Blair Alley started skating at the age of 10 in San Diego where he was born and raised. 7 years later he started to see skateboarding through a lens for the first time whilst those around him were turning pro such as Adrian Lopez, Willy Santos, Peter Smolik, John Reeves and many more but this only fuelled his involvement in the industry.
He’s a lucky fucker, he lives by the ocean in Pacific Beach where he pays rent on a house but rarely hangs there due to his travelling commitments to Europe, Australia, all over the US, and Canada. Costa Rica and Panama. See, very lucky fucker.
This travelling bug lead him to Barcelona where he lived during the summer of 2003 but overall , he is a quite mellow but red blooded American with an appetite for Tight Units – we know this much as we met him at Marseille with his collegues from TransWorld where he started working in 2002 – he works for the mag and also is one of the online editors of their website www.skateboarding.com
This guy has kept in touch with Crossfire since we first shared a Kronenberg 1664 and when he is not running with bulls in Pamplona, or chatting up skirt, he loves to shoot skating amongst many other subjects which brings us to this feature. Welcome to Blair Alley’s Triple Shot… Z-Ed
How long have you been a photographer?
Fell in love with it in high school
How did you get into skate photography?
As a skater it was the main thing I always shot. It’s still some of the best shit to shoot.
Tell us about the skate image that you first inspired you to take up photography
Dan Sturt bridge jump self-portrait. 1993?
Sturt’s work as a whole has been the most influential photography for me. There will never be another Sturt. He was always years ahead of his time. Ask any skate photographer that knows our history and they’ll tell you the same. Years later I found out how he shot this from someone who was there—truly nuts. Maybe one day I’ll go jump off that same bridge to pay homage!
What were the best and worst bits of advice anyone gave you in regards to photography?
Best: “Burn celluloid” a friend of my mom’s said that Warren Miller told him that which basically means just shoot film. The more you do the more you’ll learn.
“Nothing good comes easy.” Mike O’Meally regarding shooting digi over film. He’s right, film still looks better and those of us that learned on film will always have an advantage. Ask questions, that’s the best way to learn.
Worst: anything anyone who works in a photo/camera shop says because they don’t understand skate photography and are just trying to get you to buy some fucked up lens and the shitty accessories that go with it.
Have you ever felt bad about taking a photo? If so, which one?
Sometimes, but not as bad if I don’t take the photo!
What were the best and worst days shooting skateboarding of your life ever and why?
The last 4th of July was pretty amazing. We hit up so many spots in San Diego while people were barbecuing and partying. We were in the ghetto and all these hood kids were hanging out riding our boards and eating ice cream with us. We got a shitload of photos and hit the beach around sundown and partied all night, everyone was stoked. Worst days are harsh weather, long drives, no photos going down, tickets from police, confiscated boards and cameras, kicked out of spots by gangsters—but it still beats any other job out there.
What’s the relationship like between a photographer and filmer?
We all gotta work together.
What is your favourite skate shot ever that you have taken?
Josh Zickert, tre flip, NYC. 2002 – I shot this in NYC in 2002. It was an idea I had and finally got around to shooting the last day I was there. I was staying with my friend Josh Zickert and wanted to shoot a photo of him from his roof. It started raining as soon as I got on the roof to shoot. We messed around for awhile anyways and it turned out pretty good. I was working at TransWorld at the time and I showed it to Grant Brittain and he was nice enough to run it in the Photo Annual that year.
What main advice would you give to upcoming skate photographers?
Just do it, stick with it, and don’t be a kook.
Are there ways of getting better/free equipment as you continue to grow or do you have to fund everything yourself?
That’s the worst thing about photography, it’s expensive as hell. If you don’t make money off it, I imagine it’s the most expensive hobby you’ll ever have. Unless you, like, collect motorcycles or something. And, yes, it is super annoying to see rich kids get a whole kit on a whim and not know what they’re doing with it.
Is the work of a skate photographer well paid? Do you get by in life with this income alone?
It’s like pro skateboarding, some dudes are rich and some barely get by. At the end of the day, you gotta hustle, you gotta be a cool person, and you gotta be in it for the love.
Does music ever inspire your photography? What music artists can you not leave for a tour without?
Fuck, the Pod is bursting, but all skaters have the same iPod, don’t we? The folk, the hip hop, the classic rock. My friends’ band The Heartaches is the latest one stuck in my head. Check em out.
And tell us about your favourite photo that you snapped outside of skateboarding.
Bum In Barcelona. 2003 – I was living in Barcelona for a couple months skating and shooting skating everyday, but I finally made a point to walk around one day by myself and shoot some of the amazingly photogenic stuff I was seeing everyday on my skateboard: kids playing soccer in the gothic quarter, crazy street performers, beautiful women, Gaudi architecture, etc. I ended up with so many rad photos from that one day. One of them is this bum passed out on a fountain ledge in front of a church. I even got a bird flying by in the background. Just a lucky day, I guess—and I still went skating.
If you were to buy a pocket snapper for capturing skating on a budget to get going, which camera would you suggest?
Anything fully manual—Nikon FM2, Conon AE-1, Leica if you can afford it.
Would you recommend digital or film?
Depends what you’re shooting for. If it’s for yourself or for fine art, definitely film. It looks better and there’s no substitute for a hand-printed photograph—they’re priceless. If you work for a magazine or anyone commercially, digital is way more efficient, convenient, cost-effective, competitive, safer, etc. That’s reality.
What kit do you use?
Canon stuff. All skate photogs have the same kit. But we all have our little camera collections too. You know, Hasselblads, Holgas, T-4s, X-pan maybe, Leica, whatever. But I have a Diana, too. I’m kinda proud of that.
Your photography website address if you have one?
Try www.blairalley.com..it’s just up.