"Over the past nearly dozen years I have known and worked with him he has produced dozens of photos I count amongst my favorites which I've had to chance to put into print, I only wish I'd had 10 times that to use. His work often has a feeling to it that let's you know there's more than the who/what/where/when bases being covered, and it's that unnamable factor that makes all the difference. There's artistic vision behind those eyes, and as the digital tornado of endless amateur snapshots swirls denser and taller all around us, the men who craft their art with thought and execution in both mind and hand deserve more credit and recognition than ever. Carry the fire, Richard."
- Words by Mark Whiteley
- All photos by Richard Hart
All the photos that i saw of yours that you got published were all very interesting and stood out to me. But you were never a very prolific photographer in terms of heavy output . did you ever have the drive or desire to work as a staff photographer and have to deal with that constant need of image output or were you more content with shooting less; and how much was this due to laziness?!
A portion! Well..yeah I know, i know. That staff photographer thing just never happened. For whatever reason. Or it did briefly, but... But anyway, thanks. When I was shooting skate photos I was always conscious I wanted to the photo to be memorable…and when shooting long-lens, I was consciously trying to shoot a photo that could stand on its own even if there wasn’t a skateboarder in in it; something that was hopefully an arresting image... And as for the fisheye ones; I’d subscribe to the Lance Dawes technique where you were getting so close that you were even cropping stuff out- which is actually pretty hard to do- just to get some sort of immediacy involved in it...
I would just always try to shoot memorable skate photos and I still find it the biggest compliment if somebody, when they meet me, remembers a photo that I shot. I think there is a formula to skate photos and most people are just documenting a trick and that's it. Which is all well and good. But if you can shoot something and 10 years later you meet someone who tells you that they put your photo on their wall... that means a lot more to me than just knocking out 20 boring handrail ads that no one remembers. That means a lot...
What was rest of question?
Did you ever want to be in a magazine staff position?
Yeah I always wanted to, but I guess I never happened.
I don't know: a lot of skateboard photography is patience ….a lot of patience, and stamina too; as far as travelling is concerned. And I found that quit gruelling. And also having to deal with kids you didn’t necessarily want to deal with...
Begin a babysitter?
Yeah..being a babysitter I wasn't too into.
I am impressed that you always look through the viewfinder.
I think it shouldn't be left to chance. You should always be composing. I was always very conscious of that. Even through the fisheye.
You have to compose the shot and almost try to ignore the skater coming up. And trust your judgement. I feel like it's more of a craft than leaving it to blind luck.
And you're right. Who else in skate photography do you feel inspired by?
I suppose the first influence was Tim Leighton-Boyce, an English guy who was the editor and main photographer of R.A.D. magazine that i grew up reading in the 80's...i didn’t get the American mags because they were too expensive…but I’d study them carefully at the shop of course. But R.A.D. was the one i would pore over.
I suppose I probably have the some favourites though...Gaberman, Tobin, Lance... my friend Benjamin in France...
I see your long-lens stuff relating much more to photos outside of skating than what most people do with skating. Like Cartier Bresson, how he has things lined up geometrically and it almost seems happenstance but there were some where you can see that he found the angle and waited for it to be right.
And skating is the same but different because you have to find the angle and wait for the trick to be right... It's funny- I actually just bought the first photo book i've ever bought. I’ve been in photography books and I’ve accumulated some, but …funnily enough I was in a thriftshop and I bought a Cartier Bresson book. I always liked his photos.
It's weird though; I can‘t really list my favourite photographers outside of skating. I actually started shooting pictures because I was really into film. I would always watch a lot of films, still do. That’s why I starting shooting pictures: because it was the cheaper, easier way of shooting films. But it was essentially the same thing. So I can list a lot of favourite directors but not really photographers. I love Tarkovsky especially. Him and Robert Bresson and... well, lots of people...
But as far as composition goes.. yeah, I take a long time to compose things. A lot of looking before setting up. And that’s another thing, the skater can get frustrated if you take too long to set up. I suppose other people probably are really quick with doing it. So I’ve probably annoyed a few skaters in my time, walking around for 10 minutes, trying to find the right angle and setting up the flashes... So I apologize to them! Sorry, guys.
Why did you retire from skateboarding?
