Jacob Messex is a young photographer from L.A. who started out like most skateboard photographers as a skateboarder that started shooting tricks of his friends during daily sessions. At just 18 years old, Jacob is staff photographer for The Skateboard Mag. Los Angeles is the heart of the skateboarding industry, so it is interesting to hear a privileged point of view about the city’s scene through the images and words of one of its youngest and most active photographers.
Jon Sciano // fs tailblock_LA.
Hi Jacob, the first time we got in touch was when you shot some photos with Brian Lotti for his interview on A Brief Glance, how was shooting photos with Brian? He has always been one of my all-time favorite skaters…
Brian has always been fun to skate with. One of the first times I met him was at my local skatepark in Frog Town, skating with Sue Trinh. He was always nice to me and I think he got my number from someone and then we used to go film lines and fun curb action at the Little Caesars Pizza in Echo Park. Always mellow and one of the best backside 360’s I’ve ever filmed, though my friend Sean Pablo has a mean one for his age. Brian is a pretty rad artist too. I once lent my VX1000 to him for like a couple weeks so he could do drawings of it and stuff. I still have this huge charcoal drawing of it that I got framed. Oh, and yeah he’s one of my favorite skaters too!
When and how did you start getting involved with photography and especially skateboarding photography?
Me getting into photography went hand in hand with skateboarding. I never really started shooting photos of flowers and shit, or like buildings. It was always based around skateboarding. I bought my first camera from eBay when I was like 15 or 16. It was a Canon AE-1, which is a pretty simple-to-use 35mm format SLR that I always would shoot things with. It was super fun to shoot a roll at a time and take it to CostCo to get those shitty scans. I was always stoked because by the time I would get the photos back I had forgotten what was even on the roll. I hardly even shot portraits of my friends, it was always me just trying to shoot a rad skate photo.
Did you start experimenting or did you have someone helping you out? (Brian Lotti told me you are/were Atiba’s assistant)?
It was all experimentation. I hadn’t really stepped out of my friend-level into the world yet. I started hanging out with Atiba way later on, but yeah he was always showing me things. For example, one time I was shooting a photo at the Supreme L.A. bowl and he was hanging around with us, giving me pointers on how to light the bowl better and stuff like that. I’d have to give almost everything photography-wise to Matt Price who I had met many years before I even started shooting stuff that was CostCo scanned. I was probably 15 and I would go to Woodward West with all my friends to skate for a couple weeks at the summer camp. Price was there with the visiting pros (IPATH). I had known who he was and started talking to him about mutual friends that we had. Then I’m pretty sure I followed him around camp for a couple days like any weird little kid would. I made him follow me on Instagram and got his number. I don’t think I have gone a weekend without texting him since then, maybe like 3 years of everyday back and forth, skate-nerd chatting.
You are studying photography at college, what’s the best thing of attending a photography school in your opinion? How does it “influence” the way you shoot skateboarding?
Well, at first I really didn’t want to go to school. I was already getting photos run and had come out with 2 Jim Greco Supra Footwear Ads. During my Senior year of high school, The Skateboard Mag flew me out to Tampa Pro which was like my first real deal gig. But I am happy that I am in school and my schedule isn’t that bad right now, so I’m still shooting the same amount of stuff. I just have to plan things a little better and hit people up like days in advance. My first term class I had a “concepts” class with this dude Ken, he really opened up my eyes about stuff. I never even thought about things like that before, like light, color, and separation. I seriously never even thought about that stuff and then it hit me. I sometimes hate that class cause for a while when I’d go skating I’d get all anxious about shadows, and around 3 o’clock I’d be like, “Fuck! The sun is going down, try and land it right here!” Even though it was just me being anal about how everything looked. It’s also a plus to be able to shoot rolls of film, process it all, and scan or print it with the best equipment money can buy.
Barcelona is good for skating (and partying), China is perfect for tours, L.A. is (and has always been) “the place to be” if you want to work in skateboarding. The skateboard industry is based there, and most of the pros live there. Being born and raised in L.A., do you have the feeling you are in the right place to work as a skateboard photographer? (Did you know that 96.8% of all skateboard photographers around the world would love to live in Cali and have the chance to shoot with amazing skateboarders everyday? Ah ha ha).
