What can I say about Sharpy that people don’t know already? Well his skate photography speaks for itself, he has pretty much taken pictures of every UK skateboarder i can think of as well as a wide range of international riders. I’ve had the honor of working along side this man mountain during skate trips and I can’t think of a nicer guy to be around, his positivity when shooting brings out the best in peoples skating. Don’t get me wrong happy guy to shoot with unless he’s hungry! He needs regular feeds or he gets a bit cranky haha. When he’s not taking insanely good photos and being a rad dad to his daughter Baylin, Leo can be found lecturing his fine lens skills with his partner Kirsty at Falmouth University. Leo will always be one of my favorite photographers to shoot with, and I’m hyped a brief glance skateboardmag have made this article for him, he deserves all the recognition he gets. (Jody Smith).
Mike Anderson // Taildrop_Mallorca 2008.
Hi Leo, when did you start skating?
I started skating in 1985 when I was 10 years old. That was when I got my first skinny plastic board, a “Jupiter skateboard.” We used to bomb the hill through the local graveyard on our knees. From there I got a “Variflex Diablo” about a year later, then my first pro set-up on my 11th birthday. I can still see it now, leaning against my bedroom wall – a Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp multi-face, Indys, Bullet 66s and lime green grip tape.
After so many years spent skating and living around skateboarding, how much do you think skateboarding has influenced your life and the choices you made? What are your feelings if you think about it?
Skateboarding has and will always be important to me. Whatever I’m doing, it’s always in my thoughts. It has been responsible for some of the happiest times in my life and some of the lowest too. It has given me the best times, allowed me to travel to far off places and experience things that I probably would otherwise never have seen. Skateboarding has blessed me with amazing friends, made me laugh until I literally pissed myself, cursed me with an addiction to motorway services food and endowed me with levels of patience I previously thought impossible. Because of skateboarding I can go anywhere in the world and have mates to hang out with and a place to stay. Skating gave me the best job in the world. I will always be a skateboarder and I’m proud of that.
Do you remember the first time you picked up a photo camera and what pushed you to do so?
I got a Ricoh rangefinder for my 7th birthday. I remember the first photo I ever took with it. It was my best friend sitting on a garden bench. I attempted a vertical grip (why start conventionally?) and managed a shot at a diagonal angle. Cameras have fascinated me ever since.
Many skateboarding photographers are skaters who started shooting photos of their friends at the spot and then fell in love with photography, was it the same for you?
Yes, pretty much. I wanted to document what was going on in our scene in Milton Keynes as I was growing up. There wasn’t much coverage of any skateboarding outside London in the UK at that time. My parents bought me a Minolta X300s for my 16th Birthday. All that summer I shot photos of my friends skating the rad spots in our home town. Later that year, RAD magazine ran an article on our scene!
Do you remember your first photo published in a skateboard magazine?
What was it and in which mag?It was in the Milton Keynes article in RAD magazine in 1991. There were a few photos that I shot and a couple of me too!
How long have you been working for Sidewalk? Which mags have you worked for over the years?
Sidewalk magazine since the beginning in 1995, RAD magazine, System magazine, Kingpin, Big Brother, Skateboarder, The Skateboarders Journal (Australian mag), Slam (Australian mag), Australian Skateboarding magazine, Flipside (Greek mag), North skate mag, Grey skate mag, Adrenalin mag, Color magazine (Canadian skate mag), SBC (Canadian skate mag), Concrete (Canadian skate mag), Monster skate mag, Sugar, Soma, Beach Brother, Freestyler,Chill, Dogway, Manual (New Zealand skate mag), New Zealand skateboarder, The Journal, Front magazine, a brief glance skateboardmag.
You documented the UK scene for so many years and travelled the world shooting with a lot of professional skateboarders, if you were to tell us your “favorite mission/tour/shooting” which one would it be? (for sure you’ve got A LOT to tell but if you had to choose one?) And why? Also, among the articles you shot over the years, which is the one you are most proud of? Which mag was it in and when?
That is a difficult question to answer. There definitely isn’t a single trip that stands out as my “favorite,” but a fun one was the 1999 UK Sole Tech trip to France. We drove the A4 distribution Renault Espace from Warrington in the north of England to Nantes in Bretagne for a skate comp, then on to Marseille to skate the park. The crew was Rodney Clarke, Dave Allen, Howard Cooke, Garry Woodward, Pete Hellicar and Neil Chester on filming duties. Even though there were a few setbacks (losing the keys for the roof box before we left the UK and having the van broken into as soon as we got to Marseille) we didn’t stop laughing for the whole trip. We drove all day from Nantes straight to the Marseille skatepark to have a skate before we’d even checked into our hotel. We had no idea how sketchy it is in Marseille. I remember Howard uttering the immortal words – “THERE’S SOMEONE IN THE VAN” from his vantage point atop a fence at the skatepark. We all ran back to the van to see all of our bags on the road about to be nicked by a couple of ultra sketchy dudes. We chased them away and one of them dropped his mobile phone. Needless to say we rinsed that phone into oblivion that night, calling everyone we knew all around the world. We were so very close to having everything we owned stolen. That didn’t stop us from having a laugh for the rest of the trip, even when the van got broken into across the road from where we were sitting at McDonalds one night, later in the trip. I remember Hellicar chasing the guy all the way down the road. He got away, but not without utterly shitting himself first!
South Africa 2002.
The UK skateboard scene seems to be one of the most active over the last few years; a lot of new amazing skateboarders are coming out, many big brands use skateparks to promote their image and London seems to be “the right place” to organize the best events. Also, the UK is one of the most attractive markets in terms of sales… Why is this, in your opinion?
