chrome ball interview #54: ryan gee

I couldn't decide on doing a guest post or an interview with the legendary East Coast photographer...

so we did both.
Everything about this photo is NYC/NJ from the late 80's/early 90's. I grew up skating during the SHUT-era and it was some of my favorite times. Billy Waldman's gear in this photo is classic. The helmet over the hat, xxxl Shut tee, Vision Street Wear kicks and Shut shark board. And his front leg flick is great!

The Brooklyn Banks in its best years. Sean Sheffey's ollie to pivot is so epic. Check the dude in the background looking back while piss peddling! 

This is one of the photos that got my psyched on becoming a skate photographer. It's simple and yet so stylish. Always loved the long exposure dusk look in this image.

I wish I had a poster of this! The one foot is so kicked out. A time when no one really gave a shit how they looked when skateboarding. His shoes are so beat up, it's great!

Not sure how many people knew of Brian Blake. He grew up a few towns over from me in NJ and his talent was way in head of its time. Brian was sponsored by SHUT and mostly made his mark in NYC. This photo always got my stoked for some odd reason... I remember if you look closely, he has a soccer shin pad dug into the side of his shoe. Regardless, I think if he would've continued skating, I'd guarantee you he would've been on of the top in the industry. 

Last time I saw him, he was snowboarding with crazy long dreads in 1993.  

Lance Dawes capturing an amazing hill bomb of Ricky in SF. This photo is one of a kind. Very eerie looking.

In skate photos, I'm a sucker for grey skies with a cold urban look to it. This one of Quim is perfect! Crazy switch ollie tweak with subtle graffiti sprawled across rusted store gates.

I didn't want to pick any of my photos to caption on but when I came across this Wenning shot, I had too. The reason for this angle was because there were over 50 skaters in the way of the shot. I figured by climbing up the LOVE sign and shooting down, I'd eliminate the majority of people. The end results were more than overwhelming. 

TWS only photoshopped out Fat Bill and Frankie to give it a cleaner look.

I was so blown away at the time by how it was possible to get 6 images of Jeremy in one frame. Spike Jonze photos were always one step further in creativity than others.

Can never go wrong with a Hosoi Rocket air. This one I like in particular because it's just a straight-up backyard vert session. The ramp is basically bigger than the neighbors house!

Always liked how Ed is centered in this shot. Looks as if Spike had his camera on the top step and Ed snapped a backside heel over it.

I don't think I've ever seen a bad Lenny Kirk photo. What's great about this one is how tucked down he is while squeezing past the tree. Look how his arms are! Kung Fu style!

This photo of Cardiel is amazing! Look how gnarly this rail is! And I always liked how Gabe captured this with dark shadow in front. It looks like the sun just happened to squeeze some light through a building to make this image work. Perfect timing to say the least.

I was lucky enough to see this go down in person. Almost 20 years ago! Danny is a legend.

Growing up, everyone had their favorite photographers that inspired them in some way or another. For me, it was Grant, Spike, Traub, Tobin, Morford, Dawes and Sturt. When it came to Sturt, his photos were always mysterious looking. Everything he captured had a look I'd never really seen before. And the tricks he shot were always gnarly! Some of the stories I've heard as to what he's had to do in order to get these shots were too mind-blowing to believe. Below are a collection of my favorites shot by him. 

No captions necessary.



Alright, Gee. Gotta ask you about the current state of street skating as your career was a solid-product of that golden-era of marquee East Coast skate spots... I could go into a list but it actually becomes somewhat depressing as they're basically all gone. Fast forward to 2013, is real street skating dead? How do think the rise of the TFs and skateparks will affect the aesthetic of skateboarding? While it’s true that you’ll never get kicked out, there’s obviously a different vibe going on in the resulting photo/footy at a park. Is it less fun/interesting for the photographer to shoot in a controlled environment like that?

I don't think real street skating will ever be dead although it has changed a lot. 10-15 years ago you could skate almost anywhere. After 9-11 and the growth of popularity in skateboarding, it has become a serious bust in downtown areas. I guess it's same with spots in the outskirts as well. To offset some of those problems, I do believe TF's are great for certain things. You do need to learn and progress, the streets really don't provide that anymore without a hassle.

I do think what the Berrics is doing is great. I know some may disagree, but it's 2013. Gotta supply the kids with some great content from the Pro's and that site really keeps you up to date with cool video segments.

One problem that may already be happening is that kids will grow up with only that and not expand their skating to the streets. Some may think putting out a video part at a park will get them sponsored.

