Meet the Nieratkos

Patrick O’Dell’s Skateboard High School

By Chris Nieratko

I’m sorry to say this, but I like Patrick O’Dell the photographer more than I like Patrick O’Dell the creator/producer/handsome face of VICE’s hit show, Epicly Later’d. I think that says a lot about how much I love Patrick’s photos because I’m a huge fan of that show. I really loved seeing Patrick’s photos in print. The charm was that he always fully submerged himself in whatever tour/adventure he was photographing, which ultimately made the viewer feel like they were there in the moment as well. So many photographers stand back and play fly on the wall. It takes a very talented person to suck people into a moment and make it resonate inside them. Patrick’s photos always gave me that feeling.

I told a story about one of Patrick’s photos on Chromeball Incident a few months back. If you haven’t heard it, here it is.

This Asbury Park pool-destruction image was in Built to Grind, the Indy 25-year anniversary book. There was a proof page with registration marks and Bryce Kanights’s editor’s notes written on it in Sharpie for auction at one of the last ASR trade shows I ever attended. The following story is one of the main reasons I stopped attending trade shows.

The skateboarding industry is littered with kooks, and trade shows are filled to the brim with them. As soon as I saw this photo for auction, I told myself it was coming home to New Jersey with me. I bid $200 and waited. I literally stood next to the thing drinking wine, waiting to dissuade people from bidding. For some time, no one else bid. No one even looked. Then some bro-brah surf kook came along and bid $205. I told him not to bother. I was going to win that photo, and so I bid $300.

“Oh yeah, dude?” he said, “Fuck that!” He bid $1,000. I was stunned.

“What are you doing, guy?” I asked.

“You’re not winning this, I am,” he told me. He then upped his bid to $2,000.

 “Why? Why are you being a fucking prick,” I asked.

“Because I can,” he said. Real piece of shit. I asked him if the image had any meaning to him. He said no, that he just liked it, and he liked pissing me off. I actually liked that last part, I could relate to it. It made me smile at him. But not too wide. I threw back my last gulp of wine and said, “Fine. Listen, I’m going to be right over there,” I pointed at the bar. “I’m going to start drinking very heavily, very quickly. I’m not going to take my eyes off you for the rest of the night. After you pay the $2,000, I’m going to follow you into the hallway, beat the piss out of you, and take the fucking photo. Understand?” He laughed. I laughed, too. I laughed all the way to the bar. Then I stopped laughing and started really drinking. For an hour I mad dogged the fuck out of this asshole in sandals. I don’t remember now if he even had a shirt on. It got so uncomfortable for him that people in every conversation he got into had to ask who the guy was at the bar trying to melt him with his eyes.

When there were five minutes left on the auction he came over to me. Half joking, half cautious, he said, “Come on, dude! I was just kidding with you.”

“I wasn’t kidding with you, dude. Pay the money. I’m taking the photo. I’m going to knock you the fuck out right in front of everyone.” He had no response. He just walked over and crossed his name off the bid.

“There,” he said. “It’s yours.”

“It was mine either way, you fucking kook.”

It now sits proudly above the pool table in my basement, where many a traveling team has come over and asked about it before being subjected to the above story.

The truth is if another photographer shot that photo I wouldn’t be as passionate about owning it. There are a thousand ways someone else would fuck up that shot, starting by shooting it with a fisheye and getting all close and tight on the crane. But Patrick has the gift to put you in the moment, letting one frame tell the full story.

I wish he shot more photos (aside from his Epicly Later’d site), or rather, that I could see more of his photos in skate mags. I miss his visual storytelling. I also wish I were flying to LA this weekend so I could see his Skateboard High School show at Known Gallery.

Instead, I’m forced to make him send me a copy of the limited-edition book from the show and email him some questions about it.

VICE: You have a new photo show opening tonight at Known Gallery in LA called Skateboard High School. Tell me about it.
Patrick O’Dell:
It's mostly prints culled from dusty boxes. I also took a shit ton of negs I've never even looked through from my time in art school to Costco and had shitty prints made. Altamont is sponsoring it, it’s at Known Gallery, and I’m not sure about the opening date because Known is promoting the opening as April 5, but Altamont is saying it’s April 4. Same flyer, different dates. I'll just play it by ear. [Editor's note: it's tonight.]

One of your recent Instagram posts was a photo of a box of prints for the show that was FedEx’d out to you in LA from your basement in Ohio. Did you have an idea of what the show would be before the boxes arrived? Were you surprised by some of their contents?
Yes, my sister FedExe’d me some boxes. She was having trouble because there are so many prints, and I just told her to send the ones that look like skaters. I read that your body regenerates all of its cells within seven years time, so these pictures were shot by someone with my name, two regenerations ago, probably drunk. I don't even know who the people are in most of the pictures. A lot of them are from my time trying to break into skate photography. I was shooting ams like Karl Watson, Lil’ Stevie, and pros like Chad Knight, Josh Kasper, and James Kelch. A lot of the pictures are party photos, too. I was immersed. I remembered most of the pictures as being pretty bad, but when I looked through them, they were taken so long ago, in a whole other time period in skateboarding, that they look cool with age.

