Running From The Pack

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Stephanie Mee looks back over 20 years of the DC skate fashion company with photographer Mike Blabac.

IN 1994 a group of athletes revolutionised the world of skateboarding by introducing skate shoes designed with skateboarders’ unique needs in mind. They would go on to form DC Shoes, a brand that has become synonymous with innovative and progressive footwear and action sports apparel the world over.

To celebrate 20 years and still going strong, DC has released its limited edition hardcover book Defy Convention / 20 Years of DC in Photographs featuring 124 iconic images curated by world-renowned photographer and director of skateboarding photography Mike Blabac. A selection of Mike’s chosen images recently exhibited at Deus Ex Machina as part of the global photo gallery tour.

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Mike, what was it that stoked you to become a skateboard photographer?

Simply looking through skateboard magazines as a kid. I had always been interested in photography, but couldn’t get enough the first time I saw the skate photos in Thrasher and Transworld magazines. I pored over them all day wondering what lenses were used to make the photographs. The creative flash placement, the long shutter speeds, etc. were nothing like I had ever seen before in a traditional photography magazine.

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How did you start out doing photography yourself?

It was not planned when I started out professionally. I was working at the Gap in San Francisco when Scott Johnston’s photographer flaked on him to shoot an ad. He then asked me if I could pull it off because he knew I shot photos. We shot a photo after I got off work, and it ended up getting used. I quit the same week I got paid for the ad. I figured skateboarding with my friends was way better than working in the stockroom folding polo shirts all day.

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At that time was skate photography a difficult field to get into?

The hardest part would be getting to know everyone, especially at EMB in the mid ’90s. I was lucky in that I met everyone as a skater. I just skated all day and night there when I first moved to San Francisco. Guys like Aaron Meza and Karl Watson slowly introduced me to everyone, and the whole crew met me as a skateboarder. Had I walked straight into EMB with a camera fresh from the Midwest USA, I probably would have been robbed of all my camera gear! Ha! I had been shooting photos before that ever since I was 12, so I had a base of photography knowledge to learn how to shoot skating.

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How did you get your first big break?

My first big break was the Scott Johnston wheel ad. After that I had a reputation in the city of being able take solid photos. I soon got a job at Mad Circle shooting all their ads, and lining up editorial with magazines.

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Today you are one of the most well-known skateboard and action sports photographers and your photos have been published in nearly every skateboard mag out there, as well as other sports publications, websites and even billboards. In your opinion, what is the secret to your success?

Other than luck? Maybe just hard work. I’ve always had a solid work ethic. Furthermore, I’ve always appreciated what I do. I still marvel at the things I get to see and places I get to go. I consider myself very lucky. Lastly, I’ve tried to discipline myself never to be complacent. I always want to keep learning and getting better. Sometimes I may be too hard on myself thinking that everything I shoot can be better. I still study photos remembering my settings and thinking of what I could have done differently the same way I pored over my light table as a kid 20 years ago.

What inspires you on a daily basis?

I get inspired by shooting stuff that inspires others. To be able to make a photograph that people stop and take notice of is amazing to me. I love making the same images that I once tore out of magazines and hung on my wall.

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You joined DC Shoes Inc. in 1999 and still work there as the director of skateboarding photography. What is the best part about your job?

Being able to shoot photographs that will stand the test of time and be remembered is the best part of my job. Photographing guys like Danny, Kalis, Colin, and now Wes, Nyjah, etc. is incredible. Also being able to shoot almost every ad for over 15 years for one brand is great!

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You recently curated the limited edition photo narrative Defy Convention / 20 Years of DC in Photographs featuring 124 fabulous images of skate and action sports culture. What drove your decision making process when choosing photos for the book?

I gathered up every photo I could that was a significant part of DC’s history, then I narrowed everything down that belonged in a coffee table book. It was tough! I asked TM’s, marketing leads, etc. for their two cents. I then showed it to some friends whose opinions I respect to get their response. Although I’m hard on myself, I’m very happy with the finished book. Everyone involved did a great job.

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The images represent 20 years of the evolution of sport and art. How have you seen action sports photography progress over the years, and where do you see it going in the future?

It has definitely progressed along with the sports, but at the end of the day, a good sports photograph makes you feel something and inspires you to go skate. This is true in my opinion no matter how technically perfect an image is. I believe that will always be the case, although there will always be better cameras, lighting, etc.

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Any advice for aspiring skate and sport photographers?

Shoot a lot. Sounds kind of cheesy, but that’s the first thing I mention any time a kid writes me because it’s the best way to learn from your mistakes, and most importantly what you’ve done right. Photography is just like skating or anything else – it requires a lot of practice. The more you do it, the more of a personal style you’ll create for yourself.

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