Marcas Gallery and Arkitip recently hosted an exhibit of legendary photos of the Del Mar Skate Ranch by J. Grant Brittain in Downtown Santa Ana. We caught up with Grant for a few questions about the era and skate photography in general.
How did you get into photography?
– I was working at Del Mar and borrowed my roommates camera in February of 1979 and shot a roll of film of local, Kyle Jensen. Had one good photo and then went and bought a used camera.
How did you get started at Del Mar?
– I worked at the skatepark when it opened. Wally Inouye lived next door to me and brought me a skate deck on my birthday on July 28th, 1978 and said he could probably get me a job at the park in Del Mar that was opening the next month. Eddie Economy lived next door and he was going to be the Pro Shop manager. I worked at the park from 1978 till 1984, we were worker bees, swept the bowls, rented out safety gear, poured Orange Bang in the Snack Bar and sold skate gear in the Pro Shop. I ended up as the manager of the skatepark and Pro Shop and also slept on the pool table in the arcade for eight months. I owe it all to Wally and Eddie.
Describe the Del Mar era – what was the scene like?
– When the park opened in 1978, it was packed with skaters, skating was booming. We would have 6 to 8 people working and 100 skaters skating. The pros were flowing gear to people and the parking lot was a gathering place for the who’s who of 70′s skateboarding. There were the local guys and girls, the visiting pros and people there to watch the stars. Chris Strople, Wally Inouye, Eddie Economy, Owen Nieder, Dennis Martinez, Brad Bowman, Kyle Jensen, Jeff Paige, Bill Billing, Steve Sherman, Sonny Miller, Jeff Tatum, so many locals and stars. There were the locals and the wannabee locals, I meet people now that claim local status, but I don’t know them, I remember the Bad Co. guys in the 70s, they were the Surfy Skatey Down D crew, they were surf skater rockers from D Street in Encinitas and then Sonny Miller, Jeff Tatum and Art M would only skate the Kidney Pool and dominate it. There was definitely a pecking order in the pool, you had to wait your turn and there were regulators.
In 1980 or so, skateboarding died, I mean really DIED! We would have 2 people skating and keep the park open till 11PM. If you sold a $100 in the pro shop on a day, you would be stoked. The best thing about it being dead, is that we locals had the park to ourselves. There would be one or two of us working and 6 locals skating. The locals and frequenters then were, Owen Nieder, Dave Swift, Tony Hawk, Gator, Stagoo, Chip Morton, TMag, Dave Bedore, Ken Park, The Stalmaskys, Dave Eckles, Tod Swank, Staab, Lester, Blender, Billy Ruff, Miki Vuckovich, Mike McGill, Sinisa Egelja, Aaron Astorga, Dave Duncan and a few others. After the park closed in 1987, bonds were strong, people stayed friends and everyone went on and furthered their lives in skateboarding and beyond. I am still friends with a lot of these fellows.
Photography was the main way to get information out to skaters in other parts of the world, what were the main media outlets? Tell about zines and other alternative press.
– There were Skateboarder and The Wild World of Skateboarding mags, and then when skating died, they split and after a year or so, Thrasher started and then I helped found Transworld in 1983. Those two magazines were where you saw skateboarding, not on TV, it was Magazines that kept the future history alive. Everyone had their zines, I had mine, Airzine. Lance and Neil and all of those guys started zines and that’s where skate art started showing up. GSD (Gary Scott Davis) and his SkateFate made them serious work. Zines kept underground skateboarding alive around the world. Thrasher and Transworld helped spread the gospel.
Describe the cycle from getting a shot, printing, submitting to getting it to print to circulation the progression must have been outpacing the documentation by leaps and bounds?
– The progression was happening, but there were less pros back then and there were the technicians progressing the tricks. If you look at the mags from back then, you see a lot of the same skaters doing the innovating. As far as the cycle of getting a photo printed, I was the photo editor and senior photographer at Transworld and it became my portfolio. I look at some of the photos that I ran back then and wonder what I was thinking? Not the skaters’ faults, just my photography.
From a photography perspective, what was most interesting about this time for you?
– I look back at that time and see it as the Golden Age, vert skating was going off and street skating was coming in and took over. What’s really great is seeing all of these guys I shot in their teens and twenties ripping today, it makes me smile. I owe it all to these guys, I cut my photography teeth on my friends at Del Mar and in the early days of Transworld where I got free film and travel. I was at the right place at the right time basically.
Information now spreads so much faster, how does this influence skateboarding and it?s culture?
– One has to be careful not to get caught up in feeding the Content Monster. There are so many digital venues and outlets and they all need content, a lot of bullshit gets put out there and a lot of great stuff ends up on Instagram for a minute. I see stuff that 20 years ago would have been in print and we would be writing about it in future blogs or see it on our eyeballs on another planet. I see some not so great content being put out just to fill the digital space. A lot of it is forgotten quickly or mowed over by the next big thing. It was easier when I started to get your stuff out in the skate world, there were two mags and 6 photographers shooting 30 skaters. There’s so much content now, a lot of it gets lost. It’s quite overwhelming in a way.
You have seen a lot of change in skateboarding and media, where do you see things headed next?
– I have done a magazine since 1983, before we used computers, to using computers, to the spreading information through the internet, moving from film to digital photography, and then merging still photography and video in a digital storytelling format online for free. Print has to make a special product, it has to tell a compelling story. There are some things that a magazine can do better. If a magazine is fresh and is nice to hold, an experience, collectable, it has more worth and value. If print is dead like some say, why is it such a big deal to still get an interview or a cover of the new mag?
Interview and photography Stefan Jeremias