Words & Interview: Alex Khatchadourian
Most skateboarders, by fact of being on the streets everyday in search of spots, tend to develop a particular sense or way of seeing things. In Rob Collins' case, skateboarding got him into photography and sparked a curiosity to explore his surroundings, searching out different perspectives through his subjects - mostly friends he skates with and the people they meet along the way.
While skateboarding remains as an underlying way of life in a variety of places, where cultures and societies collide or coincide, the Boston-based photographer is there to document it. Collins, as of lately, has begun to worry less about the actual action photo, and more about what’s going on before or after the trick. Stark contrasts of the black and white film Collins uses allows him to express his personal vision through the lens, not only by shooting skate photos, but also documenting what occurs during these sessions.
For Collins, skating and photography are everything; they're both integral to his everyday life and continually inform his creativity. Rob took some time in between some recent trips to talk with us about his first skateboard, working for Converse, and why skateboarding is such an important influence on his work.
Where were you traveling recently? Any funny stories from your trip?
I’ve actually been traveling more lately than I ever have. I started working at Converse in their marketing department, which has allowed me to travel to a ton of places in the last year or so. There are so many funny stories it’s hard to pick just one, but this one is pretty good.
I was in Tampa for Tampa Pro in March and we were all at this bar having some beers, and I was talking to my buddy while we were in line for the bathroom. He pointed to a dude staring out the back door of the bar completely wasted and said “This is Tampa for ya,” and walked into the bathroom. I started filming this dude leaning against the wall and he started walking out the back door and walks over to the dumpster and sits in a pile of garbage – I’m filming this and saying “No way!” as it’s happening.
Anyway, I went to the bathroom, walked back to my friend and was like, “You guys are never going to believe this!”. I showed them the video, and Steiner says, “Was that just now?”. I pointed to the back door and said, “Yeah! It happened right over there!!”. When I pointed, I had a beer bottle in my hand – this girl was walking the other way and I punched her square in the nose. I apologized a hundred times and offered to buy her some beers to make up for it, but she was not pleased and stormed out of the bar. Now, I’m completely against domestic violence and hitting women in any way, but that was pretty amazing.
Seems pretty accidental, some people just can't shake things off. So when did you start skating? Do you remember your first board?
I stared skating 18 years ago when I was 5 years old. My first board was a Robbie Gangemi Vehicle board. I actually remember the day I got it. My mom invited her friend’s son over to give me a board and teach me how to skate. He got dropped off by his mom, I offered him a Mountain Dew (which he declined) and he gave me that board, full set up. Eighteen years later I’m still best friends with that dude and we work together and get to see each other everyday. Thanks Lee, love you buddy.
What do you do? What creative endeavors do you do beyond skateboarding, and how do they weave together or compliment one another, or what role do they play in your life?
Just over a year ago I started working for Converse in their Marketing department. It has truly been the best experience I’ve ever had. I originally got hired to work on only skateboarding, but recently have gotten a bit more responsibility working on some non-skate accounts, which I thought I would hate, but actually really like a lot. It’s nice to be challenged everyday and not only talk about skateboarding. My boss Jeff Dickson has worked in skateboarding longer than I’ve been alive and has been the best boss you could ask for. I’m truly lucky and thankful to be able to work in an environment surrounded by creative people all day long. I also get to travel a good amount so I’m always getting to shoot new things, people, and places which is always a plus.
So you've always been a skater, how and when did you start shooting photos?
I started really shooting photos close to 10 years ago. Photography was something that always interested me and being able to shoot my friends doing what they love just felt natural. I remember when I was 7 or 8 years old I would watch Real to Reel and pause the VCR player in the middle of a trick where I thought it would make a good still.
I'm always interested in asking people what it was they found in skateboarding that made them take a left turn in life in general. Was it looking through a Thrasher magazine, or watching a Powell Peralta video, or something else that made you realize that skateboarding would forever be embedded in your life?
I’m from a super small town in Western Massachusetts that is really judgmental in the sense that if you don’t play a sport, you’re a fucking loser. I found skateboarding at such a young age that it just felt right to continue to do it even when a lot of my friends quit. I do love seeing my brother who HATED skating with me for years, now skate circles around me. That’s my favorite thing about skateboarding: seeing people progress and become their own person that’s all tied back to skating.
Why is skateboarding important to you from a creative standpoint?
Haha, it’s truly everything. I make the photos I make because I’m out skating. I skate to shoot photos, and I shoot photos a lot of the time to get myself out of the house and out skating.
Seems to me like photography is a bit like skating, the more you do it, the better you get, what do you think?
I think that’s true with everything you do – they say practice makes perfect. What I love about both photography and skateboarding is that I’ve been doing it for so long and I can still go out today and learn a new trick, or shoot something differently, or light something a new way. They have endless possibilities.
How is photography integrated in your life? What does it mean to you? What type of photography do you do or are you attracted to, and for what purpose?
It’s everywhere. I’ve recently tried to switch up my work a little bit and worry less about the actual action photo, and more about what’s going on before or after the trick. I’m so interested in the lives of these people. I’ve recently been really stoked on shooting stuff in the van, party photos, hungover photos-- lifestyle let’s call it, although I hate that term.
What are you currently shooting with?
Mostly my X100T – But I also shoot with a Nikon D4 with a 24mm-70mm, 16mm, and an 85mm.
Any projects you're particularly proud of, or really enjoyed putting together and working on?
Last year I came out with my first book titled “Wide Angle Vision.” I drove across the country with my brother Paul for six weeks and just shot as much as I could. I met so many amazing people and skated so much amazing stuff. That was the best summer of my life.
Tell me about the skate scene in Boston, there's been a lot of new spaces for skaters that have popped up recently, like the Lynch Family Skate Park and POP Allston.
It’s really healthy – Converse has been a huge help in making skating possible in the winter with things like POP Allston, and the Birdsnest Bowl at Orchard. But for me personally, the addition of the Lynch Family Skatepark has been insane. It’s a 5 minute skate from my office, I can practically see it from our office doors and it is perfect for a before or after work session. I’ve been mostly skating that except when Lee makes me go push around downtown with him.
Why is Boston such a great backdrop for your photos?
Mainly because a lot of my friends are here, it’s home for me, and I love being able to walk around downtown and see new things everyday. I love traveling, but it feels so good to be home.
What have you been working on lately? What's next?
Just trying to shoot differently. I don’t have a project in the works, but I’ve been looking through my recent stuff a lot and am starting to see a body of work come together, we’ll see.
All photos taken by Rob Collins.