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Skin Phillips Reveals The Back Story Of His Famous Work

Posted by Neil Chester5 min read
Friday, March 08, 2019

One of the most exciting aspects of creating Parade was being able to invite and house the full spectrum of creativity that skateboarding nurtures. From bringing a skater like Heitor into the team, through to the many amazing people out there running skate shops or skate brands, big or small. There are many creative endeavours that skateboarding offers and entices, it could be artists, editors, filmmakers, musicians - you name it. It’s one of skateboarding's unique gifts to anyone that is willing to persevere with it, at some point, everyone will get a chance to embrace its creativity.  

One particular creative area that is vital to the ecosystem of skateboarding is photography. Without skateboard photography, it might still only be practised by a few surfers waiting for the waves to pick up again. Photography took skateboarding from California and into the four corners of the world. The early work of Craig Stecyk and Glenn E Friedman provided a lifeline and it was these images that shaped skateboarding in the eyes of the viewer.

To this day skateboarding breathes through the lens that many dedicated and hugely talented skateboard photographers create. They have helped to shape and form the rapid progression of skateboarding ever since the early years. No other sport or artform anywhere close to skateboarding has gone through such rapid change in a short time and it is these now legendary photographers that are partly responsible. The movement they collectively created and documented was also the catalyst for it to change and increasingly move forward.

Of the many incredible photographers that chose skateboarding as their medium of expression, often throwing in a lifetime of work, Skin Phillips ranks highly. Coming up in the early nineties, Skin was as best placed as anyone to break out of his home in Swansea, Wales and travel the world documenting this amazing period of skateboarding. Often referred as the ‘Golden Years’ the nineties not only saw vast progression through tricks and style, it was the era that skateboarding organised itself, creating the proper foundations for what we all now simply know as skateboarding. There’s a reason this period is constantly referenced and inspiration is drawn upon.

For thirty years, Skin has captured many iconic moments on celluloid that have helped create such rich skateboard history, which is becoming ever more important in a quick-glance digital world. With the slowing of print media, the thrill of looking at a physical photograph of something amazing is unfortunately slowly getting lost. We felt the timing was perfect to bring the work of Skin Phillips to Parade. Starting with these two defining moments in skateboarding, we will continue to offer Skin’s archive of work through exclusive, signed and numbered print runs.

To celebrate the release of his first two prints, we caught up with Skin to get the story behind the photograph of both Josh Kalis and Mark Gonzales.

Josh Kalis, 1995 in San Francisco. Backside 180. Shot by skateboard photographer Skin Phillips. As seen on the cover of Transworld Skateboard Magazine. Lots of good stories around this photo. One day I will dig out the Lennie Kirk photos I have from the same day - Skin Phillips

HOW DID YOU FIRST MEET JOSH KALIS AND THEN END UP SHOOTING THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE PHOTO IN SAN FRANCISCO?

That came about because of Pacific Drive. Everyone was just hanging out at the shop and I think Kalis was on Invisible at the time? Then Jamie put him on Toy Machine but he was always hanging out at the Alien Workshop house so that's how he then got on Alien Workshop after Toy. It was through Dyrdek, John Drake and Kelly Bird, those three lived in this one house and everyone would come through: Weiss, Lennie Kirk came through the Pacific Drive scene, which was meeting at the shop, go to Sierra, go downtown and just skate pretty much every day.

That was the scene in ‘94, Pacific Beach, San Diego, they had a really good, thriving little skateboard scene. And this was when skateboarding was pretty much dead as well.

So that's how I met a lot of skaters, from shooting Dyrdek and getting introduced to everyone, - Sal Barbier, Sean Sheffey, Ronnie Bertino - right when Second Hand Smoke came out, Pat Duffy was down there, it was a really good healthy scene. Then all the photos I was shooting of those guys were going into Transworld, but I didn’t really shoot with Kalis much, I shot his first DC ad, the 360 flip but I didn’t shoot a Spotlight or anything big with him, only a few things, but they came out good.

