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DVL_B.E.S.A. Photographer of the Year.

January 26th, 2015

A few days ago in Berlin our good friend and great photographer DVL received the “Photographer Of The Year” Award. DVL is one of the most humble, amazingly talented and passionate people “behind the lens” I know. We are super happy for him because he definitively deserved it. Enjoy DVL’s interview published on abg issue_26 a few months ago.

Kevin Tshala / KickFlip.

In 2005 you won a photo contest in Rotterdam, what do you remember about this experience?

An amazing experience I sure will never forget. Winning this as an underdog was a bit… unexpected! It really motivated me back then. Of course shooting photos isn’t about being number one, or being the best. There is no best, everyone has a different taste. There were a few other amazing images, somebody else could have won easily as well. I guess I had a good image and got lucky that day. With the money I won, which was quite a lot, I bought some new photo-gear that I really needed, it helped me out a bit. And of course I gave some of the money to the 3 skaters that had joined me for those three days of shooting. No skater, no photo! It’s a two-man job so it’s obvious to share a bit of the prize money. I remember a couple of years later Phil Zwijsen entered it with some photographer and they got second place. Phil didn’t get a dime. Not too cool in my opinion!

The photo with which you won the competition was a grainy black and white analog silhouette shot, most of your photos are (or were at least) color images shot with flashes, did you spend all the money you got from the photo competition to buy flashes? Hahaha…

I bought some pocket wizards, and probably some second hand flashes. It was a while ago. I think I was shooting with wires before the photo contest. So funny when I think about it, but back in the days it was really expensive to buy wireless transmitters, and generally, when you start shooting photos you’re not earning money right away. Can you imagine shooting a photo with 3 flashes that all have long wires attached, definitely not easy at certain spots. This was really in the beginning when I got back into photography. During the early nineties when I was about 17-18 years old I shot some photos for English skatemags such as RAD and Skate Action, but it was more like I was skating somewhere and took out the camera for an hour to shoot some. Nothing too serious. It was only like 13 years ago that I really fell in love with photography.

What do you like the most about shooting with flashes? I heard stories about you shooting with 9 flashes… is it true or just a legend?

I don’t know if I like to shoot with flashes that much at all. My favorite shots are probably the ones with natural light. For example, if I do an expo most of the photos will be shot with natural light. Anyways yeah, I probably have shot with 7 flashes at times. Nine? I don’t know about that, maybe once with eight… haha. But it was more like for the main flashes, I put two Metz or Sunpack flashes together to have more powerful lighting. Like I said, when you start shooting you don’t earn much money and you can’t buy a crazy powerful flash with a big battery pack, so I just got some cheap second hand flashes. A pain in the ass though, ‘cause when you have seven flashes set up there’s always one that’s not working. But those days are luckily long gone. But yeah, once in a while my flashes are on strike and refuse to work.

When and how did you start getting interested in photography?

My dad was a passionate amateur photographer. He shot a lot of landscapes, portraits and nudes in his studio. As a little kid I walked into his studio more than once while he was shooting nude women, I will never forget that! When I was ten he gave me my first point-and-shoot camera, it was an Agfa. So I grew up with photos everywhere in the house. I guess that influenced me unconsciously. We also had a darkroom in the house which was pretty sick to have. But like I said the real passion came about 13 years ago. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this for a living. But I’ve been enjoying shooting photos since the day I got my first camera. When I was older he gave me his Leica and his Hasselblad, so I was pretty lucky!

Szymon Stachon / Bs Air.

Has the way you shoot changed over the years? What do you look for when you try to find the right angle/image?

I guess you learn, you evolve, but in a way I think you develop your own style and you just try to perfect it more and more. I don’t think I shoot images too differently than I did a long time ago. It’s not that I ever check my old stuff and try to analyze what has changed. I try to go with my feeling, try not think about it too much. It has to come more from the soul, more naturally or something. You can learn everything about photography, but if you don’t have the eye for it, you won’t shoot really good images. For a long time I tried not to check too many photo books, I was just scared to copy a style! But then again you are unconsciously influenced by the things you see. You absorb little things here and there whether you want to or not.

When was the last time you were impressed by a skateboard photo and which one was it? (after so many years, being impressed by a skateboard photo shouldn’t happen too often…)

Damn, it’s hard to think about this right now. I’d rather tell you what the first skateboard images that impressed me were. I clearly remember the Matt Hensley interview Daniel Harold Sturt shot for Transworld back in the day. His photography really blew my mind. The frontside ollie on the roof that had the shape of a cowboy hat was so sick. I think they traveled like a day or longer just to shoot that one photo. I have nothing but respect for people with such a dedication! Also the shot on the transition under the tall highway bridge, total epicness! And of course I can’t forget to mention the stuff J.Grant Brittain shot back then. So good! The Todd Swank pushing photo with the triangle shadow, straight up classic! Or the many amazing photos he shot of Chris Miller! Those guys changed the game back then! But the list of rad photographers and beautiful photos goes on! Too many to name!