But to answer your question about photography in parks, I think it's boring if you don't put much effort into it. Those Transworld "Skate and Create' photo/video contests in the warehouses are very clever. 

True, and at the same time, as a photog in a sketchy environment, you have plenty more to lose with thousands of dollars in equipment. What was the sketchiest/scariest situation you ever got yourself into shooting… like you just knew something bad was gonna happen. Anybody ever try to steal your shit? 

Very true, but I never really worried about it. If you have tons of expensive camera gear, you should have insurance on it. I've had small encounters way back but nothing crazy. The majority of time when we'd be shooting in sketchy areas, there would be a group of us skating. Never a 2-man crew in North or West Philly... unless you're with Ricky Oyola sometimes. Those places are war zones! Skateboard photography can be gnarly at times. 

Speaking of war zones, what’s the grimiest thing you ever saw go down at Love Park. Kalis brought up seeing bums humping the ground there. But I have to imagine with your long history there, you’ve must've seen it all.

Haha, yeah, I've seen a lot of craze at Love. Bums would get sexual in the bushes, dudes shooting up heroin... and then the fights. The fights were always entertaining. But the most ridiculous thing would actually be when the cops would drive their cop trucks into the park. The trucks would always crack a bunch of the marble tiles that I'm sure was probably blamed on us in the long run. They'd almost get stuck in there!  

I actually filmed the chaos but unfortunately have no clue where the footage is. "Fat Bill" aka Bill Strobeck may have it.

You basically chronicled the history of that spot for years, man. So much of what we know that went down at Love is via your photos. Have to wonder what sticks out in your mind as the gnarliest thing you saw get taken down the Love Gap?

I'd say that at first, it was the Kerry Getz kickflip down the gap. That was shot and filmed in late 1996 and it was way in head of its time. Prior to that, only ollies were made down it. I think Maldonado actually came close to a kickflip a few years earlier but snapped his board. But I think Kerry really set it off for everything else. 

Later on, it would have to be Chris Cole's backside 360. I remember shooting that during Christmas time and it was such a mission for him just to get a clear line for the run up because there were so many tourists getting in his way. But he made it pretty quickly. 

It's funny because a few days later, he wanted to go and do it again. From what I heard, Jamie Thomas wanted to get a better long lens shot of him doing it. So the following week, he went back and did it 3 more times until he landed it perfect. Cole is a machine! 

Starting with a Ron Knigge Pro Spotlight and then coming up in that legendary Underachievers-era, was there a strong sense of East Coast pride in what you were doing? Did you ever think about moving out west in order to “make a career” at any point or were you too aware of that strong crop of young NY/NJ/PA rippers coming up?

I guess the East Coat pride just comes naturally. I grew up in North NJ right outside of NYC and then finally migrated to Philly when I was 20. Those areas were my homebase and I never felt a reason to leave. Moving to Cali never crossed my mind. I mean why move to an area where there are 20 photographers for every 5 pro skaters? That didn't make sense to me. I was making good enough money here. Although I do like visiting Cali, it just wasn't a place I wanted to live permanently at the time. Right now, I'm still in Philly and I have a son on the way so if a good opportunity arises out there, I'm sure I can convince my wife for a move. Gotta do it for the kids! (laughs)

Was it difficult getting the West Coast mags to publish photos of East Coast kids doing wallrides with 60mm wheels in the mid-90s? Was there much resistance to this other, different form of skating that was going down?

The pole jam and wallride photos always seemed tough to get published. After Underachievers, I think the magazines were more accepting to those tricks... but I could be wrong, though. But I'll never forget shooting Freddy on his AWS long board with 65+mm wheels. 50-50 180 on the Drexel bar was awesome! I liked those times. 

Young readers: watch Jerry Fisher's small section in Eastern Exposure 3 here. You'll know what I'm talking about.

Most slept-on East Coast ripper? Who’s someone that you really thought was going to blow doors but, for whatever reason, didn’t get the props they deserved? Geography can be a bitch.

Right now, it's Kyle Nicholson. He is so good! But in the past, I would say Eric Ruwadi. I saw him skate here and there and his style was awesome. He had the pop shuv-it 50-50 on that rail in City Hall that was in the Sub Zero video. Not sure what happen after. Some amazing talents tend to stray away. R.I.P.

I love this shot of Ricky's window wallride but also always wondered how the hell you got it? Is that a hospital or something?

