I grew up poring over magazines of all kinds, but mostly skateboarding ones. Those old issues were so magical to me, and over the past five years since I’ve been offering prints that appeared in those magazines, many people have shared that they feel the same way. Archiving my work, especially the 90s stuff from SF and LA, and offering prints has been amazing. People have shared stories about how they had a certain page torn out of a magazine on their wall, locker, etc. Finding photographs amongst my film has been incredible as well, because the images that were passed over 20 years ago are now gold. Making something tangible to look at bigger than a phone screen, especially images that bring up memories of growing up skating is very rewarding for me.—Mike Blabac
Interview by Blair Alley
When and why did you start selling prints?
I started offering prints for sale after Grant Brittain nudged me a bit about five years ago. It took a little convincing… I was always like, “You have such an incredible archive,” and I never thought of my work like that, mainly because of the simple fact that most of it all seems like it was yesterday. I was lucky to have been around amazing skateboarders doing what turned out to be timeless stuff during the 90s the same way I saw Grant’s work from the 80s (although all of Grant’s photos are amazing). I’m still discovering and scanning stuff amongst my archive to add to my shop.
What have been your best selling prints and why do you think they are?
The best selling prints have been a lot of Kalis photographs he and I have shot together over the years (360 flip and noseblunt slide at Love Park, pushing on the Bay Bridge, etc), Koston’s Hubba backside noseblunt slide, plus stuff of Stevie, Cardiel, Gino, etc. It’s because of what each of those individuals have done over their career obviously. Take Josh for example, he’s never wavered from being a skate rat for nearly 30 years. In addition to that, he’s been a major part of so many skate scenes like SF in the 90s, Love, Chicago, etc. All of those guys have all had amazing careers. It also has to do with when and where it ran (in print). Eric’s Hubba Hideout photo was on the cover of the 1998 Transworld Photo Annual which was an amazing issue of the magazine, so people who had that issue can now have a big print of it to properly frame instead of taping it to their walls. The magazines are what make these images so special.
What’s the connection with a lot of your prints and Transworld?
Thankfully I’ve had a lot of photos in TWS including covers ever since 1994. The coolest part about it all is how many people have approached me over the years referencing the photos in the mags. Scott Johnston’s backside Smith with the parking meter in SF is a great example. That one was a full page in a 1996 photo annual, and I still get hit up for it 24 years later. The covers have obviously stood out, but the interesting thing is that regardless of how big, or where a photo ran, people will still reference it. I have a black and white Drake Jones backside flip photo that ran only as a half page in 96, but I’ve made a lot of prints of that one. People DM me screen shots all the time out of old mags asking if I have a scan of a particular photo.
You’ve said old photos like baseball cards, because of the context of who’s in them, the time they were shot, what’s happened to the person in the photo over the years since the photo was taken, and more.
I’ve always said that photographs are like baseball cards because the value of them changes over time. You can have a lot of them, but that one rookie card is now awesome because of that person’s career. Photos are exactly the same. The number one factor is obviously the skater, but a lot of other things contribute to it as well such as the spot, the gear someone was wearing, etc. The Kalis 360 flip is a great example of that because number one, it’s Josh Kalis, but he’s also skating Love Park wearing sweatpants in his first signature DC Shoe, so there’s a lot to remember about one image. DC put that photo everywhere which has helped. There were ads, thousands of posters, etc. It’s all fascinating for me. Take photos of musicians for example, you could have the dopest photo ever of Smash Mouth, or an old disposable camera snapshot of Bowie—I’m pretty sure you’d choose the latter!
“You could have the dopest photo ever of Smash Mouth, or an old disposable camera snapshot of Bowie—I’m pretty sure you’d choose the latter!”
Why is finding a photo that you discarded or overlooked decades ago all of a sudden interesting today?
Because certain photographs age very well, even if they were shot “just for fun” back in the day. Fortunately I’ve always been a camera nerd, so I was always bugging people around me to test out a particular film, a new piece of camera gear, etc, so those warm up photos at the time are now looked at very differently. The Gino kickflip photo is a great example. That was shot the same day as Mike Carroll’s backside Smith at the Dome ledges. At the time, the Carroll photo was used for a Girl ad. Gino’s photo was “just a kickflip,” but now any photograph of Gino is gold because of how timeless his skating is. Stevie Williams’ “Haymaker” photograph in LA from 2000 was out of a sequence we shot of him together for a trick tip I believe. It was never used, but I recently came across the roll in a container among my old film, and saw that still when I held the negatives up to the light. I’m thankful I kept literally almost everything I’ve ever shot. I’m still finding stuff, and probably will be for a long time. I have a lot of baseball cards—ha!
Why are the incidentals and random photos that were never used by magazines so special now looking back?
I believe that incidentals and random photos are so special because they capture a unique moment that we all didn’t always capture, or get a chance to see because there wasn’t Instagram 25 years ago, and the space in the magazine was mostly reserved for the best skate photos. Incidental photos bring you right back to that time, even if it was decades ago. I certainly wish I had shot more, especially more portraits like ones of Drake Jones and Jamie Thomas. The photograph of the Menace Crew at Lockwood was literally at the end of the roll of Mike Carroll trying something there that day. I found it while digging through film while making my book in 2009. The Love Park Crew was the same thing, there were just a lot of people at Love that day. It wasn’t planned out, but it’s so cool to look back on 21 years later.