Today let’s spend some time with skateboarder and photographer Mathieu Claudon. He knows the best Parisian skate spots and even wrote a book chock-full of them. And guess what’s in his backpack? One of Lomography’s Art Lenses, the Petzval 85.
How did you get started on photography?
When the digital DSLR started to be affordable in fact. A bit less than 10 years ago. My good friend Jeff bought a Nikon D70, and he asked me to shoot him while he was skateboarding. The first photo was a good one. I was hooked. A few months later I bought my first digital reflex. I started to bring the camera with me session after session, splitting my time between skateboarding and shooting. And then I started to shoot more and skate less.
How about skateboarding?
In 1988, my parents moved. I found myself stuck in a small Normandy town where I didn’t know anyone. Lurking at the local library, I found my first Skateboard magazine, Noway. I discovered a brand-new world, a culture, and images. I fell in love almost immediately.
Why did you decide to mix photography and skateboarding?
It came naturally. In skateboarding there’s a lot of physical engagement. Growing older, with professional and family responsibilities, I wasn’t really allowed to hurt myself anymore. It could quickly become frustrating. But I was still in love with skateboarding and I couldn’t stop. Photography was a way to evolve in my passion, to bring it a new sense by coming back to the roots, in a way.
Why do you work exclusively in black and white?
My all-time favorites skateboarding pictures are in black and white. I love black and white. Simple pictures, with a lot of contrast, getting straight to the point. I feel it’s tougher. It was a way to gave a unity to my work.
Let’s talk about your book Paris, Skate in the City that you wrote with Etienne Bouet. How did this project start?
I met Etienne as he was finishing his first book Skateurs Ordinaires. His editor left him a few weeks away from the printing, so he searched for a new one to place his manuscript. He had a good contact at Eyrolles. The book didn’t fit in to their catalog, but they’d been trying to make a book about skateboarding. If Etienne returned with a project, they were ready to discuss it.
Etienne knew my photos, so he called me immediately. We needed to find an idea, a good one, something that hasn’t been made and can’t be redone. I wanted to make a book of skateboarding photos, but not especially for the skateboarders, not a sport photo book in fact. With all these elements in mind, everything was rather fast to set up. Paris—it was the main idea there. Our daily playground and the most touristic city of the world. We couldn’t go wrong.
Is the title a wink to:
A : Sex in the City
B : In the City by Chromatics
C : In the City by Joe Walsh
Answer:A. Guilty, your honor! In the title we needed “Paris” and “Skateboard,” something which could work in France as well as internationally. It started as a joke, but it worked, so we kept it.
“I love black and white. Simple pictures, with a lot of contrast, getting straight to the point. I feel it’s tougher.”
You make a cartography of Parisian skateboard spots while letting the reader meet unknown persons and skateboarding icons. Can you speak us a little more about this particular approach?
We wanted something in direct link with the city. To use the districts was an obvious way to go, just like featuring the local skateboarders. So we looked for what we could bring to give an international dimension to the work. I already had in stock portraits of American pros that I appreciate particularly. My friend journalist, Fabrice Le Mao, who lives in Los Angeles, made the interviews possible. That’s how we decided to place a portrait and a text between each chapter about these skateboarding legends and their interactions with Paris.
Raphaël Zarka, an artist who draws his inspiration from skateboarding, wrote the book introduction. Who approached who?
Raphaël is an old friend. We met a decade ago on a skateboard spot. When the question of the foreword settled, I immediately thought of him. We have the same vision of skateboarding and I knew that he would find the words to express the message I wanted to deliver.
And what is this message?
The fact that skateboarding is not a sport, even if from the past decade, sports majors have tried to buy our industry and to remodel and then control it.
Skateboarding is way more than that! A game, an art, a lifestyle. It’s almost impossible to label it. It’s the most individual collective activity. And it brought me to photography, but for others it’ll be video, music, drawing, architecture, working the wood, traveling, busines. No other “sport” arouses so much creativity, at least not in this scale.
You put our Petzval lens 85 on the test during your ride. What were your first impressions?
First of all, the object by itself is magnificent. It’s not everyday that you see an antique gold lens on a modern camera. It doesn’t go unnoticed, and it’s a great way to make new friends. People come to see you to know what it is and how it works. Then, in the handling, it’s gets a little more complex.
