Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Skateboarder + Camera= Moments of Grace

Todd Jordan, Pro Skateboarder, photo by Ben Cohen

When I saw the words "Nike" and "Jordan," what do you think of? Well, this post isn't about that.

This is about Todd Jordan, the professional skateboarder (Nike sponsored) and professional photographer. It's not the usual two-fer career. I met Jordan a few years ago, when he was with the Zoo York skateboard team. That was also when he was launching his career as a fine-art photographer, sort of. Probably it just seemed "sort-of," because pro skateboards don't do careers the way the a lot of people do. He was a pro skateboarder who traveled all the time and "Oh, yeah, I take some pictures wherever I go." It was a casual endeavor. Or not. I was intrigued, first because I really liked the pictures he made. You meet a skateboarder who is a photographer, and you think, "Okay, I'm going to see a lot of pictures of skinny guys in baggy jeans and white tee-shirts doing endless ollies. But Jordan didn't shoot skateboarding. Essentially his work was a visual diary--places he visited while skateboarding all over the world, people he met, friends he hung out with. My first instinct is to say the pictures appealed to me because of their honesty, or authenticity, but sincerity is may be a better word. They seemed to gracefully accept and appreciate the rewards of youth. Very often they were beautiful, and very often I found them a little heartbreaking.
Warsaw, Poland, 2010
Bathhouse, Karakol, Kazakhstan, 2008

 Last week I caught up again with Jordan, who recently turned 30. "I wasn't even thinking about it. And then you realize you're 30, and it's a little bit of a shock," he said. He still travels all the time, though he admitted to have started thinking about shopping around for a house, given the current buyers' market. "I'm at such a different pace now than when we last met," he said. "I've been to the hospital enough times to have a pretty good understanding of what I'm capable of and what I'm not. There were trips I went on in my early 20s where I spent way too much of my time in the hospital. I'd go to Europe for seven weeks and spend a week of that time in the hospital." 

His photography has evolved too. Recently he has been shooting some ad campaigns for Nike SB, taking creative authenticity taken to another level---a pro skateboarder who endorses their products, and the guy taking the pictures for the ads that sell the products. "Whenever you go on trips for the company, there's always a photographer along to document it," he says. "But there's a difference between being the photographer in the front of the van and being the photographer in the back of the van with the other members of the team." He's also been branching out, shooting for other Nike divisions and some other companies.

Flower sale, Cappadocia, Turkey, 2010

His fine-art work has evolved, too. He studied at the School of Visual Arts, and his hero was (and is) Nan Goldin, who made it okay for a generation of photographers to turn their personal lives into art. Lately he's been doing portraits of people he knows--lots of his former girlfriend--and they impressed me. They're formal but don't suffer from excess artifice. They capture a realness (as opposed to reality, which photographs are not). And almost always a tenderness. "It's all about finding the level of comfort with someone," he said.

Kevin, Cappadocia, Turkey, 2010
Room at Park Plaza, Los Angeles, 2010
 Jordan grew up in Kingston, New York, in the Hudson Valley. He started skateboarding when he was about 10. "It was fairly typical," he said. "All my friends and my brothers were skateboarding. I was just the only one who didn't stop." He had one friend with a good camcorder shot some footage of him, then did a nice editing job. "When I saw that, I thought, 'Hey, I'm pretty good,'" he said. He sent the video to the Zoo York pro team, and they eventually got back to him and offered him a spot on their team. He was in high school at the time. "That's they way every little kid with a skateboard thinks it works...but it almost never does," Jordan said. "But it did for me."

When my own son was in middle school, he was an obsessed skateboarder, and he and his friends spent hours videotaping each other. Here's the move: You go into a kind of crouch on the board and hold the camera down low, near the wheels, shooting up. "Yeah, that's the first thing you figure out when you look at the skateboarding photos in magazines or the videos on YouTube," Jordan told me. "Shooting up from a low angle makes you look huge. That's what the fisheye lens is for." Was it the visual self-referencing of the sport that got Jordan into photography? No, it was the 35mm SLR that his mother owned. "I really coveted that camera," he said. Then it was the photo class in high school. Later he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where one of his instructors, photo dealer Peter Halpert, encourage him. Later, Halpert became began representing him.

Mateusz, Warsaw, Poland, 2010
And now he is 30. And thinking about book project he might want to do with Nike. And starting to think about a house. And other things. He went to Turkey recently on behalf of Nike and loved it. "Istanbul is a skateboarder's dream," he said. And he was in Miami in December for Art Basel, where there was an exhibition of a project called "Now I Remember," featuring images that he and some friends produced with cell phone cameras. "Yeah," he says, it was really fun."

1 comment:

  1. I've always been a fan of this guys skateboarding and just recently started checking out his photos.