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  • GRAHAM TAIT INTERVIEW

    Interview by Joe Gavin 

     

    Give us a little background, where you from? When and how did you get into skating?

     
    I'm from Livingston in Scotland and for some reason, it's always felt like I've been drawn to skateboarding. Me and my big brother would watch a lot of movies growing up and would be heavily influenced by everything we watched. After Karate Kid we wanted to do Karate. After Bill & Ted we wanted to play the electric guitar, trying to play ice hockey after watching Youngblood was a tough one. Haha! I asked for a skateboard for my 8th birthday, looking back I was probably influenced by watching Thrashin' for the first time. I remember going down to the skatepark for the first time on a Saturday afternoon with two friends from school, I must've been 8 or 9. There was actually a photo taken of us that day! I saw it for the first time years later. I can't remember too much about the actual skateboarding that was happening, we were too busy bum boarding down the banks and almost definitely getting in the way. 
    For the next couple of years, I would knee-board to the shop to buy sweets before learning how to stand going down the hills in my street. In that time my brother had managed to get hold of a semi professional-looking board, it had griptape all over and wheels that weren't plastic so I thought it was pretty decent. This must've been about 1991 and at the time my only experience of seeing actual skateboarding really was still Back To The Future and Thrashin' and Police Academy 4. I'd skate about on my own every now and again just pushing about until a new kid moved into my street in 1993. He skated past me a few times before I stopped him and said I had a board and we should skate together, so that's what we did. 
    He told me about this place called Crofthead, it was a community centre and cafe at the other end of Livingston that apparently had skate ramps, he hadn't been there but had heard about it through a family friend called Greg who skated, we made plans to go immediately! It was a Friday night at the end of October in 1993, I remember it clearly because my Dad and brother were going to The Fugitive with Harrison Ford at the cinema and asked me what I'd prefer to do, I chose Crofthead.
    My dad dropped us off on the way to the cinema and what I saw blew my mind! Behind the community centre were two old barns that had been converted to accommodate a small mini ramp with a spine into a bigger mini with a small street course on the other side. There were jump ramps outside with people flying off, groups of older kids in the baggiest jeans I had ever seen just hanging about. It honestly felt like something out of an American movie. To see something like this right on my doorstep made such an impression on me, I thought it was the coolest shit ever.
    By the next week, I had already sourced a better complete from one of my brother mates, It was still a big heavy old school looking thing but it had a little bit of a nose and more concave on the tail. I definitely knew what I was getting for Christmas that year! Me and my friend got invited to Greg's house for dinner soon after, looking back his mum definitely made him invite us round. Haha! This was the first time I saw a skate video, it was Plan B's Virtual Reality. I had no idea what was possible on a skateboard until I saw that, it definitely shaped the way I wanted to skate and the tricks I wanted to learn. I was obsessed with flips and long noseslides but skating was hard as fuck! 
    I met a couple of other skaters from going to Crofthead and one of them loaned me a copy of Powell & Perelta's Propaganda. It was 4 years old at that point and skating had changed so much between 1990 and 1994 but I didn't care, It all looked amazing. It's funny because my brother and his mates would actually take the piss out of me for skating until I showed them Frankie Hills part, they soon shut up and got boards themselves. We all started going down to the Skatepark together and for the next 6+ years that was our crew. We all got pretty good, my brother is actually in Viewfinder 3 doing a naked hardflip out the ressy with his face taped up like a gimp! Haha!

    Wow haha Ok. How long were you skating before you picked up a camera and how did you get into photography?
     
