June 30, 2011
Tom and Grant chat about the colliding world's of skate and photography.
The word “old-timer” gets bandied around pretty easily sometimes in skateboarding circles, but Grant Brittain has earned it. He’s been skating for longer than most of today’s pros have been alive, and taking photos of skaters for over 30 years, ever since he was manager at the Del Mar Skate Ranch in southern California. Along the way he’s acquired a portfolio of iconic images and even some bonafide artistry with the camera, and has branched out into shooting artistic still lifes along with his photos of skaters both in motion and at rest. One of his latest subjects is Tom Remillard, a San-Diego bred skater with talent oozing out from under the brim of his baseball cap. He’s just 20 years old but he does things on a board that makes everyone—skater or civilian—drop his jaw and go, “Damn, I wish I could do that.” We asked both of them some questions about the old days, the new days, and the arts of skating and photography.
Hey Grant. Did you start skating or photography first?
Grant Brittain: I started skating in the days of clay wheels in the 1960s, so I already skated and then got the job at the Del Mar Skate Ranch in 1978 and started shooting photos in 1979. There aren’t any skate photographers that didn’t skate first. Back then you wouldn’t take up skate photography as a career choice, there was no money to be made. I shot for three years before making a cent. I just did it for fun and to document what my friends were doing. I didn’t think I would still be doing it 32 years later.
You’ve been around skating for a long, long time. What are some of the differences between back then and now?
The difference between skateboarding back then and now is immense. Back when I worked at the Skate Ranch skating had died and nobody gave a rat’s behind about skating or our world. There were hardly any videos, no TV shows with skateboarding, no internet, no digital photography, and no money in it. Everybody just did it for the love of skateboarding. Hardly anyone was making a living off of it. Nobody told skaters what to do and I think skaters liked it that way. People were characters, individuals, they were on a trek to self exploration and bending society’s rules. Just flying somewhere was an adventure; wherever skaters went they were totally different from the conservative locals.
What’s your advice to people who want to start taking skate photos?
Everyone starts at the bottom in any endeavor, no one starts at the top. Unfortunately in this day of digital instant gratification, kids have no patience and want everything now without working hard for it. Every skate photographer I know, including me, started shooting photos of their friends skating and working their way up through the ranks. You have to love skateboarding and photography and the money thing has to be second or you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. What I tell everyone one is to not give up and to persevere in whatever path they choose in life. Nothing comes easy. If it did, it wouldn’t be worth as much to you. My memories from my beginning days are my most cherished.
Do you go through a separate process when you’re shooting your “art” photos as opposed to your skate photos?
I slow down a lot when shooting my art stuff. I am super relaxed, just observing and letting my mind take over. It’s more like meditation, it’s my solace. It’s just about me and the camera and I am only trying to please myself. When shooting skateboarding there is a lot of energy being released so I get caught up in it, whether it’s going good or bad. I get anxious and angsty. I want to make a great photo for me, the skater and the world.
Tom, how’d you get that “Tom Grom” nickname? You’ve had it for a long time, right?
Tom Remillard: I think I got it because it rhymes with Tom and I used to be really small.
Do you ever watch old skate video for inspiration? Do you think the technical ability of skaters has gone up overall?
Yeah, I watch old Antihero videos, Speed Freaks, old contest footage… The level of skating has gone up but the mentality has stayed the same.
What’s the worst injury you ever got?
I broke my wrist in half, that’s permanent damage that’s never going away.
Ouch. You skate the Washington Street skatepark a bunch, right? That place looks sick.
Yeah, there and Bucky Lasek’s Bowl are the two places I skate the most and I very much enjoy them. Washington Street is really gnarly and it hurts me every time I go there. It’s great.
What’s skating in San Diego like? Must be awesome to have the weather be nice basically all year round.
It’s the best thing ever and I really try to not take it for granted. I utilize the weather and skate all day every day.