Oh, that's a heavy one. I don't know... I love it, I miss it. I think about it all the time... But i suppose i got burnt out. And then the amount of effort that everybody puts into skating... well, the vast majority get fucked over really. It’s quite tough to make a decent living in skateboarding.
Years ago, I once saw a list of the top 10 or 20 magazines in the US for ad revenues, and Transworld was on there, right after Elle or something. So if you consider how much you get paid for a page in Elle and then how much for one in a skate magazine it’s quite laughable. Especially considering the amount of effort to takes to get one photo, often.
Skateboarding- thankfully- is something that people are absolutely passionate about and committed to, but there are always... businessmen around.
What is you stance on film versus digital?
As you know I’m very old fashioned. I still don’t own a digital camera, except on my telephone. I felt like I should, I feel a lot of pressure. It’s been on my list for three years to have a website and yeah, still don’t have a website. I feel like I am very technology illiterate. I don’t really like it. I’m just old fashioned. I just have records, I've never bought a CD; I only shoot film and I don’t have a website, but maybe I will have soon. (note: www.plaitfordproductions.com)
As far as image quality, it seems like digital is getting better and better. And with films, cinema films, it’s looking good now. I remember watching 28 Days Later at the cinema, and really wishing it was shot of film ,because you can tell- there is that epic shot of him walking over Westminster bridge in the beginning, and it would have been just beautiful on film but you can tell it was video, and that detracted from it for me. As far as photography, I guess it’s getting better and better. In another couple years it will probably be just as good. But I do prefer film. I like the physical nature of it. I like being able to hold the negative and look at the photo. I feel like digital things don't really exist. There is nothing really there.
There's something about physical things. I like having a book to read, I don’t like reading screens. I like holding the negative. I like having the object of a record in my hand and the cover to look at and read. I don’t like the impersonal….remoteness of digital life. But there we are. It is unavoidable. And it is good, really; I mean it's amazing, but I am just old fashioned, I suppose. I feel like I just missed it. Like if I was 4 years younger I’d probably be really computer literate but I’m old fashioned and getting progressively more old fashioned by the day.
I can see manual film cameras becoming the next fixed gear trend for hipsters. How they are simple things and have a physical quality. Some of those things seem to be saved from going out of existence totally from people fetishizing it.
But there is also a danger of treating it as a cute novelty. Well, at least it would be keeping it alive. It's funny about skate photos now: the learning curve is immediate. You can see right away if something's wrong, You don’t’ have to shoot a roll, take it to the lab, wait a couple days and realized you fucked up- the flash was in the wrong place, or you exposed it wrong. It’s immediate, you can immediately learn, which is strange for anyone who grew up shooting film. But then, possibly with that trial and error that we went through, you do know it better because you really lived though it. You didn’t immediately just change the aperture- you had to learn the hard way.
Another thing I see now, is that people think even less about composing the image because they just shoot 10 photos of something and use the best one, instead of just composing one carefully and then shooting it because film is more precious.
I mean, that’s okay…who's to say what's right and what's wrong? I know i sound like a grumpy old man. But I do believe in quality over quantity. There's just a lot more stuff in the world now. There are way more images. I'd rather see two well- crafted photographs than 50 snapshots. It gets tiring.
What is the point of photography?
I don't know, is there one? To document, to freeze time, blah blah. Things do age so quickly, especially, as we have discussed before, in skateboarding. Five years is a long time, ten years, twenty years. And things can take on greater significance later, of course. People come and go, influences are felt or forgotten... I mean, nothing really matters too much, so who cares... I am mis-quoting someone: 'Nothing matters much and not much matters at all'
Does shooting take you out of the moment?
There is that funny conundrum, the irony of not living the moment because you are busy thinking about recording it. Sometimes it's worth it; especially because my memory is so bad. I do have trouble with sentimentality though..
So what you are focusing on, these days?
I’ve actually been drawing and painting a lot. I still shoot photos sometimes, but not so much skateboard photos... That part of my brain has been more concerned with drawing, the last couple of years. I've always drawn a lot, but now they are getting pretty big; and i've been painting too... It’s kind of nice to have full control of your environment on a page; photography always involved more give and take.
The last thing I actually shot was my friend's wedding, as a favour.
But I’ll come back around to it...
- Interview by Mark Whiteley
Check out Richard's website at www.plaitfordproductions.com!