In this interview, we learn more about Ying and his new magazine, and present a photo essay of his New York work.
GG—How’d your love of skateboarding and photography come together? AY—I started skateboarding in 1994, when I was 11. There was a lot of freedom in an unorganized activity, just going skating with friends, doing whatever we felt like. When I was 16 I slightly fractured my fibula. I couldn’t skate for a few months, and started taking pictures on my friend’s 35mm point-and-shoot and slr cameras. Around the same time I started paying more attention to the videos, and the stories and photography in magazines. At the time there were really amazing and inspiring projects going on in the skateboard industry. There was a little golden era heyday of independence and creativity before it got really commercial. That era really sucked me into the whole world. At the time I didn’t realize all of that, though. I just thought, this is cool, this is fun, just hanging out, exploring the city.
What’s been your path to Williamsburg, Brooklyn? I was born in Raleigh, NC. I grew up in White Plains, NY, since I was two. When I was in high school, [my friends and I] would take Metro North into Manhattan and skate downtown all day, and midtown at night. After high school I moved to FIT in Manhattan, and studied photography and communication design. I moved to the Southside of Williamsburg starting 2006, not really knowing anything about the area, just that it was affordable, and convenient to get to our meetup spots to go skate, KCDC skate shop, Autumn skate shop or Tompkins Square Park.
Why downtown all day, and midtown at night? It was mostly on the weekends. Downtown by day and midtown by night used to be somewhat of a regular routine for a lot of skateboarders at the time. Downtown was kind of a big mecca, with the Brooklyn banks under the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, and the whole financial district. Then at night, midtown, at least partially because we’d have to go to Grand Central to get on the Metro North back to White Plains. And it’s really well lit and relatively empty at night.
What is it about skateboarding that captures your interest? Well, on the surface, it can be really fun, and feel great to do. But there are many layers when you get into it, actually skateboarding, or photographing it. There’s the culture, the social aspect, the creativity, independent mindset, balancing struggle and control, and just the magic of what’s physically happening. It can be hard to define or summarize, and it’s probably better not to, and just go with the feel of it.
Why’d you decide to start 43 magazine? There are too many reasons. Every aspect of 43 is a reason, the quality, look, feel, presentation, attention to detail, photography, talented skateboarders and artists, it’s all well questioned, and stripped down to the essential principles. There’s a huge void for something different, and it’s really time someone did something about it, especially in the US where skateboarding has grown and changed so much. Skateboarding deserves better, and 43 aims to inspire some changes. If you get a chance to check out the magazine, whether it’s the video on the fundraiser page, the 1st issue, or the premiere launch gallery show, I’d say it becomes pretty clear.
What are the differences between East Coast and West Coast? Well, there’s about 3,000 miles, and one or two hundred years in age. The climates are different, the landscapes, infrastructures, etc. To me, all of these things affect the people, the skateboarding, and everything. There are differences, and there are similarities, but I don’t like to compare factors that can’t be changed or chosen. They have an influence, but I’d prefer them not to dictate, or be an excuse, for one’s approach in life.
What’s the power in skateboarding for you? Skateboarding encourages the questioning of authority, challenging the status quo, and an exploration of free alternative thinking. Lately I’ve been questioning so many paradigms of society, and the authenticity of anything with huge monetary profits. Things like mass food production, the political system, the corporate finance world, mainstream entertainment, and the medical industry.
Is it a competitive sport in the streets? Is there a goal with skating? There are so many approaches to skateboarding. For some it’s a craft, whether it’s doing something that hasn’t physically been done, or coming up with something that hasn’t been thought of. The spectrum ranges from things like building and skating massive ramps to exploring existing infrastructure, with a lot in between, and a lot of crossover. It can also be recreation, whether it’s cruising around the streets, or at skateparks, learning moves, or not.
Some approach skateboarding as a commercial venture, doing it because they want to make a living, or get rich, or famous. To me that changes the entire process, and while the end result might look similar on the outside, it’s not the same.
Which skateboarders are your favorite to photograph? My favorite skateboarders are the ones that do treat it as their craft. They’ve developed a personal style, a conscious mind, and have a good feeling for what they want to do, where they want to skate, and are physically capable of amazing skateboarding. There are also skaters that are very physically capable, but go more with a feeling than a cognitive process, and enjoy it so much they can spontaneously do some of the most amazing things. I grew up skating around city streets, so I feel more of a connection to photographing similar skateboarding, but I’m also blown away by other skateboarding, like in empty backyard swimming pools.
How do you go about photographing skateboarders? A lot of people think skateboard photography is trying to randomly capture random kids that skateboard. It’s a bit more of a group effort. The order of these steps changes, but we meet up, make a plan, go skating, come up with somewhere to go, something to try, and end up with a sort of guerilla style location photo or video shoot. Sometimes there’s location scouting done in advance, though we don’t call it that. It can still be pretty spontaneous, but it’s not as completely random as people just skating around a given area. Once somebody is doing something that stands out, it takes them some time, and the camera guys get a few opportunities to capture it best. We do have to work within other time constraints and factors, but it’s not like you need a fast digital camera, or to shoot really fast like basketball or something. My favorite camera is a manual analog Hasselblad.
What are your favorite shots of skating? To me the most valuable photos are of the best skateboarding, that also portray a feeling of what was going on, that add some context. It’s funny because, lately, I feel like a lot of skateboard photographers treat the skate photos as the commercial aspect, and the art is behind the scenes, with lifestyle photos, and portraits. Those are great too, but in my opinion, anyone can shoot photos like that, and everyone does.Everyone’s a photographer, inside and outside of skateboarding. But skateboarding is the climax of it all, it happens only for an instant, and being a skateboarder is a prerequisite to translating all of it to a single photograph. That challenge makes it special to me.