Can you tell us about what’s it like to use the lens?
The handling is a little bit destabilizing. I began by trying my auto focus! In portrait, no worries, the Petzval’s really made for that and you obtain interesting things immediately. All you need is to find a background with contrast, like trees for example. The rotating bokeh of the lens makes the rest.
For action pictures, it’s more complicated. First week, I tried to shoot with the settings I normally use. I like the big depths of field and, in general, I always go for openings between 1.4 and 2.8. So I began to use the small strip of 1:2.2 and the 1:2.8 hexagonal.
The range of neatness in these openings is very very short and it’s not really easy to capture subjects. Even with the sight of the D3s, which is very comfortable, I missed a lot of pictures. Then I tested the other strips provided and found a good compromise with the 1:4. There I began to get more shots with grain and blacks I like very much.
The depiction is very “argentic” and I like it very much!
What is your favorite photo from the series? Anything from it that has a story in particular? A small playlist which maybe could translate the theme of your series?
There’s no real “series” here. It’s just what I do as soon as we go skate with my buddies. A session gets organized, we start at a meeting point then search for spots. They skate and I try to document the actions with my pictures. So, I haven’t really a “playlist.” The first title, which occurs me, would be “Summer In The City” by Joe Cocker. Because all the shots were realized in August. And I love Paris particularly in this period of the year. It’s warm, the city seems to turn in slow motion, there’s less traffic in the subway and the girls are pretty!
Now that you tested our Petzval 85Lens, what would you want to shoot with it in particular, in the future?
Some portraits for sure, because I didn’t make enough and I would like to progress in this domain. This lens is a perfect tool for this. But also some skateboard actions because I haven’t exploited all its capacities yet.
Any advice or tricks for newbies who wish to give a skateboarding photography a try?
Not an easy as question. I think that to make good skateboarding photos it’s necessary to be a skateboarder. It’s the best way to understand the action and knowing what moment you need to immortalize. And at the same time it’s really important to be able to take enough so that it will be understandable to somebody who doesn’t skate. Instinctively we have to understand what takes place, where the subject comes from and where it goes. Beyond that, it’s all about the look and sensibility.
You’re working on a lot of things. You also manage a skateshop besides photography. Are these multiple activities complementary? If yes, why?
As I explained a little earlier, I always wanted to live off skateboarding. As soon as I was able to work, I got closer to this little industry and I had to occupy more or less all the possible positions there. The website Independent Skateshop is an extension of all of this.
My partner Silvère and I wanted to propose something that was lacking in France. A core skateshop that reflects our vision of what a real skateshop should be.
It’s far from being easy! The good part is that it leaves me some time to shoot photos. Everything is complementary and imbricated—the shop, the photos, the marketing operations which I can make for various brands. All this is part of skateboarding and of my life.
What other projects are you working on now?
Things moved a bit for me recently and the projects multiply! I’m working with Etienne on a new book project for next year, if we succeed in finding funds to finance it. Several brands have supported me over the years, in particular Stance and Brixton. I also recently signed an ambassador contract with Electric California.
The French brand Wasted has just contacted me so that we develop a capsule collection for the next spring/summer season. It’s a very exciting project where I should have a lot of freedom. It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to see your photos printed on clothes and I’m flattered that they thought of me! I also participated in a 52-minute TV documentary about skateboarding in Paris. It’ll be broadcast on the Voyage channel this mid October.
I’m open to any opportunities! We’re the sum of our experiences and I still have a lot to learn!
Have you photographers, artists, musicians and books that you would like us to discover?
Musically, I’m a huge punk rock fan and more particularly of Bad Religion. I’ve been following them since 1992; I have grown old with their music, learnt English from the lyrics written by Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz. Their music’s the soundtrack of my life.
In skateboarding photography, I particularly respect the work of Daniel Harold Sturt and J. Grant Brittain and of course Glen E. Friedman. Their pictures marked me for life and they inspire me on a daily basis.
Otherwise, I’m more interested in the things that I don’t manage to make, such as the work of Eric Lefort on nature and architecture or Stéphanie Di Domenico who does nudes and portraits. I love their pictures; their look is totally different from mine or from skateboarding photographers. I try to find inspiration in their works to bring something new in mine and obtain something more than another skateboard pics.