Yeah, totally! It’s nuts how things worked out to put me dead in the center of the skate industry. I really didn’t even take skating too seriously till my mom moved a little closer into Los Feliz where I met the core skate group I grew up with. We started going to the Berrics A LOT when we were like 12, all mongo as fuck, just the worst little kids. Berra would always text us to come by the park and we would all force one of our parents to drive us to the Berrics in Downtown L.A. I’ve found old footage of us in like Skate or Dice or some First Try Fridays where we are in the background hucking down the 7 or just chilling. I had my birthday there too, and one night we all slept over there with Berra and his staff editing away upstairs. It was so much fun and now that I think about it, it’s pretty crazy that all those dudes were down for it.
Stuart Kirst // bs lipslide_Highland Park_CA.
One of the main things skateboarding photographers around the world have to deal with is the “non-professionalism” of skateboarders (” Today I can’t come shooting I have to work… Let’s do it next week, I’m still hungover from last night’s party… the flat is too smooth… this rail is too round… or too square…” and so on… ha ha ha). Does this happen in Cali too? Or does having the chance to shoot with more pros and more skaters make you one of the luckiest skateboarding photographers? Ah ha…
Yeah, sometimes spots just suck or we will get the boot for example, but I’ve been pretty lucky with all the dudes I grew up with, and now some of the Pros I get to shoot. Lately though, I’ll sometimes feel disconnected cause I’ll be skating with the homies one day, then have to wake up at 5am to meet up with Greco at some secret location that we can’t tell anyone about, where I then get to shoot some trick of him jumping into a freeway entrance or along the lines of that. Its pretty fucking sick that I was able to do that and I love that Jim is like that. He’s one of my favorite guys to skate with!
You represent the new generation, what is the skateboard scene in L.A. like from your point of view? What’s goin’ on? What’s the vibe like? What still unknown skateboarders will come out soon in your opinion?
Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m the new generation, haha. I really like the scene in L.A., it’s pretty rad in my eyes. I always hear people say L.A. has the worst vibe or that people want to live the L.A. life kinda deal. I don’t have a problem with the traffic. I honestly don’t even think about it, it’s just like a “stupid tax.” Well, there are a couple scenes that I’m always floating around in. All my friends I grew up with all skate for Supreme or like Fucking Awesome which is super rad and I’m always down for what they are doing. Then there are people who skate big rails, or skate rad spots, or just smoke stooges, but no matter what, I love changing it up. It’s like every scene I’m hanging out in I get to shoot a different way. Like yeah, I love shooting a fucking huge rail who wouldn’t? But I also like skating a cutty spot that’s never been hit before, or when it comes down to it, just shooting mellow portraits of my friends hanging out.
Who do you shoot with usually and who do you like to shoot with the most?
I don’t have a personal favorite because it’s somewhat all the same. I’ve been skating with Tom Karangelov and Matt Bublitz a lot. They are really good guys and fun to hang out with. They also BOTH shred!! Also been going out with the FLIP dudes who are super rad to skate with. Arto has also been super helpful and he lets me borrow all his shit when I need to.
Nowadays it’s easier to see 4 filmers at one spot, but it is rare to see a young photographer. The new generations (and the industry) seem to be more interested in videos… why did you choose photography instead of filming?
Well, I started off as a filmer. I filmed VX1000 for about 2 years and then switched to HD after that. I tended to do both for a while, but I was always itching to just shoot photos. I interned at Woodward West in their Media camp and helped kids film and photograph skating, which was rad because it also helped me figure out both a little better. The summer after that (last year), Stereo, who I had been helping film for their Stereophonic web videos, took me along to help film their “Woodward Shoot out” contest video, which we ended up winning. It was pretty nuts going up against REAL and BIRDHOUSE and beating them. I really just liked shooting the photo side, I felt like there is more room for creativity and to make a cool image that you can print and show people. But I’m still super into filming, I just don’t do it as much, but man do I love filing iPhone videos, hahaha.
Any funny story you wish to share that happened while shooting that made you think: “Oh my God what am I doing here!?!”
