Joe Brook is one of the most popular photographers in the West Coast skate scene, shooting for magazines like Trasher, Juxtapoz, Rolling Stone, and different outlets such as PDN and Kodak. Having previous experience with an old Petzval lens mounted on a 4×5 camera, it was but natural for him to try the new one. Brook talks about finding himself, his work, and shooting with the Lomograhy Petzval Lens in this exclusive interview.
Name: Joe Brook
Location: San Francisco,CA
Camera: Nikon D4
Please introduce yourself.
I was born in Detroit and bounced around the Detroit Metro area with my family. After I graduated from high school, I decided I needed to leave the Midwest and try to figure out life. I knew I loved riding my skateboard and San Francisco was a mecca for skateboarding, so I moved to SF with a duffel bag and a few hundred dollars. I figured out there’s no free lunches, you need to work to survive!
How did you got involved in skate photography?
I was working a part time job and skateboarding a lot. I hurt myself and got depressed because I couldn’t skate. A girl that I was dating at the time told me I need to find some thing else to do with my time, so I went to City College of San Francisco and took a bunch of random classes such as a beginner B/W photo class. I was hooked from day one. I loved developing and printing. All my friends were amateur or pro skaters, so I would tag along and shoot action, portrait and lifestyle shots. A few of my friends, that were the best skate photographers, took me under their wing and gave me tips. They told me I needed to get closer when shooting, my photos were out of focus and about flash durations. Their honest brutality made me hone my photo skills.
You’ve used different formats for your photos. What do you think about the Petzval Lens?
I use an old Petzval lens on my 4×5 camera. I travel a lot and it’s hard to carry a 4×5 as it slows you down in a lot of situations and it’s hard to be spontaneous. So the Lomo Petzval makes it easier to get the results I want in an 85mm lens on the go. So I love it!
What does this lens add to your aesthetic?
I saw that you guys were making a Petzval lens at Lomography and I was counting down the days till I received mine in the mail. The Petzval gives you a dream-like quality. I was messing around with the distance from subject to background to see the effects of the bokeh. The lens really surprises me what it can produce. I shoot it wide open mostly. It has a look of it’s own.
You seem to always tell a story behind your pictures. What’s the story behind the Petzval series?
I was getting acquainted with the Petzval, so I shot what was around me. My dog, skaters,and my van Big Blue. It’s basically a slice of my everyday life.
Which one is your favorite shot from the series?
It’s my dog Hazel, the light, shadow, just the the look of the photo from the Petzval lens. I don’t have another lens in my camera bag that can recreate that look I love it. I did next to no photoshop on it.
What’s it like working for Thrasher, one of the most respected skate magazines? Do you ever feel the pressure?
It’s an honor to work for Thrasher. High Speed Productions is the publisher and I work for all the titles under High Speed, so Juxtapoz as well. I grew up reading Thrasher in the late 80s and it never crossed my mind that I would be working for them. It’s family-owned and they have the deepest roots in skateboarding history. I love my job!!! The only pressure of my job is sometimes skaters do their tricks one time only because they can get hurt, so you have to be as good as they are behind the lens. You don’t want to miss the shot! So that gets stressful.
A lot of people out there photograph guys on skateboards. What makes your work unique?
We get to create our own content. For instance, we get a bunch of skaters together and pick a spot to travel to anywhere in the world and shoot an article. We shoot things the way we want them to look. We get a lot of freedom of expression in our photos and words, which is amazing for a photographer.
What’s does the future look like for Joe Brook?
Enjoy my family and keep shooting and traveling, and put my Petzval to use every day!