That was an old marble bank-to-window spot on Walnut Street. Ricky and I went there to either film or shoot a wallride on it from the outside. If I remember correctly, we somehow figured out that the door was broken and didn't lock shut. I ended up going inside the lobby to see if it was possible to shoot and I could. Luckily, we managed to get what we need without any problems.  

To this day, it's one of my favorite photos I've ever taken.

And what about this one? So classic. When he landed, did shockwaves radiate throughout the Earth? Raw power.

We shot this right after Welcome To Hell came out. I believe we were skating in the area and I asked him to shoot a photo of it since at the time, it was only filmed. I knew a still of him going over it would look insane and soon enough, Maldonado barged right over it with ease! So mind-blowing.

Incredible. Give us your best Fred Gall story.

Oh man, there's a lot and I seriously couldn't tell you many of them for this interview. Computers would probably start exploding! 

But besides the crazy stuff, Fred is just always down to shred. He's always really fun to shoot with. I remember the first time I shot a photo of him was in 1994 after the Sub Zero contest at Love. We went down the street to these high marble ledges. He was getting right into switch crooked grinds with ease and no one was doing them at the time like he was. 

Almost on the flipside of that, what's the craziest thing you ever saw Bam do?

There's so much with him, too! 

I think the one that comes to mind right now is him jumping off the Szechenyi Lanchid Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary. I actually shot a sequence of him jumping off it and I believe there's a still from it in an older Skateboard Mag interview. We didn't know if he was going to get swept away by the river current or just hit the bottom and get stuck in muck. It was nail-biting at the time.

You figured quite prominently in those early CKY videos and later with Jackass. Was it a trip to see Bam and all that blow up like it did? All of a sudden, your friend is famous! To what extent were you in the mix with all of that while shooting skate photos at the same time?

The whole popularity of Bam blowing up came in different spurts. We filmed a lot of those skits over the course from 1995 through 2000 which becames the series of CKY videos. I think I got used to it as time went on. I mean I was there from the beginning. I remember being in LA on a skate trip in 2000 and going to meetings with Bam, Jeff Tremaine and PJ (Johnny Knoxville) where they were talked about starting Jackass. Soon afterwards, I was contributing footage for the series and it became a big hit. Then Bam got his own show on MTV called Viva La Bam and I did work on that first season while juggling skateboard photography at the same time.

Eventually, I went back and concentrated 100% on skateboarding. This was also when I was going to Barcelona a lot with the DC, Habitat and Alien Workshop guys. That stuff was really hard to pass up. 

But to answer your last question, I always liked to be behind the lens with the Jackass stuff... even though during the last movie, I got a mild concussion for a few days after getting punched in the head. Getting caught in the mix can be chaotic at times.

Speaking of that whole Alien/DC-era of Philadelphia, how would you characterize the transition of the mid-90’s Oyola-era of Love to the late 90’s/early 00’s Kalis and Stevie era? From 60mm wheels and dreads to teched out parachute pants and Photosynthesis. Was it strange to see such a big transformation in the City over the span of only a couple of years?

The big wheel era did fade down a bit but basically there were so many people to shoot with at the time, the differences didn't seem so drastic. In the end, there was your Ricky crew and then your Kalis crew at Love. I always loved switching it up from Love Park to some obscure Ricky obstacles in North Philly. 

Did you ever feel caught in the middle between those guys? Did you ever get hated on by one for hanging out with the other or was it understood? 

I've gotten some disgruntled attitudes and phone calls if I wasn't able to be on a shoot due to other commitments. Its just the way it is sometimes. I actually heard it a lot from Bam (laughs). He was always on FDR missions and 80% of the time, they would coincide with some other shoot I was doing in Center City. But we all got through it in the end.

Were you ever around to see Ricky destroy obstacles so the others couldn't skate them? What did you think of that?   

I've seen some of the Ricky obstacles he's built and destroyed. He was very protective of what he took time to build and worked hard for. It may have sucked for others but thats the way it was.

What do you feel were some of the best moments from each of those eras (Underachievers and Photosynthesis) and which era do you prefer?

Man, those two eras were so awesome to be a part of but I'm gotta say the Underachievers era was my favorite between the two. The whole experience of filming and shooting alongside Dan Wolfe for Eastern Exposure 3 was great. Times were different then, the 90's had so much flavor.

But filming and shooting with the whole crew during the Photosynthesis-era was great, too. Especially when Wenning and Pappalardo broke onto the scene. The AWS/Habitat filming trips to Miami during that 2000-2002 timeframe was definitely a highlight.

Favorite photo or footage you shot that has never been seen? Any unreleased Matt Reason goodies?

