The photographic world of the skate legend

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As a professional skater (among many other pursuits), Jason Dill has certainly seen his fair share of incredible sights from all walks of life. With a searing new monograph of his photography titled Prince Street, we too can get a glimpse of some of these sites. In this FRONTPAGE interview, Dill takes us through the creation of his new intimate project.

For the outside world, Jason Dill does a lot. Collages, photographs, clothing, graphics, paintings, cop cars hanging upside down, the list goes on. And as a professional skateboarder, he’s been involved in several video projects, including his iconic role in Alien Workshop’s Photosynthesis (2000). You could call him prolific, but as he tells me himself, 60% of his time is spent mid to mid, thinking about what to do next.

Now “next” for Dill is a hardcover photography monograph titled Prince Street (Photos from Africa, Memories of People, Forgotten Places)releasing online and in stores on April 20. On 250 pages, Prince Street is a massive visual archive documenting decades of his personal photography. Interestingly, the skateboard is deliberately omitted, making the book a visual journal of his travels and experiences, showcasing his talent for illuminating the slice of intrigue found in the mundane. Alternating between black and white, color, point-and-shoot and standard 35MM cameras, Prince StreetThe narrative of isn’t linear or even chronological, but rather a thoughtful juxtaposition of moments that stay connected, no matter how subtle or forceful the imagery.

We spoke to Dill about his process and the input Prince Street live:

Growing up watching skaters like you do new things in videos and photos… seeing how you all stay creative gives me the same feeling, you know what I mean?

Thanks. Honestly i feel so lazy and lethargic and stupid and immature and stupid but when it comes to the things i do 60% of it is just me staring at the wall trying to think about what he should be done next.

You work with so many different mediums, what sparked you to make a book with your photography?

In the early 1990s, I started traveling to skateboard. I turned pro in 94 and went to New York, Tokyo, London, Paris and all over America. And I started taking pictures, like you do, just to take pictures. It’s that simple. And I continued to do so, never with the intention of making a book – and certainly not making one of this size. It’s a big, big book – but I did it. I just went to a lot of places and kept taking pictures, and I never took it seriously.

I had done zines and other smaller books, so I had done a few things before. When I asked people to look at my photos whose opinions I respect, they said that was good and maybe I should make a book out of it. My negatives were in a mess, just in shoeboxes. I’m really surprised they’ve survived with all the moves I’ve done over the years. I lost a few negatives from Africa and others, but the ones I have were in very good condition.

How far back are the photos?

From 1997 to 2015.

And is it shot on different cameras or did you use one main medium?

All different cameras, but all films. There is no digital there. Not to take anything away from digital, I just didn’t do it that way. I’m very low-tech – the most technical thing I know how to do with a computer is use a scanner. That’s it. I can barely do Zoom meetings and shit.

Tell me about your outings in the late 90s and early 2000s in New York. It was like everyone had those disposable cameras you kept in a bodega. Were you into this?

Yeah, I started with disposable stuff around 1993 or 1994… I think they were new then. I didn’t use any in the book, but I love these. In 97 I borrowed a friend’s camera – there are some pictures in the book with this camera. I can’t even remember what fucking film I used, just black and white. It was a Nikon…the one we used in high school photography class, the super textbook. In fact, I took a high school photography class before dropping out at 17…and I passed. I’ve never taken art classes and I think it shows in my art. [laughs]

In the late 90’s I entered the Olympus with the sliding shield up front. I had one and it became a priority for me to bring it with me. And by priorities, I mean, my priorities were to go out every night, pass out, and take pictures. I did that for about ten years in New York. I’m not necessarily proud of it. I wasted a lot of fucking time, but we got a lot of fun pictures out of it.

I picked five images that I thought might be worth talking about if you’re feeling down. The first image I saw really stuck with me. It reminded me of a picture of William Eggleston. This is the second view of the ocean from a hotel with the two chairs and just the table and the cigarette.

Yes, and wine. Yeah, it’s a fucking imitation of William Eggleston. [laughs] I liked this room I was in. It’s in Durban, South Africa, which is a really wild place. It was obviously my imitation of the airplane photo of Eggleston with the drink and the window. You know, like you do.

