Mark Whiteley, (photographer, skater and former editor-in-chief of Slap Magazine), has recently started hosting a series of interviews with professional skateboarders, skate photographers and filmmakers, entitled "Rolling Through the Shadows," for the iconic and venerable camera brand, Leica. Known as the defacto camera to legendary photographs like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Nan Goldin, Robert Frank and many others, it would seem strange that skaters would be attracted to such a simple, historic, and expensive machine. And predominately still shoot with film and not digital!
Chris Nieratko of XGames.com got in touch with Whiteley to learn the backstory of how "Rolling Through the Shadows" came about and what's so special about Leica cameras.
XGames.com: How did this relationship with Leica come about? What are the goals/plans for the blog?
Whiteley: Almost two years ago Ray Barbee hit me up with the idea of trying to put together a pitch to Leica about skaters who shoot with Leica M gear. We brainstormed a small list of pro skaters and industry photographers who we knew shot with M gear, and I started reaching out to them to see if they were interested -- just about everybody was. I didn't have a contact at Leica, but my friend Jai Tanju knew a photographer named Dan Boulton in London who had just had a profile on the Leica blog. Jai connected me with Dan and Dan connected me with the folks at the site. It has been a side project for everybody involved so it took awhile, but I'm super excited it's off and running.
Who is all involved and how did you go about selecting the skaters involved?
As it stands, the list is: Jerry Hsu, Rick McCrank, Leo Romero, Todd Jordan, Arto Saari, Raymond Molinar, Ray Barbee, Ed Templeton, Thomas Campbell, Joe Brook, Greg Hunt, Anthony Acosta, Ben Colen, Marcel Veldman, Tobin Yelland, Jon Humphries and me. Since finalizing the list I have learned about a few more guys who would have been great, but we will see what happens from here.
What's the story behind your first Leica?
My first Leica was an M6 which I bought new in 1998 with some money that I won from an art award I received when I was graduating from college. I admired the beauty of the camera itself for awhile and felt like I would probably not have a spare couple grand laying around over the next few years to buy this dream machine otherwise -- so I just went for it.
I started learning more about the photographers who used Leicas over decades and it really changed the way I thought about shooting, and even the subject matter I was shooting. Getting a Leica and the photographic education that followed was definitely one of the most artistically informative turn of events in my life. Seriously inspiring.
However, the oldest Leica I have is a screw-mount IIIb from the early 1940's that was my grandfather's camera. It was the family camera when my dad and his sisters were kids, so it's got serious nostalgic family value to me. It still works like a charm. Those cameras were machined to the Nth degree and made to last.
What's the your favorite photo you've personally taken with the Leica?
That's pretty hard to choose from, I have so many great experiences and memories captured through my Leicas. The silhouette shot of Matt Field ollieing a bar underneath a tree in San Francisco -- I think it was early 2000. Field and I are old friends which makes it special to me. The main reason I like it is that when I was shooting it I was seeing it as a silhouette because of a photo that my dad took before I was even born. The photo was printed really large and hanging in my house as a kid and I know it had some effect on me. It's a great silhouette shot of these huge cypress trees on a beach in Carmel, Calif. and there are all these things happening on the beach in between the angles of the branches, like the shapes just line up naturally to frame all these little vignettes of people and horses and things on the beach. In my photo of Field there are some nice things that line up like that. The photo ran in SLAP, and for an anniversary show I had it printed pretty large. The lady who did the printing said it was the sharpest negative she had ever seen in her life. That's testament to Leica glass right there.
Who are your favorite skaters that shoot Leicas?
I think Jerry Hsu is extremely talented. Joe Brook is an unstoppable creative machine. Tobin's Leica work still awes me. Ed [Templeton]. Greg Hunt. Todd [Jordan]. [Jon] Humphries. Some seriously talented folks. I think all the guys in this collective just have the same feeling about what a "Leica" photo is as I do, and so they speak to me. Documentary meets fine art.
Why do you think so many skaters gravitate towards Leicas?
I don't think it is all that many, but for the ones who do I think there is just a kinship because Leica cameras are tough but refined, just like skateboarding is. The film cameras at least were extremely basic machines with no bells and whistles that were just built to take a beating and produce beautiful results. That just sounds like skateboarding.
Are there Leica snobs?
Absolutely. That just comes with the territory for both expensive imported items and photography in general. That said there seem to be two kinds of Leica owners -- the kind who think of the cameras as great tools and the kind who think of them as luxury accessories. It's awesome to see Leica selling lots more new cameras these days compared to a decade ago, but there's no camera I like seeing more than a beat-up and obviously used M. They are beautiful.
Do you have any books/shows/ etc coming soon?
My book "This Is Not A Photo Opportunity" is available from Gingko Press, and I'm taking part in a few group shows here and there, but nothing gigantic. markwhiteleyphotography.com is always chilling. After the first installment of the series dropped I was contacted by a filmmaker named Chris Murphy who is coincidentally working on a related video project, and so we may join forces to aim towards something bigger for Leica. Remains to be seen on that, but it's always awesome to have something brewing.