Koston's noseslide on the City Hall curved rail back in 2002. Not sure why that never got ran.

I know Thrasher ran an O'Dell sequence.  

I remember I also had a sequence of Koston doing a backside tailslide to backside flip out on a long wooden rail. The footage is in some video I can't remember now.

Yeah Right.
Ok. But as for unseen Reason footy? I have some on the old HI-8 tapes. When I did the interview for Shoot All Skaters last year, I remember seeing tons of old Reason footy. Chris Mulhern, the guy who did the segment, digitized a bunch of the tapes. I gotta get the Quicktime footage from him when I can. Nostalgia at its best.

You gotta put that out there! Or at least send it to me! So what are your thoughts on the possibility of a Chomp On This 2?

Oh man... My knees are pretty tweaked out now from jumping dirt bikes and ATV's. If it ever happens, I'd probably just end up shredding a curb and a mini ramp. Chomp was a great time but it was filmed 12-13 years ago. My bones don't agree with me these days.

Best advice for up-and-coming photographers? Most common mistakes?

Shoot for the fun of it, have patience and be original. You also don't need the best equipment to make a great photo. 

Most mistakes I see are with lighting, flash duration, motion blurs, out of focus, exposure and timing. But heck, I had those problems, too. Grant and Swift pointed out my flaws when submitting pictures in the early days. It's all trial-and-error. Learn from your mistakes and practice. Fine tune.

Can't thank you enough for doing all this, Gee. Last question: if you could pick any three dudes to shoot in a session together, who would they be and where would they be skating?

Can a Bam, Kerry and Maldonado reunion count? That crew skating the old flat rail in Lehigh University were great times.

Nostalgia at its best. Thanks again for everything, Ryan. 



chops said...

I'd like to thank Ryan again for taking the time.

Chrome Ball will return on Monday, Feb 11th.

Thanks everybody.

jeff thorburn said...

This for this, Gee and Chops. Really enjoyable to hear the words from a guy that shot such influential stuff.

dflip said...

After seeing Gee comment on your last post I thought "He needs to interview him". I should of know... Great stuff guys!

Keith said...

Cool to hear these stories from that great era from someone on the other side of the lens.

And rocket air!

Brendan said...

Right on,Keith-Hosoi was doing a Rocket air,not a Christ air.
Awesome post,once again Chops.

Unknown said...

I was a little grom during the Photosynthesis days, but I remember seeing alot of those tricks go down in person. Gee and Fat Bill were always steering the ship. I've always been a fan. Is Gee still shooting skate photography? I haven't seen anything for a while. If not, what is he shooting these days?

Dave said...

I echo Sean's comment - wonder what Gee is up to these days. He stays fairly active on instagram.

Cool to hear from the man behind the lens. I loved the photosynthesis philly era, and I always thought that Gee seemed to be a pretty integral part of it all. So cool.

Thanks Chops and Gee.

mdspb said...

Brian Blake!!

Anonymous said...

koston's back tail flip out was in Yeah Right, not Menikmati.

But other than that, rad interview!

chops said...

Right on the Rocket Air and Yeah Right counts. -1 for Gee and -2 for me. Changed now.

I also added a link to Gee's website to see what he's up to nowadays.

Thanks guys!

Nash Villetenn said...

Awesome post. One of my favorite Incidents ever.

White Ninja said...

chops. this is awesome. Made my day. you have had an amazing run.

Lari said...

Great post, loved all the photos and old stories.

Unknown said...

This blog post could've been titled: " a collection of the greatest skate photos ever" Lennie Kirk, Quim Cardona, and Ricky Oyola make up a large portion of a short list of skaters that keep this activity firmly in the realm of art as well as sport....

This post was only missing Anthony Correa to be a whose who of Style legends.

Gee and Dan Wolfe (with a head nod to Reda) are responsible for producing everything I love about skating and the material that kept me going as a young skate rat

the_notorious_bif said...

Great post Chops.
I've been bugging Atiba, Ako and FuckFace (Lee Dupont) to start filming "Chomp On That" (my title suggestion for "Chomp On This 2") for the past two years and they keep saying its in the pipeline, but that's what the said about the Chomp DVD and we're still waiting on it (look at the Chomp slip case, fold out the top flap and you'll see a hidden note saying "coming soon to DVD").

The Chez said...

Funny but I still get blown away by multiple pictures in one like the Klein picture. I remember back in the day spending some serious time trying to figure that out.
Great interview/collaboration on this post!

Ravello said...

koston's nose slide on the curved rail is in yeah right as well