Thomas Campbell Made a Skate Video That’s Actually Worth Watching
Thomas Campbell's <i>Cuatro Sueños Pequeños</i> is the most magnificent piece of skate cinematography I've seen in ages. Shot completely on grainy 16mm film in Spain, Majorca, and the Canary Islands Islands, it's a visual triumph.
Javi and Madars in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. Photo by Thomas Campbell
It is a wonderful time to be a pubescent skateboarder. Dozens of clips of skate footage are uploaded onto the internet each and every day, for immediate consumption. You could spend your entire life watching and never get through it all. This is a stark contrast to the late 80s, when there were only three monthly magazines and one or two annual videos to keep you abreast of happenings in the skate world.
That said, 2014 is an awful time to be an older, more discerning lover of skating as a visual medium. The downside to the abundance of footage is that 90 percent of it looks like shit. Discovering an aesthetically pleasing skateboarding video these days feels like finding a missing button to your cardigan at the Arthur Kill landfill.
But O, the joy of coming across something unlike any of the other gonzo skate porn clips clogging up the internet. It makes you take a minute to remind yourself that skateboarders are some of the most talented, creative, and artistic members of any subculture.
Thomas Campbell's Cuatro Sueños Pequeños—Four Small Dreams—is the most magnificent piece of skate cinematography I've seen in ages. Shot completely on grainy 16mm film in Spain, Majorca, and the Canary Islands, Thomas's 22-minute fantasy follows skateboarders Javier Mendizabal and Madars Apse in and out of Javier's dream. It is a visual triumph.
If you want big, fancy maneuvers, CSP has them. Madars's switch ollie down the double set is one of the biggest I can recall. But it also manages to present skateboarding at its most beautiful and captivating.
The film is available on iTunes, but I advise you to order the book and DVD package. Thomas's watercolor paintings and the accompanying photographs are as wonderful and elegant as the film itself.
Thomas is currently in Morocco on a photo shoot, but he was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the current state of skateboarding, pissing on photo prints, and Dave Carnie hitting him in the face with a can of beer.
VICE: You've been doing a lot of work with surfing lately. What made you want to make a skate film?
Thomas Campbell: I've been skating for 39 years, and it's never been more interesting and awesome than it is now. When I was shooting a lot of skateboarding in the 90s, I was always really psyched on people who could skate anything.
Now, the amount of parks around the world has created a rad movement of kids who are open to all kinds of skating. Not like the lame cliquey bullshit that was going on in the 90s—shit was so divided then. I love where skating is today. That's what inspired me to document it.
Javier Mendizabal is a globally respected and extremely smooth skater, but why did you decide to make him the focus of a film? And why shoot in Spain?
Javi and I met when he was 16. I think I shot the first photos he had in a skate magazine. I followed his career from afar, and we reconnected after many years. He is a really cool person.
When he was in California on skate tours, he would stay with me and my wife. One thing led to another, and we hatched the idea to do the film. Javi helped get sponsorship to make it. We ended up shooting most of the film in Spain, Majorca, and the Canary Islands. Javier had a lot of input on spots and guided us to the kind of graphic places we were looking for.
We wanted the video to have a really heavy European vibe, influenced by Bertilucci, Goddard, and Fellini. I have also really loved where European skateboard photography has gone over the years—there's so much more focus on the skaters' environment. The three photographers who come to mind from that school are Benjamin Deberdt, Eric Antoine, and Fred Mortagne.
I was lucky to have Fred help me film the movie. His graphic style worked well with mine.
F. Mortagne in Tenerife, Canary Islands. Photo by T. Campbell
How much of what others are doing in skate cinematography factored into your thinking for this film?
We shot CSP on 16mm to capture the visceral depth of the experience. I really wanted to experiment with the format and see if we could create a dreamlike scenario. I didn't really think of other things in the world of skating while making CSP. In some ways, it's along the lines of what I've been doing for a long time.
Javi and Madars are used to a more modern type of filming, with camera-mounted screens and the instant reward of playback. How was their reaction to working blindly with your 16mm cameras?
I don't think they liked it. Filming that way leaves you in a space of hoping, instead of knowing it worked out. And it's so expensive to shoot that you don't have tons of time to get tricks.
Tell me about the good old days of printing photos with Dave Carnie.
When I met Dave he was a college student in San Luis Obispo—maybe around 1990. He was a serious Renaissance man and he was into literature, big time. We used to play music together and he introduced me to rad photographers like Joel Peter Witkin and the Starn Twins.
He taught me some fucked up toning techniques—I found a treasure trove of single-weight, fiber-based paper in Fresno when I was there with Miki Vukovich working on an Alan Peterson spotlight for Transworld. We printed the shit out of that stuff.
What effect did urine have on photo paper?
Urine on photos—that could have happened. I think using urine for mixing paint or peeing on prints came from working in ghetto spaces without water or urinals. Or just being lazy and peeing on shit. I don't think actually it did anything great to the prints.
Javi and T. Campbell in Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by R. Zinger
You were on the early Big Brother road trips. What were those like for you? I heard you got your face busted open with a full can of beer.
I can't remember who was on the trip now, but I think Chris Pontius was there. Chris was one of my favorite skaters ever at the time. Really raw and creative. And obviously super fun and entertaining to be around. And Carnie. Dave at the time could be a shitty drunk. He threw a full can of beer at my face from a few feet away.
Fuck you, Dave. You're a dick. But that was almost 20 years ago. I hope you're not a dick and OK now.
What else do you have coming up?
I'm in Morocco now, shooting some surfing photos for an upcoming book project. Also I have another skate film that I've been working on. It will probably be out in 2015. I did a trip for it already with a bunch of dudes: Nick Garcia, Colin Provost, Evan Smith, Ray Barbee, Keegan Sauder, Taylor Bingaman, Aaron Suski. Jon Miner helped film that trip.
All 16mm. Another art fag skate film.
The movie and soundtrack are both available on iTunes.