    In 5th year of High School I did a photography module having never shot a single photo in my life. I had lost interest in school by this point and would skive off at least once a week. I'd leave my house pretending I was going then walk to my mates house, we'd watch Trilogy then Welcome To Hell and drink shit loads of tea. The photo module turned out to be pretty sick. The lecturers were super encouraging and gave you the freedom to wander about and shoot whatever you wanted. I learned all the basics from how to load a film into a camera to developing your own film and making prints in the darkroom, it was great. They pulled me aside at the end of the course and told me I had a good eye for photography and I should consider applying for the NC in Photojournalism when I left school. So that's what I did.
    I realised a long time after leaving school that they definitely chose the kids that they see as having potential and push them onto further education, I did ok at school but only ever had one meeting with a guidance councillor to discuss my options when I leave, sometimes all it takes is a little bit of encouragement, and I found that from the lecturers at West Lothian College.
    I didn't have my own camera going into the course but they let me borrow one for the summer which is pretty amazing thinking back, they used Pentax K1000's which was a great camera to learn on. I'd been skating for about 5 years at this point so the obvious thing for me to photograph was my mates skateboarding.


    Dig us out one of your fave photos that you shot from around when you first started and talk us through it.
    This photo is of Sandy Bingham. It was taken with the borrowed camera and one of the first skate shots I ever took. Sandy would come through and leave everyone in awe. The rate of his progression and the tricks he could do was next level. 


    Sick 101 T-shirt too. What was your favourite shit growing up? What got you stoked? We talking Muska or Mariano? Tas papas or hawk? 
    Haha! I have a lot of love for Propaganda but transition was never for me. I'd watch every skate video I could get my hands on. 411's were the most accessible and we had issue 14 and 15 in our house so those got rinsed daily. Laban Pheidias Profile from issue 15 has some crazy skits with quotes that still pop into my head, I actually watched it on Youtube a few months back. Haha! I doubt people really remember him but if watched enough times that shit will stick in your head forever!
    The Switchstance section from that issue with Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together' is great, and Ryan Kenreich skating to Guru's 'Feel The Music' from the Jazzmatazz album is also amazing. What a great issue!
    Gershon Mosely's part from Scenic Drive is one I'll still watch today. Crazy Maze by Des'ree shouldn't work for a video part but it does and I love it!
    The Tre flip mute grab! Random but great selections Graham any others?
    That would've been around the same time as the first Tranworld video UNO, he was sick in that. Everyone was actually, but the only thing that really gets mentioned these days is Tom Penny's destruction of the over the chain into the bank. And rightly so.
    Trilogy and Welcome To Hell have always been favourites, they came out around the same time but are so different. Then Feedback, The Reason, and Modus Operandi all came out after each other and in my opinion it doesn't get much better than that.
    Who was the first pro skater you shot? 
    I think it may have been John Rattray. He would pop up at Livi every now and again but I was just a wee guy at the time, then a wee guy with a camera who just happened to be there when he did that BS Noseblunt in Blueprints WFTW. You can see me in the background clueless as to how heavy that trick is. Then after that Skin Phillips came through with a bunch of Aussie pros. I managed to tag along with my filmer mate and they never told us to fuck off so we just went with it. That was a heavy crew actually. Matt Mumford, Dustin Dollin, Brett Margaritas and a couple of other dudes were on that trip. I had just been giving the wrong information on what lens to buy so this photo of Matt Mumford has a weird 17mm wide angle distortion instead of the classic 15mm fisheye look.


    How was it sending photos into mags back when you started? Were Document and Sidewalk tough critics? I know Leo and Sam have really helped out younger photographers over the years giving tips and advice.
    You know what, everyone was rad. Wig took the time to look through a bunch of slides I had shot and gave me loads of feedback. Kingy told me to get off-camera flashes and recommended which radio slaves and flashes to look for which was super helpful. Once I got familiar with the proper fisheye and how to use the flashes I took my time and got my photography to a level where I thought it was good enough to start submitting properly. I started sending photos to Sam Ashley at Document and he was kind enough to use them in their 'Frames' section.


    What was your first published pic? Talk us through it a bit 
    My first photos were in Sidewalk as part of a stretching article that Andy Rae had written for them. They were of my brother dressed up in some stupid outfit doing the required poses. I have no idea why we did it like that but they ran them. My first proper skate photo was a sequence of my mate Mark 92 for a 'New Blood' in Sidewalk. I wrote the little blurb that goes with it too and he wasn't impressed. Haha!