When did you start skateboarding? I know you were on Deathbox, I do remember your part in “Spirit Of The Blitz” from 1991. How long did you skate for them?

I started skateboarding in 1985. Around the end of the eighties and early nineties I skated almost five years for Deathbox. I had a short skate career haha… But I’m super stoked I was a part of it!

Deathbox, before moving to the States and becoming Flip Skateboards, was one of the very first European skateboard companies with riders from different countries, doing tours, ads on mags, videos, and so on; how was being on a European team in the early 90’s like in general, and compared to nowadays?

Skateboarding was totally different back then, I wouldn’t say it was better. There was no budget with a European company like Deathbox. Tours were low budget, crashing wherever we could. I remember a tour we did in Germany, Jeremy Fox (the boss) had no money, so he had to play on some electronic gambling machine to pay the money for the hotel. Luckily he won. No crazy trips to the other side of the world, instead we would take a stinking van and drive it to Germany or France. If you got 2 boards a month you were already super stoked. Good times for sure! Very pure! These days some things may be less pure, but I’m sure there’s still a lot of people who are doing it in a nice way. And the level of skateboarding nowadays is so insane that it’s hard to hate on skateboarding. I think right now we’re in a really interesting period in the history of skateboarding. Look at the stuff Pontus does with Polar for example, fucking rad! A lot of new small ‘skater’ owned companies popping up. And so many rippers that kill it in the streets but also on transition. There’s such a large diversity of styles which makes it really interesting! Just concentrate on the good stuff in skateboarding and everything will be all right.

Nathalie and Bjorn Heide.

How was filming a video part at the time?

You did it in a couple of days haha. Sometimes a bit longer. It’s not that you had filmers that came along all the time. You really can’t compare it with how it is these days!

Is there something you miss from how skateboarding was at the time?

Of course there are some things I miss these days, especially with all that internet stuff getting injected into your brain every day. Like back in the days you had to wait for months to see some video coming out, so when it was finally there we watched it like 10 times or more. And in a way it got appreciated more. But then again, just concentrate on the good stuff. It’s just a bit time-consuming to filter out the crap sometimes. Of course I can go on and on about the negative side of the world wide web, but just accept it and try to see the positive side of it! As long as they keep producing books, magazines, etc… I will be a happy person.

Is it true that you got hurt really bad and you had to quit skating for many years? Do you skate now?

No, I quit for two years around 93’ or 94’ when all that pressure flip, baggy pants and the super small wheels stuff was going on. This in combination with the pressure of being sponsored took away the fun out of skateboarding for me. I was an ok skater I guess, but not as talented as Alex Moul or some of the other great skaters back then. I had to work hard to get stuff done. Not every one is made to have longevity in skateboarding. But at the end I don’t regret anything, it is what it is! I tore my ACL a couple of years later, and then 6 years after that I ripped the ACL in my other knee. It’s a pretty heavy injury. The last couple of years I haven’t been skating a lot, just been working really hard. Nowadays I just skate some transition stuff, and will do a little no comply here and there. Street skating fucks up my body too much, I’m kinda over being injured! So once in a while on tour when we stumble upon a cool natural transition I might skate for fifteen minutes but then my camera is calling me. I really enjoy just pushing down the streets, even with the heavy photo-bag on my back. But trying to skate a bit more is definitely on my to-do list.

What camera do you use the most and what is your all-time favorite photo camera?

The ones I use the most are my Nikon D4 and the D800. I also have a Fuji XT1 but need another lens for it though, so I can shoot more often with it. I also shoot a lot with my Olympus-Pen half frame analog 35mm camera. Just a little point-and-shoot camera, but I like it a lot! It recently broke down and I need to repair it. I wanna shoot more with the Leica again, but I guess the main problem is the lack of time. But I’m working on it! Once in a while I shoot with my polaroid Landcamera. And I have a big box full of old analog cameras I wanna test out some day. I just like digital and analog. They both have their pros and cons. At the end of the day a good image is a good image, it doesn’t matter if it’s shot with a digi, analog, iPhone or whatever.

After all these years shooting skateboarding have you ever felt the need of something different under a professional point of view? How do you deal with the uncertainty of skateboarding when it comes to being around for a week to bring home maybe 3 good pictures?

