set, I don’t know who shot it and I don’t know when or where it was from (maybe 96 ish), but it is in my mind still as clear as day available light long lens, grainy black and white 35mm, my favourite kind of shot.
The one that sealed the deal for me was a shot of John Rattray backside disastering this skinny vert quarter in a warehouse in Aberdeen. I wasn’t there when Ollie shot it, I just saw it in Skateboarder Mag, double pager and titled “the man from Aberdeen” and was blown away, I thought; I want to make a picture look like that. Ollie is my all time favourite skateboard photographer any way, and John’s just well… John, great fucking team, great fucking picture.
What were the best and worst days shooting skateboarding of your life ever and why?
Worst ever days shooting pictures were probably the ones when I was wishing they’d come out good rather than knowing they would….most of the time. I don’t mean that the actual days were bad, I mean I learned pretty fast from mistakes. It was more the feeling of massive anxiety that comes along with a lack of confidence and knowledge, it’s not a nice feeling, better to know you’ve got it than hope.
Tell us about this personal favourite skate shot of yours?
…it’s probably again one of John (Rattray) in hometown Aberdeen, Scotland: “A/deen thugs kill all visiting fans”. It was the time when he first got on Zero and was on a trip back home to sort out moving away to SD. John, Alex Craig and myself were out filming for H’min Bam day in day out. John was on a mission and everything was just happening. We ended up at this ‘spot’ one day and John wanted to wallride it. It’s a disgusting set up, down a rough road, up a curb over a rough pavement, ride up a bit of rotten wood, drop onto the bank up and then wallride.
For this picture though I don’t know if you even need to know about the trick he just did, the body posture, fl-hair and graff on the wall makes the picture. Probably the shitest thing John did the whole time he was back and it seems to be the one picture people comment on. I don’t think the wallride shot has ever been published, just the rideout. The graffiti has since been blasted off, after 15 years of it being there, shame, I thought it was hilarious.
What’s the relationship like between a photographer and a filmer?
Filmers are alright, usually we can come to some sort of arrangement, make the skater do it twice, or shoot a picture of a lovely well lit picture of a VX and fisheye. I do a bit of filming too, so I know that a few centimeters can make all the difference to impact of footage, I can sympathize, but you’ve gotta make sure you get what you came here to do too, it’s a tough one, sometimes you have to be more of an arsehole than you want to get the shot. It also depends whether you’re the reason they’re there doing what they’re doing or whether you’re just tagging along.
What key advice would you give to upcoming skate photographers?
To an up and coming skate photographer I would say this: You must have 100% dedication, good knowledge of relevant photography, absolute willingness to be skint as fuck, no ties, a serious love for skateboarding and a shit hot professional or two to shoot with.
Are there ways of getting better/free equipment as you continue to grow or do you have to fund everything yourself?
Ads, I reckon it’s all about ads, getting in tight with a company helps. I think it is important to be very proactive; you want companies/magazines to think about you when jobs come up. It’s tough out there; all about self promotion, don’t wait for someone to suggest you, suggest yourself to them.
Is the work of a skate photographer well paid? Do you get by in life with this income alone?
Oliver Barton’s advice to me was to put every bit of profit you can back into buying better equipment, good advice. I had started doing that when I was working in Jessops, buying second hand professional stuff, sourcing out refurbished stock that was like new but with the discount was cheap as fuck, e-bay’s good too, but you can’t be trusting it’s tough to expand your kit on a budget, but not impossible. No such thing as a free lunch.
Does music ever inspire your photography? What artists can you not leave for a tour without?
Rock McCrank strumming guitar making up songs is inspiring, pure comedy, lightens the mood. I like shooting pictures with people who can have a laugh about things. Black Flag, Slayer, Dave Dudley and Brujeria all good to listen to before skating, but with photography it’s not really beneficial to be all fired up to then sit on yir arse for hours at a time.
What is your favourite photo that you snapped outside of skateboarding?
One of my favourite non skate flick is probably this one of French Fred shooting some artsy picture completely oblivious to the fact Schuster just ate serious shit 2 ft away from him.
Even If Fred had been aware I doubt it would have affected his demeanor. So fucking French it’s unreal, loves to hate! haha. Easy to wind Fred up and I enjoy testing him, but respect due to him, he’s amazing at what he does, better photographer than me too. Vive la France!
If you were to buy a pocket snapper for capturing skating on a budget to get going, which camera would you suggest?
Got to be a Nikon FM2n, it’s the only answer to that question.
Would you recommend digital or film?
If you’re serious about photography, it’s got to be film. You’ve got to learn how to understand what you’re doing before you go ahead and do it.
What are the benefits of using film or digital?
Digital is cost effective and accepted as standard for sequences these days and it’s worth investing in one for that task alone. Although digital is becoming more common for stills these days, most of skateboarding still clings onto the medium format transparency as the normal route.
What kit do you use?
Some janky second hand raft of shit, does the job though. Hasselblad and Nikon all the way.
….and your website address?