Acclaimed skateboard lensman Mike Blabac is coming off one of his grandest distillation projects, a 136-page coffee table book covering 20 years of DC Shoes. "Defy Convention" is a hardcover, premium-bond volume measuring 12-inches by 12-inches, and it features more than 150 color and black-and-white images of the brand's athletic range, from skate and snow to moto and gymkhana. It's available at dcshoes.com. XGames.com caught up with Blabac for some more details.
XGames.com: With an archive two decades deep, what did a photo need to have to make the cut?
Blabac: I had the advantage of working for DC for the last 15 years, but it was still difficult considering all the amazing athletes, events, and images associated with DC over the past 20 years. The filter I used to pick a photo was (1) if it was of an important moment, and (2) if it belonged in a coffee table book. I picked photos that told miniature stories in spreads and went together color-wise. I used different paper stocks, too, which was nice. I selected photos that would look good on mat paper or glossy or spot varnish.
That attention to detail transcends all the pretty radical 15-second social media clips and two-minute YouTube edits.
A book is something tangible that you'll always hang onto. Social media clips and web edits are great, but they go away. They get buried by all the new clips and content. Most likely, you're not going to say to yourself, "I'd really like to see that Instagram video I saw seven years ago." People still reach out to me for my last book, "Blabac Photo," which was published in 2009. I don't usually get that response from a FB post.
Historically, so-called action sports athletes didn't commingle. How has DC been able to bridge gaps between tribes?
I think DC has always bridged the gap by having the best athletes in each sport. That's been in their DNA since day one by having the best skate team. No matter who you are, you can have an appreciation for someone doing something impressive. I am a skateboarder at heart, but I love shooting moto, gymkhana, etc. I'm always astonished that I get a front row seat to the best skateboarding, a guy back-flipping an airplane on a motorcycle, or standing on the middle of the Bay Bridge on a gymkhana shoot.
As a skater at heart, what have you learned from studying the images of "action sport" photographers who don't shoot skateboarding at all?
I think all photographers get inspiration from everywhere. I look at moto, snowboard and surf mags. I've always studied all types of photography. I grew up admiring fashion photographers, sports photojournalists, such as Walter Iooss, and skate shooters such as Grant Brittian. I've spent half my life trying to make skateboarding look exciting, so a car jumping an entire street in San Francisco or someone flying through the air on a motorcycle is fun to me. I know if I can make a two-foot-tall ledge look impressive, I can surely get creative with a 175-foot motorcycle backflip!
What's your horizon?
Now that I've finished this book, I want to dive back into shooting. Mostly creating more content that can go into the next book eventually. Danny Way and I will be in Paris for a book event. Then to Spain for a skate trip for 11 days. After that, I think Australia.
Enviable. Anything you'd like to add?
Ever since I was a kid, I've poured over photos in skate magazines. They've inspired me to go skateboarding, pick up a camera, leading to a career of making those same images for others to be inspired by. It means a lot to me to have created photographs that have stood the test of time, and I want to continue to do so for a long while. I love seeing a comment on an Instagram post, or a FB message when someone mentions they've had a photograph I've shot on their wall for years. Creating those kinds of images is almost as fun as doing whatever it is that I'm shooting -- just a bit safer.