That’s the choice you make! If you can’t handle this then go shoot something else! I feel so blessed to be able to make a living just by shooting the things I really like, I travel a lot and no one is telling me how to shoot something. How much more freedom can you have in life? To me this freedom and experiencing different cultures means being rich! I would never wanna shoot stuff I don’t like and earn a lot of money! Ok, once in a while I’ll shoot something I like less to make some extra bucks, but that’s pretty rare.

What other types of photography are you interested in? Do you shoot other things besides skateboarding?

I shoot whatever my eyes like. Portraits of interesting people, landscapes, and a lot of street photography, that’s what I try to do on tour, shoot things besides skateboarding. At some spots there’s always interesting stuff happening on the side. You just have to learn to think in advance, otherwise you miss out on some things. I also used to shoot some packshots for this girl who made jewelry, and to be honest you can’t specialize in shooting everything. Packshots is a real technical branch of photography. Same with food-photography. This friend of my dad is a real good food-photographer but he told me he can’t shoot the stuff I shoot like he wish he could. You should just stick to the things you’re good at, you can’t do everything in life! It takes a lot of practice to be good at something. I’m also part of the Antwerp City Photographers. Gallery Fifty One, a really respected photo gallery in Antwerp is organizing this. It’s a collective of ten totally different people/photographers, we shoot whatever we want in our city over a period of four years and at the end of the ride they will do an expo and release a book. But at the moment it’s a bit fucked. We’ve had this new mayor for a while, and this guy is probably the biggest cunt you can imagine. He’s not down with art at all so they pulled out a lot of the subsidies, so we need to find a solution for this. We’ll see what happens! Other than that I shoot some music bands, but mostly not the concerts, more like portraits and lifestyle. And what I probably like the most is shooting friends of mine, you know them really well so it’s a super relaxed way of shooting!

Kevin Tshala / Ollie over the pole.

If you could choose another field of photography to work in what would that be?

Documentary stuff where I get to travel. The fact I travel a lot makes it so much more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I shoot some great photos in my own town. But seeing and experiencing different cultures is really mind-expanding!

After the experience with Wood Magazine you started working for Vans and traveling a lot, where have you been in the last year? Which places impressed you the most among the ones you visited?

It’s not that I work for Vans all the time, and before the Vans thing I was also traveling quite a bit. But I’m really stoked on working for such a rad shoe company! Apart from that, I work freelance for some magazines, for Element sometimes, Cliché once in a while, and some other companies. I absolutely love going to Athens, it’s such a rad city and the people I know there are super cool! Panama was rad, Taipei, Morocco, and the list goes on, such as more close-to-home places like Copenhagen, Berlin, Dubrovnik, Riga, and Mallorca as well… I just enjoy traveling, it enlightens my mind! Every country has its own charm. I think I’ve never been somewhere I don’t want to return to. And I really enjoy eating all this different food, a pretty essential thing in my life!

What’s your opinion about Instagram and social media in general… and about the speed with which everything becomes old the next day?

It has its pros and cons! It takes a lot of energy and time to produce good stuff, so sometimes it’s a shame it goes on the internet and is forgotten the next day. But it is what it is! Better deal with it because it’s here to stay for a while! At the end of the day I’ll always try to do expos, shoot photos for magazines, make a book or something; things you can hold in your hands, see with your own eyes and not just on a digital screen. I enjoy Instagram, it’s a cool way to see some stuff you would normally not see, although there’s a lot of bullshit on there. I just use it to show my work, I’m not too interested in sharing my personal life with the rest of the world. But to each his own! It’s quite funny these days, you know exactly where somebody is at a certain moment, what tour he’s on, etc… But at the end of the day I wouldn’t miss Instagram if it were gone tomorrow.

What are your plans for the upcoming months?

I’m trying to sell my house so I wanna stay home for a while to arrange all of this and then move to the countryside. I just love being surrounded by nature! In October I have planned a short trip to France to shoot with Sam Partaix for some Vans thing. And in December I wanna organize a trip to some far away destination together with my filmer buddy Stijn Lammertyn. But most of the time, tours come in at the last minute, so I’m not sure where I will be going this year. And I think I’m finally ready to think about doing a book. It’s been on my mind for a long time but I’m glad it hasn’t happened yet! We’ll see!

Thanks Davide and ABG for the interview and for showing my photos! I also wanna thank everybody (companies, people) who helped me out over the years, all the magazines for publishing my stuff, all the people I shot photos with, and my friends and family! And last but sure not least, my girlfriend Eva for being there for me and never stressing about the fact that I’m always gone or working! You’re the most chill person on Earth, you bring peace to my hectic life!!