Tel Aviv’s Skate Scene Photographer Tells Us About Shooting Grinds While Missiles Fly Overhead
"Recently, all these skateparks have been popping up everywhere so less skaters are skating in the streets, which I think people are happy about because it's less noise and easier for them to accept."
When I was asked to interview Tel Aviv–based photographer Guy Pitchon, I was intrigued because I knew nothing about the Tel Aviv Skate scene. But after looking at his website I was dying to pick the brain of a fellow photo nerd. When Guy isn't doing graphic design or giving his friends tattoos, he's shooting technically amazing skate photos of the Tel Aviv skate community or snapping an intimate shot of the aftermath of a slam. It's not just skating that Pitchon captures, but everything that happens when you say "let's go skate." We caught up with Pitchon via Skype and talked to him about his new book, Love Child, which is filled with beautiful, candid moments of his everyday surroundings.
VICE: Where are you right now?
Guy Pitchon: I'm in Tel Aviv. I just got home, I was at the beach today.
Amazing, I wish I could say the same. What keeps you in Tel Aviv?
Man, I really do love it here. I like the food, the people, my family, the fact that it's so small and I can cycle wherever I want. It can be hard if you don't have more of a mainstream job, but that's why I sell my own artwork, do graphic design, graffiti jobs, some tattoo work, photography lessons, etc. It's hard to be a full-time skate photographer here because, for example, I'll shoot for Vans here but it's nothing compared to the guy shooting for Vans in California. I'm working with what I've got.
How did Love Child come about and can you tell me a little bit about it?
Love Child began as an exhibition. Two years ago, I was still pretty new to the art scene and I had a hard time finding a gallery, and the galleries I would talk to wanted me to be more specific about what I was going to exhibit. I had it all in my head, but I hadn't finished the work yet. Finally, a gallery gave me a chance without asking too many questions—it was a gallery that was a part of a school that I went to. The space was quite large and I filled it well with very small and large scale prints as well as handmade skateboards.
Is the book self-published?
Yes, with a little help from this residency I was apart of here in Israel called Art Port. Other than budget they gave me everything and every decision was made by me.
Are there any images in Love Child that you would consider to be your favourite?
I have a favourite spread. It's the one with the kid showing off his tattoo on his upper arm. The tattoo stands for some kind of LSD formula compound or some shit. (Laughs.) The other image is of this skater climbing a bomb shelter.
What came first, photography or skateboarding?
Definitely skateboarding. I started skateboarding with my brother at age 12 on a board I got from my grandfather, and I would just skate around the block all day. I guess I just fell in love with it from that moment. I never really thought about photography until I was exposed to the few magazines that were available to me. Immediately I wanted to shoot skateboarding so I bought a simple camera—it was a fairly long process because I had nobody to learn from and had to do everything on my own, y'know? With various lenses, cameras, lighting equipment... Also, for a long time you couldn't get radio slaves in Israel because they would use the same frequency as the military, so it made it even more difficult. You can find them here now though.
I see you cover both lifestyle and skateboard action photography, is there one you prefer shooting over the other?
I don't know. The lifestyle is technically easier—it's just nice being close to your subject and it can be with a simple camera with a 50mm lens and that's it. For action, you have to deal with so much equipment, security guards, and spots, so it's harder but it's definitely exciting. I don't think I could do only lifestyle. The lifestyle shots I usually take when I go out to take a real skate photo, so I can appreciate both.
What's skateboarding like in Israel and what's the public's general outlook?
It's rad, man! [Tel Aviv is] a small city so you can skate to and from anywhere you want. You might get hassled by security guards or pedestrians, but the cops don't really care, so it's really rare that you would get a ticket. Otherwise, there are plenty of cool spots and I find it to be pretty photogenic. From the public's perspective it's well-liked these days, I think. Recently, all these skateparks have been popping up everywhere so less skaters are skating in the streets, which I think people are happy about because it's less noise and easier for them to accept.
Can you tell me more about the skate scene in the rest of Israel and the Middle East where political and social unrest has been rising? Has living in this environment affected the scene at all?
Well, politics affected the scene, but more in the "macro" sense, like, it's harder to travel with an Israeli passport, you can be denied if it doesn't seem safe for people to visit, so it can be kind of isolated, and that's bad. But in the "micro," however, the politics is less present in the skate scene. But the art world is definitely affected—cultural boycott, bands and artist that won't come here, Israeli artists get invited abroad less.
Has it affected you or your skating?
Yeah, last year in Tel Aviv, on the opening night of an exhibition I worked on for a year, there were sirens, and missiles over my head. It was a weak turnout. I totally forgot about that until now. It's crazy that it becomes so normal and we get used to it. As far as skating goes, I don't think so, although, it could be a good excuse for why I suck so much [laughs].
What photographers inspire you?
I really like everything Ed Templeton does as well as Larry Clark. More recently, I like Atiba Jefferson and I've also really been liking what Arto Saari has put out. Those are the bigger, main guys that come to mind. There are many more, of course.
What's your process for taking photos?
It varies but I like randomly finding a spot and then figuring out which skater and trick would look best. Different spots call for different kinds of skaters, naturally. Then, with a small crew, we'll go back to the spot in the late evening. I really like night shooting because I feel like at night its a totally empty canvas so only what you choose to light will show up in the photo.
Have you photographed any Canadian skaters?
Yeah! Do you know Josh Evin?
Yeah. Well, not personally, but I knew of him.
Right, so he was in Israel a couple weeks before his tragic accident and I got to take some photos of him. Skating with him was so fun, he was so gnarly. One of the photos I took of him got published in a Canadian skate magazine. I was pretty sad to hear when he passed away.
Yeah, that was sad for sure, he was so talented. What's next for you?
I'm going to Panama for the first time in three days to surf for two weeks. I'm so excited! I haven't surfed too much before. I took photos for this surf camp last year and during that job I learned how to surf a little bit and really enjoyed it. I'm getting older and skating is hard on my body and surfing seems to be a little less strenuous so I'm hoping this fills that gap a little bit.