Dan Mathieu on 20 Years of Skateboard Photography in Montreal

Montreal has one of the best skateboarding scenes in North America. Photographer Dan Mathieu has been there, snapping shots for the last 20 years.

by Simon Coutu
Jul 30 2015, 9:26pm

Photo by Jean-Michel Gaudreault

This story originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

Skateboarding photographers can spend hours and hours at a same spot waiting for a skater to land a goddamn trick before getting the perfect shot. Among this rare breed is Dan Mathieu, one of the best of his kind in Canada.

He is also the founder of Exposé Magazine, one of the only two skateboarding mags left in the country, and will be displaying his photos July 30 as part of House of Vans, the kick off party of The Osheaga Music and Arts Festival. The expo will then move to Off The Hook for another two weeks.

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Despite being featured in Thrasher's Epic Spots list, Montreal is far from being a skateboarding hub like Los Angeles or San Francisco. Yet, its reputation continues to grow internationally and Mathieu has been there to document its slow and steady rise.

His prints cover the last 20 years of skateboarding in Montreal, with pictures of veterans like PLG, when he was just starting, to rising talents like Antoine Asselin

We met him as he was about to hang a bunch of his brand new frames.

VICE: How did you become a skateboarding photographer?

Dan Mathieu: The first camera I bought was from Max Dufour, a vert pro skateboarder. I shot photos of him. He sent them at his wheel sponsor at the time, which was Wheelies Company in New York City. They used one of these photos for an ad in Concrete Powder Magazine in Canada. When the editors saw the photo of Max they managed to get in touch with me because there was no photographer out East in Canada. That's how I got started.

How have things changed in the skateboarding scene of Montreal in the past 20 years?

The scene is healthier than ever. For the first time, there are a bunch of guys in their 40s showing up at the pipe, but you also have kids that are eight years old skating with these guys. It's a beautiful thing to see. Also, with my generation, the relation with the rest of Canadian skateboarders was hard. I don't know if it was the language, but there was a clash. Nowadays, there are more and more Canadian skateboarders that come to Montreal, they spend their summer here and they try to speak French. It's a cool change to see!

Is Montreal a skating destination?

More and more! It's kind of the last big city in North America that hasn't been completely exploited by skateboarders. The security is still pretty mellow, there are lots of nice spots, the architecture is interesting and it's a nice party scene as well. So you see more and more skateboarders come on roadtrips to get stuff for their next videos.

Does anything stand out in Montreal's skateboarding culture?

I don't know... If you're a skateboarder, it's pretty easy to make connections with people in any part of the world. Skateboarders have a bond. We're like brothers from different mothers...

Did you ever get in trouble doing your work?

Nothing major. I got kicked out of spots and had shitty interaction with pissed off cops and security guards. Montreal has always been kind of mellow. It's not like in the States where every time I go, I'm worried because I've heard stories of other photographers who got their photo gear confiscated because they were shooting in a school yard on a weekend and it takes six months to get it back. It can be gnarly.

Do you have to be a skater to take skateboarding photographs?

It's impossible to become a skateboard photographer if you're not a skateboarder yourself. It's hard to get the timing. You got to know the tricks to know where to shoot it from and when to click the button. Also, you have to spend so much time in the street with a bunch of scumbags skating around. If you're not a skater, you won't have the patience!

Is there editorial coherence in your expo or unifying thread?

I've never done any photo shows in the past. I've tried to pick images that not only show a skate trick. There is always something else going on in the background. For someone who's not into skateboarding, it can be boring to look at 25 tricks. But in those photos, there is more. It's either an homeless person on a bench or a fuckin' tractor in the field.

Are there enough platforms for skateboard photography in Canada?

In the past, there were five skateboard magazines. It was crazy! We had more mags than in the States. It was obvious that it couldn't last forever. Sadly, in the past two years, a lot of magazines went down. At the moment there is only King Shit and Exposé in Canada. I'm curious to see what's gonna happen because there are so many talented photographers and there are not enough platforms to showcase their work.

All photos courtesy Dan Mathieu