Can you tell me about this shot in New York where there are people pushing this truck and there is a large crowd outside watching?

It’s Broadway and Canal. We lived a long time on Canal, above the Burger King. I loved what I saw outside my fire escape every day. Canal Street was so wild back then. It was just another afternoon, I guess. What I love about this picture is all the people helping out and then the old police cars. I love these old police cars, they remind me so much of that time. But one thing that I really liked about this photo is that every person is present when the shot is taken. There weren’t even really cell phones back then. I picked it up in 1999 or 1998, and the only cell phone anyone had was the Nokia brick. Nobody is taking pictures, it’s just human beings helping out – human beings observing a New York moment.

And this photo of the subway with the two people bent over?

I think this is my favorite picture I’ve ever taken. Not to sound corny, but to me it really sums up New York at that time. I would say this picture was taken in 2001. It’s young people from New York who are doing it. New York is so made for young people. It’s good for someone when they’re young to live there for a while. I think that just sums up a feeling. There are two sides to this – they obviously did everything they did that night to make it happen. They look so sorry, they just look so upset.

I used to take pictures in ways I would never do again. I was young. It’s an intrusion – I’ll totally admit it. There’s a photo in the book of a man kneeling with his head on the ground and a woman standing over him in Miami. I just saw her kick him in the face. I ran and took three pictures of them very quickly and ran away. I would never take pictures like that again. I talk about this in my intro to the book, I would feel so weird walking up and taking a picture of someone but obviously the two young people in the picture you are talking about had no idea. I’m not sorry about that, but being older and thinking, I think, “Wow! You were really going there. I never thought I’d post these photos. They just sat in shoeboxes. But you know? I really like this one though. There is a lot to be learned from these two children.

I like this self-portrait at the hotel. Can you talk about this one?

Yeah, it’s a motel in Los Angeles called the Beverly Laurel. When I came from New York, I stayed there. I took this picture in the mirror, and it’s Miles Davis on TV. My father went to prison when I was eight – that was kind of the last time I saw him. In 2005, I was going on a trip to California, and my girlfriend at the time thought it would be a good idea for me to get my hands on him. So I ended up calling her at the motel on the phone. I really liked staying at this motel. He is always there.

The last one I wanted to talk about was this photo of someone holding a mirror up to the sky above their face. It’s very surreal.

This is my friend Shawn in Brooklyn…probably 2005 or 2006. Yeah, just fucking with a mirror and hanging out. I love the look of clouds. It was the space between these two buildings in Greenpoint at the time. I always thought it was rubbish, but over the years people told me it was awesome.

Are there any other images you want to discuss or anything about the book, in general, that we can touch on?

Not really any specific images. We have modified thousands to what is in the book. Everything goes everywhere, there is no chronological order. There is color, there is black and white, there is disposable. I’ve never had a driver’s license so many of the photos I’ve taken are taken through the car window from the passenger seat.

I said something in the introduction to the book – I was really unsure when I was writing it – but I wasn’t trying to sound like a serious photographer. I did a photo job, which was to shoot the cover and inside of Earl’s album Sweatshirt Dory, and I’m very proud of it. At the end of the intro, I say, “The photos in this book are regret, nudity, sadness, and pure happiness.”

How did you choose the title?

I shot the cover in Johannesburg, it’s this young boy and I liked the way he held himself. He was in this truly royal position. The store behind it says “Prince Street”, and I lived on Prince Street in New York for a long time – 199 Prince. I had this apartment when I traveled to Africa. I stayed in Africa for three months, and it was a very positive development for my eyeballs, my mind, my spirit. Africa is an incredibly beautiful place and the people are extremely lively. So Prince Street over his head…shit, I’ll call the book Prince Street. I thought it summed up the subject of the book very well.

“Prince Street (Photos from Africa, People Remembered, Places Forgotten)” will be released Wednesday, April 20 at Fucking Awesome stores in New York and Los Angeles, and online. Limited copies will be available at select international specialty bookstores: Arcana Books on the Arts, Culver City; Printed Matter, New York; Well.

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