    You started NORTH in 2011 shot exclusively on film. As digital photography was completely taking over the skateboard world you decided to take it back to the more analogue yet expensive route. What was the reason for that?
    Well I didn't really take it back because I never went forward in the first place. Haha! I had invested in this Hasselblad gear over those few years and I loved the way it looked. Digital still looked a bit weird to me, the skin tones looked off and I just wasn't that into it. It wasn't really a case of 'I'm going to do this to do something different', It was more 'like this what I like to do so why not just keep doing that?' Film back then was still pretty cheap and there wasn't anything for me to compare it to because that's all I had ever shot. People think digital is free, it only becomes free after spending thousands of pounds upfront.
    Good Point. As a huge fan of the fisheye aesthetic myself, NORTH is square which looks great with all the medium format photography in there especially the fish stuff. What was the thought behind that?
    You can't beat the Hasselblad fisheye! The majority of my work is shot on a square format, so why would not make the magazine square?
    Visually I think NORTH is like a print version of a “VX” type edit that’s pretty raw. Have you heard that before? And is that something your stoked on? Maybe it’s that little bit of grain? 
    Interesting comparison. Maybe it's because it's an older looking visual medium too? HD is the same size and a digital photo and a VX looks more like a square fisheye I guess.


    I remember you shot a sequence of me while you were skating alongside me like a Filmer, that was sick. Is that something you’ve done before or was that a one time deal?
    Oh man, I think I was just struggling for an angle at that spot and was clutching at straws because I knew you wanted to shoot it and I didn't want to say no as we'd only just met. Haha! I don't think I've done it since.
     


    Haha thanks for trying, One thing I always noticed is that you have an advert for a film developing lab in the mag I’m sure I remember you saying they hook you up for the ad. I think that’s pretty dope.
    Shout out to A&M Imaging in Edinburgh! I've been going there for years and they're down for the mag which is sick. They help me out with developing, I help them out by not taking the piss!


    Does it ever get a bit awkward when you don’t wanna shoot something that much and you break out the digital camera? Like “fuck he doesn’t want this for North”
     
    Haha! I always have the digital camera out first for a light test and to see how it will look. If it's a hard trick then I'll probably shoot digital till they get close to the trick. That usually gets them and myself hyped to make the switch to the film camera. 

    Have you ever done that and pretended you shot it on film? Haha.
    I'm pretty straightforward with people these days, If I'm not into it I'll just say. I have been shooting a bit more digital during the pandemic though. With restrictions and not being able to travel it's been a nightmare, digital has helped bring the stress levels down knowing that I have the photo there and then. I actually like digital for the most part. Sometimes it can look more like graphic design or something? Like real life isn't that sharp and crispy, I just need to accept that it's a completely different look from film. 


    You came down to stay at my house a couple of times to shoot my interview for North. Did you enjoy it?
    Yeah mate, it was sick, cheers! I actually prefer working like that, one on one. It can feel more like a collaboration with the skater that way. I remember on my first trip down we shot a few photos and they all ended up being fisheye, I threw out the idea of doing an all fisheye interview and you were keen. So when I came down to finish off the interview you had the spots in mind that you wanted to shoot. I feel like we share that same aesthetic on how we want skateboarding to look so I worked out pretty well. I also love planning a shoot beforehand. That gives me time to think about how I'm going to shoot it and where I can put flashes etc.
    Joe Gavin - BS Nollie Tailslide
    You had already shot this on film with Reece to potentially use in the interview. He shot it long lens from above which looked cool, but I thought it would looked really sick fisheye. I mean those things are big, I wanted to do it justice! I messaged Reece and asked if he would mind if I re-shot and he was cool, I think we had shot two photos already that day so we were already buzzin! 
    What did you like about Manchester?
    Manchester is honestly one of the friendliest places, the people are rad and the skate scene is really productive. I'd been a bunch of times before for trade shows with Focus but had never stayed longer than one night.