It’s funny isn’t it? I guess the UK is positioned in the right location globally, plus it seems to be where a lot of skate/fashion trends start. I think a few of the more mainstream brands have noticed this and are putting marketing budget into UK events. As far as new talent, I think the UK has always produced amazing skaters, but with the advent of the internet there’s more of a platform for everyone. Years ago you could have been the best dude to ever set foot on a skateboard, but if you lived in the middle of nowhere you had no chance of getting noticed. Look at Barney Page for instance. He’s from a town called Exeter in the South West of England. Not on the skate world’s radar at all. But with a few online clips going around plus a little word of mouth, “check this kid out…” and the rest is history. If Barney had come along 10 years earlier, maybe the opportunity would have passed him by.
What photo camera do you use the most to shoot skateboarding?
At the moment a Canon 1DX.
And what do you prefer to shoot with in general?
The same one, but only for cheapness/ease of use. If I could, I’d still love to shoot with my Hasselblad all the time.
If you were to choose one of these only: natural light or flashes?
Black and white or color?
Colour with Flash, Black and White without.
Film or digital?
Last year you started teaching photography at a university… How did the chance arise and what is it about? Do you like to teach?
I started doing a few part time workshops in the photography degree course that my girlfriend teaches. Eventually, a full time position came up and I applied for it. I found that I really enjoyed doing it, “seeing the light bulb come on” when a student learns something, then shows you some great work using the new technique.The course is called Fashion Photography and it’s at Falmouth University. The job is interesting but the course is probably not one I’d like to teach forever. I love skateboarding too much for that. I’d love to teach an action sports photography course.
Is it harder to deal with crazy skateboarders on the road or with students in the class? Ah ha ha.
Hah. They’re probably not that different when it comes down to it. You end up waiting around for both.
So with the new job you have less time to travel and shoot skateboarding… what do you miss the most about this?
Obviously, I miss shooting photos everyday, but the main thing is just hanging out and having a laugh. There is nothing like skating, travelling, and seeing new places with new people and just having fun. There can be so much that goes into shooting a good skate photo. Some days you’ll go out, drive around to 10 spots all day, get rained out, kicked out, broken off, and leave empty handed. On another day everything will fall into place and you’ll come home with 5 rad photos. But you have to go through the shit days to really appreciate the good ones. I miss all of the above.
Andrew Brophy // switch ollie_ St Petersburg 2006.
Was “leaving skateboarding” to start a new job a difficult decision to make? Now that you’re more involved in different fields of photography, what is your opinion about skateboarding photography?
I don’t feel that I’ve “left skateboarding.” I definitely shoot less but I’m still out most weekends and quite a few week nights after work. If anything, I have more of a hunger to shoot as I have had a break from doing it all the time. My opinion of skate photography has never changed. I still think it’s the most exciting, fun and rewarding thing to shoot. I am a skateboarder and a photographer. I haven’t found another form of photography yet that comes close to the excitement I get from shooting skating.
What do you like the most about skateboarding photography? How do you face the “frustration factor” about spending A LOT of time to get one photo and the risk of a non-landing, rain, or getting kicked out of the spot?
There’s nothing like the feeling of shooting a photo that you’re stoked on. When you’ve had to go back to a spot multiple times for all those reasons and you finally get the trick, it’s even better. I think some people can be a bit dismissive of photos sometimes without knowing the amount of hard work that went into getting the shot.
Being a grown up, do you feel the age gap when you go on tour with 15 year old skaters? ha ha ha… In your opinion is there an age when you have to stop shooting young kids causing trouble on the streets with their skateboards? hahaha
I used to worry a bit about that. But I’ve realized it doesn’t matter at all. Why should I stop shooting photos of good skateboarding just because the kid doing the trick is a bit younger? My daughter is nearly 4 years old, who’s to say she won’t end up skating?
What are your thoughts about the speed with which everything becomes old the next day?
It makes me laugh. A good stylish trick, line, or video part holds its value forever. Look at Keenan’s switch flip over the picnic table at Lockwood, or John Rattray’s part in Waiting For The World. I’m not saying that some things on the internet aren’t instantly forgettable, but something with true worth stands the test of time.
A few years back you moved to sunny OZ for a few months… any plans of going back?
Fate works in mysterious ways. We spent 3 years getting our residency visa for OZ sorted out. We sold our house, we both quit our jobs and shipped all our worldly belongings in a container to Australia. We spent 7 weeks over there but had to move back because my girlfriend was pregnant with our daughter, Baylin. I was working in a skate shop called Fast Times in Melbourne (thanks to Anthony Mapstone for the hookup) and shooting photos for The Skateboarders Journal (thanks to Sean Holland). We couldn’t afford to stay there in the end, as we weren’t citizens it may have cost us a fortune to have a baby if there were complications during the birth. In short, we came back home to the good old British National Health Service so Kirsty could give birth, and we just ended up staying. It definitely wasn’t the right time to go to Australia, and it made me realize how momentous leaving behind friends and family on the other side of the world actually is. Never say never though – there’s always time to go back.
When was the last time you got hyped looking at a skateboard photo?
Dave Chami’s heated up/burned transparencies in Transworld. Pretty much anything that Brian Gaberman does. Ollie Barton’s amazing Hasselblad mastery – he is still shooting film all the time. Sam Ashley’s photography. There are so many inspiring skate photographers.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for the next few months?
I’m trying to skate and travel as much as my job at the uni allows. My daughter is young and in nursery school and I want to be around for her as much as possible. When she gets a bit older I’d like to go back on the road a bit more. I feel like there’s still so much unskated terrain to see out there and a lot more laughs to be had.