What’s the best story you recall from these photos?
A lot of stuff from a party/skate house I lived in called the Howard House. I lived there with John Trippe, Ocean Howell, Richard Hart, and others. Simon Evans lived there at one point. It was a weird time in my life, so ghetto in a way. I was also drinking all the time and smoking weed, so I don't remember it that well. I remember what was going through my head at the time, and it was mostly embarrassing. I’m sure in the future I’ll look back on the current time period and think the same thing.

What part of Ohio are you from and what was life like there?
Columbus, Ohio. I didn't actually grow up there, but I went to high school there, so that's where I say I'm from. It was pretty suburban—almost rural at the time. I lived in a huge city before moving there, so it was a weird transition for me. I was born in St. Louis, moved to Connecticut, then Louisville, then Pennsylvania, Cincinnati, Hong Kong, to Columbus. It was a weird trip for me, and probably why I continue to move a lot.

The show is called Skateboard High School. What was your high school experience like? Mine was the absolute worst. I was thrown out for putting my algebra teacher in the hospital after breaking her neck.
I used to get picked on… actually, I was picked on my entire life, so by the time I got to high school I had pretty much given up on ever having friends. I had some skate friends and that's it. I think I hated school more than most people—I hated it with a passion. I may never set foot in another school as long as I live.

How do you think the high school experience is different for skateboarders today vs. our generation? We were outcasts back then.
I drove by my old high school recently, and there were kids skating in the parking lot. It’s very different now. Sometimes I think the skaters I pick for my Epicly Later'd skate show and the people I hang out with are from that weird, misguided outcast perspective on skating. But most skaters today are probably pretty well adjusted—they are the new quarterbacks. But to be a pro I think you have to be pretty odd. You can't get too distracted with girls and being cool because those things are way funner than learning flip-in flip-outs. I’ve seen some skaters progress until they find some popularity then never learn another trick.

After living in Cincinnati, I always called Ohio “the other New Jersey.” Do you see any similarities between the two?
I lived in Cincinnati for two years when I was young, and yeah, I can see that. Cincinnati and Cleveland are pretty old industrial cities. Columbus was a farm in comparison. Now it’s growing, and those other cities are shrinking due to manufacturing moving to other countries. Cincinnati and Cleveland are almost like Detroit.

You’ve created quite the following with your Epicly Later’d show, and you’re always getting hit up with suggestions of who to do episodes on. Can you tell the kids who you have coming up?
I think Ed Templeton is next. He has reluctantly agreed, he said it will be bad but he'll do it anyway. I think it will be awesome. 

Any chance of getting a Kris Markovich episode? He was always one of my favorites. He skated 100 miles per hour and pioneered gnar street skating, but I feel he doesn’t get the credit he deserves?
It’s possible. I don't think I've ever seen him in real life. I saw him on a reality TV show about cakes once. I think. My long-term goal is to get to everyone, maybe not a full episode, but at least a side tangent somewhere.

VICE recently opened an office in LA. Does that mean we can expect to see episodes more often? Does that make life easier?
I hope I can have the show edited there. It'd be sad because the editors in NYC are so great. Abby Ellis, Lauren Cynamon, Kelly Hudson, and Eileen Kennedy are the New York editors, and they kill it. I send them disorganized raw interviews, and they shape it into a real show. But if they get an office in LA, I could actually show face from time to time. I go off the grid sometimes, I can't help it.

Last time we spoke you were working on a project with Richard Kern for Altamont’s holiday collection. How was it working with him?
He's awesome. We used some of his old pics from his black-and-white Sonic Youth era, which was my entryway into his work. He shot some of the last photos of GG Allin, so we put some of that stuff on shirts.  But he actually shot our catalog for that season. It’s not out yet, sorry Altamont, but it’s awesome. Although it might be confusing to retailers wondering why our clothes are on half-naked girls, since we don't make girls’ clothes.

Was it hard suppressing a boner while he was shooting naked chicks?
I guess so… I try to put my professional cap on. I filmed a behind-the-scenes video, which got intense.

What else are you working on?
I'm making a Cass McCombs video right now, and I might do a video about Wade Speyer for Vans, hopefully. All kinds of crap. If I don't get my creative energy out, I get depressed and destructive. If one day goes by where I'm not working I get very self-doubting—I start to think that everything I do and have done is lame and that I'm a loser.

I know the feeling.

Patrick’s Skateboard High School Photo show opens in a few hours at the Known Gallery in LA and runs through the weekend.

For more of Patrick’s photos go to http://www.epiclylaterd.com/

To buy the limited edition color zine made for Patrick’s show goto http://www.deadbeatclubpress.com/product/coming-soon-patrick-o-dell-skateboard-high-school

More stupid can be found at Chrisnieratko.com or @Nieratko

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