There are a couple funny stories. Once I brought some people to this rail in Commerce that was a pretty recent big spot after Ave got the contents page of TWS bs 5-0ing it shot by Sam Muller. My friend Tyler Golden and I Google earthed the name of the business and found it haha. Anyways, I went there another day with some dudes but some dick had parked his car in front of the spot. So we got out of the car and were just looking through the gate at the spot. Then the mechanical gate opened so we were like, “Fuck, I guess we can go take a look at it.” We didn’t even have our boards with us. So we are walking inside and then a Sheriff pulls up full speed behind us, jumps out with his gun drawn at me and says, “On the hood!” hahaha. Then a guy from inside the business comes out and was talking on a first name basis with the cop, and was telling him how we broke in and were damaging shit and breaking stuff, just a total load of crap, it was insane! The cop put everyone in the back but left me on the hood and man was that hood hot. They gave us the whole run around but man did it suck and made me hate cops even more.
You shoot on film as well. What do you think in general about shooting on film in the digital era?
I never really even thought about the capabilities of analog film until starting school here, but I really just liked to be doing something that I thought was the correct way to shoot it. I was and still am amazed when I shoot with a Hasselblad. I just LOVE the camera and the way things look when shot on film. Especially shooting a Hasselblad with a fisheye is the best thing ever to me, oh man how I love it! Lately I’ve been shooting a lot of 4×5’s which is super hard to deal with… the negatives are huge! Nothing compares to a 4×5, besides an 8×10 negative. People don’t understand that a print from a 35mm camera is better than a print from a digital camera, and that formats larger than 35mm, like 120 has much more resolution compared to a digital camera that most people shoot on nowadays. I mainly try and shoot digital long lens and still shoot a digital still, but if the spot looks better in a square format like a fisheye, it will be much more distorted, but I’ll shoot it.
You recently released your own personal project called “FilmUsZine,” tell us what it’s about?
FilmUsZine was a project that I started almost 6 months ago. It was just a zine of all the film photos I’d been shooting. It turned into something way bigger than I thought after I got hit up by DJ Chaves and Patrick Melcher to have the release of the zine the same day as their new skate shop opening in my neighborhood. I got some of my homies whose work I really liked and turned it into a cola kinda project. Working on another one soon, hopefully…
Sean Pablo Murphy // fs board_Downtown_LA.
Printed mags are suffering in terms of selling, and digital publications seem to be the future (or already the present)… What’s your opinion about that? Do the friends you skate with buy printed skateboard magazines?
I have always liked the way The Skateboard Mag looked and I’ve always been super down for prints. I just really like the idea of being able to hold it in my hands rather than it just being digitalized. Maybe that’s why I like shooting film so much, because when it comes out it’s like something you can hold in your hands. The guys I skate with are backing print 100%. I feel like it’s all these new non-skaters who aren’t backing it.
You’re on the staff of The Skateboard Mag, how did that come about?
Well, I started working for the Mag a while back just helping out with stuff. Online photos, sequences, you know, all the jazz that an intern would be doing. I didn’t really make it down to the office too much though. They kept hitting me up for web content and then Tampa Pro came around, and they had Ed Dominick and I film the contest and make a video feature from it. I guess that was like the test for me. They were stoked on everything, so they put me on a retainer and I’ve been doing a bunch of video stuff for them as well as shooting interviews for print. Basically, anything I can get my hands on, I go for with them. I feel I have a lot of responsibility, but also the ability to do some sick shit.
How is working for Grant Brittain and Dave Swift like? They wrote many many pages of skateboarding history and skateboarding’s photography history.
Working for them is so awesome! They are some of the best OG photographers and I’m so stoked to be working along with them. I love driving down there and hearing them ramble on about old trips, stories, or random stuff. Swift always has a Heath Kirchart print laying around for me to take and stare at when I get home. Whenever I shoot a skate photo I’ll Cc everyone at the Mag and it’s crazy to get responses back from Swift saying, “beautiful,” or something like, “great lighting.” It makes me feel like I’m doing something right for once… haha.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for 2014?
Well, my big plan was the FilmUsZine. I’m stoked that it finally went down and 500+ people showed up. It totally blew my mind. I guess for the time being I’m just trying to skate and shoot as much crazy stuff as I can with new cameras and techniques. I have a couple more New Jacks that should be dropping soon and some video parts I’m editing. I really want to get another Zine going and have more shows in the future.
Thanks again for the interview!