Jonnie explains: "Sam and Casper shotgunning beers in Stockholm. It was Casper's first shotgun. He nearly puked straight after."
Jonnie Craig has been one of our UK staff photographers ever since he was 19. Back then, he mainly shot pictures of his friends running around naked in the city and down country lanes at night. He's 24 now, and his advanced age apparently means he'd rather shoot black and white portraits of beardy, mature men for arty mags than drunk teenagers flashing their private parts for our fashion pages.
We miss the old Jonnie, but thankfully the new book he just put out seems to combine what he used to do and what he does now (i.e. it's full of arty, black and white portraits of his friends running around naked). Here's a chat I had with Jonnie about the book and accompanying film IKYITHWMEL, which was presented by VICE last week on Channel 4 in the UK.
VICE: Hey Jonnie, all the people in your book are skateboarders. So why's there no skating in it?
Jonnie Craig: I guess I grew tired of seeing the typical depictions of skateboarding—people obsessing over who did what, down what, or who can't do this, over that. When I watched skate videos when I was younger, I’d always be more interested in the credits section at the end where they’d show the footage of the team messing with each other, jumping off bridges, getting drunk and crashing cars, or whatever. So I suppose that's where the interest and inspiration sprouted from.
I’ll Kick You in the Head with My Energy Legs is a pretty good title. How did you come up with it?
It was scribbled on a wall at a skate spot—there’s a photo of it in my book—and it just seemed to sum up the mentality of the skateboarding culture for me; that whole “go for it” attitude, but in a way that wasn't too serious.
"Casper pissing himself. He decided that doing so would force him to jump off the cliff he was scared to jump off of. He jumped, so I guess it worked."
How did you get into skateboarding?
A friend of mine was a skateboarder who lived around the corner from me. He was sort of the local bad lad, so whatever he did was interpreted as cool. He showed me the ropes and then I guess it just developed from there. One thing I remember we’d do is take fake pictures of us doing tricks, like just standing on the board looking like we were grinding a high-up wall with a disposable camera. I have a couple of those knocking around somewhere.
There are thousands of skate photo books and mags out there already. What makes your stuff stand out?
This is true, and is something that I worried about all the way through the four years I spent shooting it. When you see photo projects about skateboarders, generally, it's celebrity photography; which is by no means a bad thing. But with this comes less pressure on making a stunning image in its own right. Would a photography lover be interested in a picture of Mark Gonzales sitting in a cafe making a funny face if they didn't know who Mark Gonzales was? I’ve tried to bridge the gap between "art photography" and documentary. Whether I’ve succeeded is not for me to decide, but that was the aim.
"This is a watchtower we found in Malmö, Sweden. We bought a cigar from 7/11 and climbed up and smoked it while the sun went down."
Who are the people in the book?
They’re buddies of mine I've gotten to know through skateboarding over the years. Off the top of my head: Chris Ault, he’s an incredible skater who skates for Emerica and is also featured in my film IKYITHWMEL; Casper Brooker who skates for Heroin; Sam Taylor, an illustrator and owner of take-over-the-world-mega-skate-brand Earth Pain; Tom Knox, another great skateboarder and fun person to travel with; Spanky, one of the world’s best skaters and also a great artist, from LA; Craig "Questions" Scott is in there too, he’s a huge ball of madness/ genius looking for any opportunity to scream in your face or ask you a question, hence his name.
What’s the funniest moment depicted in the book?
There are so many… I think one of the funnier ones is the photo of Casper on the Thames riverbank when we were trying to find our buddy Colin Fiske, who had gone for a "nature dump." He’d drunk a whole bottle of laxative thinking it was an herbal drink, as well as having finished an entire watermelon by himself. I'm sure you can imagine how that went. So he went for a shit in the Thames in front of the tourist boats that sail up and down all day. This was the first of many nature dumps that day.
"This is a friend of mine called Mikey. We were skating in London and he landed badly on his arm, which sent his elbow up the side of his upper arm. I went with him to the hospital and watched him get it pulled back into its socket. It was gross."
Why are the images black and white?
I much prefer black and white. I want people to look at the pictures as photographs. I think it's too easy to write off color photography because of the colors being too this or that. It seemed the most basic and stripped back way to do it.
How did the film IKYITHWMEL come about?
Well, I had been asked by my publisher to make a video trailer for the book so I started coming up with some ideas, but didn't really have a decent budget to work with. Then along comes Channel 4 with their money and it all came together. I wanted to keep the film as close to my photography as possible, so I based it visually around existing pictures of mine. The woodland is from a picture I shot last year for a fashion editorial, the title, IKYITHWMEL, is obviously an acronym of the book title, and the character in the film is Chris Ault, also from the book. I was really inspired by a scene in Lars Von Trier's Antichrist where the baby falls out of the window in slow-motion while it's snowing. It was clear from very early on that it would be in slow-motion, because I felt it would look more photographic that way.
"This is Questions. We all spent the night at a friend’s ramp in sleeping bags. Questions decided it would be a good idea to throw rotten milk around the place, which stunk. It was freezing too. Not the best night I've ever had."
What’s the trick called that Chris performs in the video?
It's a frontside 360 tuck knee. Though, I'm sure I could have called it a red-breasted flip flap with extra sprinkles to you and you'd have believed me.
Hey! How many times did he have to do it before he nailed it?
We tried to get him to do a simple grab over it just to have something in the can. But he couldn't do the simple grab and moved straight onto the flip flap with sprinkles and got it in about seven tries.
I like the song in the video.
I love that song. It's called “By The Way” by a Swedish band called Little Gang. They have a record coming out soon. I chose it because it was so beautiful, calm, and dreamy. It just seemed a perfect match straight away.
What are you working on now/ what's next for you?
At the moment I'm waiting for the book to come back from the publisher, which should be at the end of the month for a May release here in the UK. I'm also doing a few commercial projects here and there and just taking pictures, you know.
I know. Cheers, Jonnie.
Wanna see more pictures of Jonnie's friends? Follow him on Twitter!