Chris Johnson – salt of the earth, top geezer, always up for traveling, getting involved, straight up, mellow, we could go on and on.
The point is though that Chris has been taking photo’s of skateboarding for a good while now and has graced pages in mags with his own style of lense clicking. It’s been a while since we ran a Triple Shot so we thought we would kick it back into gear with this chap who should shed some light on his favourite subject matter.
Tell us about yourself Mr Johnson.
I live in Worcestershire, I shoot for Sidewalk, I’ve shot adverts and promo stuff for Emerica, Vans, Death
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve always had a camera of some sort to take snap shots of skating with friends and to help fill in the gaps in my memory.
How did you get into it?
About six years ago I wrecked my back and was unable to skate for a year or so. I found myself tearing my hair out whilst sitting watching all my mates having fun. I began to shoot the odd thing to give me something to do and a reason to be there, before long I was hooked and knee deep in a 35mm SLR outfit.
What were the best and worst bits of advice anyone gave you in regards to photography?
I grew up skating with a guy obsessed with documenting everything around him. For years he shot skate and lifestyle photos alongside filming the Worcestershire and Birmingham scenes in the mid to late 90’s. He was naturally my first port of call when I begun to get more serious and need technical advice. Luckily for me, by this point he was studying Documentary Photography in Wales alongside non other than Richie Gilligan who passed on all the equipment info I needed via my friend.
Why did this image you have submitted inspire you so much to take up photography? What effect did it have on you?
I started skating in the mid 80’s, so I was raised on a healthy diet of T.L.B, helped through my teenage years by Horse and Wig when Sidewalk Surfer started and in more recent times found constant inspiration through Leo Sharpe‘s work.
At the time this photo was run as the cover of Sidewalk, I was working as a Land and Measured Building Surveyor and was in the middle of a contract on the Lloyds offices opposite the spot. I would spend most of my lunchtimes sitting on the blocks fantasizing about what tricks I couldn’t do on them. At this point, the issue in question came out and I was blown away by the technical excellence of the photographic effect and the shire radness of the Gap Out Switch Crook by Will Ainley.
Have you ever felt bad about taking a photo?
A big part of a skate photographers’ job is to help guide and encourage the skater when they are deep in the inner turmoil and mental torture associated with today’s standards. Even if you feel bad at the time, it’s nothing compared to how bad you’ll feel if you didn’t shoot it.
What are the best and worst days shooting skateboarding?
The best days are usually when it’s not raining, you’re with a good group of people who are pushing themselves and you come away with something unexpected. A constant high for me is the late night drives back from any mission, trip or event with a bunch of guys all discussing the days events, knowing that you’ve got the bangers which they are referring to safely logged.
What’s the relationship like between a photographer and filmer?
Any serious filmers and photographers have a mutual respect for what the other person is trying to achieve and work together to ensure that neither fucks up the other ones shot. The relationship’s good.
Please tell us why you have picked your fave skate shot you have submitted.
The photo was shot on a Kill City trip to Bilbao in the early part of this year. We’d spent two and a half days staring out of the window at the monsoon which was unfolding outside. Dave Davies and me had discussed the potential of the spot and when the sun finally came out, we hurried straight to it. I love this photo because after nearly three days of stressing about not getting any photos, it was the first in the line of many bangers.
Are there ways of getting better/free equipment as you continue to grow or do you have to fund everything yourself?
Everything I have, I bought myself. I’m not aware of anyways of getting things for free, but there are certainly some great deals to be had if you shop around.
Do you get by in life with this income alone?
I do other types of photography such as lifestyle and the odd bit of fashion, but adverts work well along side the editorial to help pay the heating bills. Luckily I got a Surveying qualification under my belt ten years ago and am even luckier to have an understanding mate who throws a bit of Building Surveying work my way when I need it…… although these credit crunching times have seen an end to that…..
Please tell us about the non skate shot you have submitted and the story behind it.
I’d spent several weeks in Brighton over one summer working on a Haunts with Louis Cooper. As the summer turned to winter, the deadline came around. I hurried back to Brighton to get his portrait and last minute bangers. Unfortunately, when Louis showed up at Andy Evans’ house (where I had been staying), there was a Gail force wind swirling a combination of rain, sleet and snow in his face. Imagine how stoked he was when he had to eat an ice cream on Brighton beach in the sub zero temperatures. Within half an hour of this, he had switch frontside flipped the Sugar Rush gap.
Does music ever inspire your photography? What music artists can you not leave for a tour without?
Music is an amazing form of escapism when you’re sleep deprived, worn out and need a bit of head space on a skate trip. Also it’s brilliant for hyping up people on the way to a spot. Slayer and Cam-ron seem to do this at the mo.
Would you recommend digital or film?
Both. They are equally brilliant in their own unique ways.
What are the benefits of using film or digital?
Sequences go without saying. Digital gives you peace of mind and is brilliant for short time scales (deadlines etc).
What kit do you use?
Cameras: Canon 1d mk 2 for sequences, Canon 5 d, Canon 1 (35mm) and Bronica SQAI for stills.
Lenses: Canon 15mm fisheye, Canon 50mm USM, Canon 75-200 L series and a 80mm on the Bronica.
Lighting: Lumedyne, Sunpak and Nikon flashes with Pocket Wizards and a Sekonic light meter.
Film: Fuji Provia and Velvia for colour and Ilford for Black and White.
What main advice would you give to upcoming skate photographers?
Don’t be scared to contact an established skate photographer, their advice is priceless and specific to your field. Don’t waste your time and money on High Street opinion.
Lastly, best true photo story ever.
I’m bored of all mine! John Fisher went to Barcelona when he was about 16 and Frontside Flipped Macba. He snapped his hanger on the role out. Whilst he was lying in a heap Jamie Thomas, who had been watching from afar, skated over, gave him a pair of trucks and invited him to a game of skate. A photo of John holding the broken hanger turned up in Transworld a few months later. Not my story or photo, but good none the less.
Chris will be shooting at this year’s Crossfire Xmas Jam on Saturday December 13th so get your position for Sidewalk BGP’s.