"I remember I was shitting myself because Lennie Kirk had a gun with him"

Then he moved to SF, so one day I met him up there at EMB and he said he had this photo that might be good. So myself, Josh and Lennie Kirk drove out to the Golden Gate bridge. I remember I was shitting myself because Lennie Kirk had a gun with him and he put the gun underneath the seat of my car, so I was driving through San Francisco with Josh Kalis, Lennie Kirk and his gun!

WHY DID HE HAVE A GUN WITH HIM?

I dunno, it was at the time when Lennie was gone, starting to turn into a rough hoodlum again. At the spot I remember Kalis ollied it first, Lennie was ollieing it too and I saw the bridge, but in a lot of the early photos, the bridge is close-up but then I moved further back with an 80-200mm lens, shot on Velvia with no extra light, pushed the film a stop so it’s got that nice different colour from the pushed film, the blues and the greens of the Velvia.

"When Grant saw it, he said straight away that it's a cover"

And then I didn’t really think much of what I got really, just another photo. It wasn’t until I went back to Transworld and showed them the photo, they were like oooff. When Grant saw it, he said straight away that it's a cover. Then when the cover came out they used an art-deco font for the logo, don’t know whether Ted Newsome did it by accident or not, but it’s an art-deco bridge, so with the art-deco font it ended up becoming a classic cover and one of the photos that I’m known for and one of the photos of Josh that has become iconic.

Mark Gonzales, Tunnel Ride, Monchengladbach, Germany. 1998. Photo taken by skateboard photographer Skin Phillips. The time was right and everything about it just worked, the whole surrealness about it made it such an iconic strange moment in skateboarding history - Skin Phillips

TELL US ABOUT THE MARK GONZALES PHOTO FROM THE ART SHOW HE HAD IN MOENCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY - SUCH A UNIQUE AND CRAZY SHOW?

It was funny because I was just at a recent ‘20 years on’ event in New York that adidas held and everyone said, it was weird then and it’s weird now and I think it will always be weird! It’s something that only Mark Gonzales could pull off, no one else could have done anything like this.

He had free reign from adidas to do something, it was his first year on adidas, I think he signed the contract in the summer and this was December, I remember it was freezing outside. When I got there I just remember it being really weird with all the layout, the tunnel, I didn't even know what the tunnel was for. I thought that was just a platform or something! It was all in the middle of a really high-end modern art museum so all the art pieces around him, the sculptures and paintings were really famous pieces of art and he was skating in between all this stuff, I think the curators were a bit worried about it all.

"I think it’s just another progression of Mark’s character and his career"

I didn’t know what it was really, was it art, was it skateboarding, a little mix of the two? He has the fencing and a medieval theme going on in the shows. There was more ballet in that last NYC one but they had a sense of performance, all dressed in white. Then we went out with Cheryl Dunn the next day on the streets, we had a day in Cologne, I always think of it as Sleeper or something, or Woody Allen, is it funny, is it art? To be honest I think whatever you think it is... it is. And it goes back to that old soul of skateboarding, he’s not even stood on the board in the tunnel photo, he’s laying down surfing through the tunnel. It was just one of those unique things, the time was right and everything about it just worked, the whole surrealness about it made it such an iconic strange moment in skateboarding history. And I think it’s just another progression of Mark’s character and his career. No one knew what he was going to do next and everything was all a little bit different. This was right when he got on Real Skateboards, just before the Real to Reel video, it was almost a lost and unappreciated time in his career.

Everyone looks back to him in Video Days, but that was eight years before so this was his kind of comeback as he was out of the loop for so long. We didn’t see much of from ‘91 until ’98.

Josh Kalis, 1995 by Skin Phillips. Skateboard photography available to buy on Paradeworld.com

Buy Josh Kalis, 1995 by Skin Phillips

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Mark Gonzales, 1998 by Skin Phillips. Skateboard photography available to buy on Paradeworld.com

Buy Mark Gonzales, 1998 by Skin Phillips

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