    I remember you were pretty keen to get back to mine and have a brew when I was well keen to stay out and go to the pub. Haha. I always feel kind of obligated to show people who visit a sick time but you were pretty content chilling.
    Haha! I like the pub as much as the next guy, but not with a load of camera gear on me, that's too stressful! I also didn't want you to get pissed up and be hungover and unproductive the next day! 
    How’s the scene in Edinburgh right now? I see a lot of rad stuff coming out.
    It's really good. There are new faces popping up all the time and new crews forming and filming their own stuff. It feels good getting out to shoot the next generation, they can have a fresh take on spots and tricks.


    Flip tricks are pretty hard to shoot sometimes, what do you think is the hardest to make look good? Like if someone says they wanna inward heel something the footage would be sick but the photo maybe hianus?
     
    I don't shoot Variel Heelflips. Haha! Man, loads are hard to shoot, I haven't ever tried to shoot a pressure flip. Inward Heelflips are actually sick in footage but I can't remember one single photo of one. Some people make kickflips look gross so I guess it depends on the skater.

    Do you ever just say “Nah mate”?
    More so in a joke way. Like, why do you want me to shoot a photo of a no-comply when you can switch flip it? The less is more era a few years ago was a struggle for me. Haha! 
    Could you pick three of your favourite photos and talk us through em?




    Charlie Myatt - Frontside 50-50
    Where I'm standing for this photo looks down onto Scots Monument in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. I used to walk down that hill onto Princes Street all the time and always wondered if you could get a clear view of this ledge from somewhere up there, turned out you could. This was shot through the bars of a fence in the grounds on The Bank Of Scotland Museum at the top of The Mound. The spot isn't there anymore it's not like anything I've ever shot which is maybe why it stands out to me. Fun fact, Colin Kennedy had the cover of Sidewalk issue 10 doing a smithgrind on the smaller ledge before. 
    Kyron Davis - FS Crook
    I'd always wanted to shoot this trick on a spot like that. I was down shooting with Kyron for his interview and was scouring for London spots through Instagram. I saw this and suggested that he frontside crook it, he did and I was stoked!
    Bobby Baillie - FS Air
    I think I've shot more photos of Bobby than anyone else. I was mates with his big brother Grant so he was always around when I started shooting photos, he got good really fast and wasn't scared to chuck himself down big stairs and rails. I always really liked the colours on this one, the dark sky and the yellow in the fields matched the yellow of the ramp. It was also around the time I started sussing out my flashes too, you can see it poorly hidden behind the scaffolding in Bobby's back garden ramp.
     
     
     
    Have you ever shot a photo of Cubic? He’s such a legend.
     
    He is a legend but unfortunately I haven't. 


    Favourite Scottish skaters.
     
    Colin Kennedy and John Rattray are the obvious choices, but what really impacted me growing up was seeing stuff go down with my own eyes. Sandy Bingham is one of those guys, every town has one, the guy that can do everything and is miles ahead of everyone. Shouting out tricks for him to do in the ASDA underground car park on a rainy day in 1995 is some of the best skateboarding I've ever seen and influenced me way more than a video has. He only ever appeared a couple of times a year too so it was a great day when he showed up. Ben Leyden is another one, the shit he did on a daily basis at the skatepark and at Crofthead was insane and still stands up today. Also the quality of skateboarding that was happening at Bristo Square in the 90s was bonkers too. Bryan Jones, Big Mark, Fuat, Benji, loads of people locals ripped that place on a daily basis.
    I was lucky to grow up in a place where the level of skateboarding was really high and getting to watch it was an absolute pleasure.
     
    Thanks Graham, We appreciate what you do, keep smashing it mate. 
    Check out north skate mag Here