When I was younger, Garry Jones was one of the kids down my local park who was always out and about, always down for a skate, and always interested in more than just skateboarding. He contributed towards this very blog on many occasions donating footage, photos and even old cameras! His interest in photography proved to be something he had a great talent for, and now he is one of the UK’s most prominent skate photographers: having snapped official shots of the Team GB skaters, and photographing some of the world’s best skateboarders at Street League London and the European X-Games. I asked him some questions where he talks about photographing Tony Hawk, Jamie Foy, and of course, everyone’s favourite northerner Joxa.
Those behind the camera sometimes don’t get much recognition, so for anyone who doesn’t know you – tell me a bit about yourself.
For sure, I’m Garry Jones – photographer from Coventry. Moved away for a few years to study my undergraduate but eventually came back to Coventry. Without sounding too much like a profile on a dating app: I’m 28 years old, and recently just completed my Masters Degree. I shoot photos of everything from beer brands to shoes but my main focus these days is working in the music industry, portraits and making album art. Saying that occasionally I get to shoot skateboarding also.
How did you first get into photography?
Not sure exactly when I decided I wanted to be a photographer, it was just always a notion I had from being a kid. Skateboarding influenced me pretty heavily: I had this Blueprint poster, can’t remember the skater, but he was silhouetted doing a FS Krooked down a handrail and flashes going off behind him. I used to always stare at the poster figuring out how it was taken. My first steps into the photography world was in secondary school, using a darkroom where I learnt quite a lot to prepare me going forward.
What was your first “proper” camera?
My first DSLR was an Olympus e-410. I got it around the time I started college at the age of 16. That camera served me well: I shot my first events on it, and skate photos I was happy with. I think things got a bit more professional a couple of years later, when I jumped over to Nikon, and everything started to look a bit cleaner.
Tez Aldersley Varial Heelflip’s a yellow hazard in a Coventry back alley
Who were your influences growing up (skaters and photographers)?
Still to this day, there’s not many “photographers” that really have influenced my work. If there is, it’s more likely photographers that are my close friends that I work with, and they affect my work flow and style. It’s skate culture, and the artists/documentarians within skateboarding, that have truly inspired me.
Ed Templeton is the first, and probably biggest influence: everything he has done with Toy Machine, to his photo books that come out on Um Yeah Art (which is Thomas Campbell’s publishing company). Greg Hunt: as a film-maker, always really inspired me with his work with DC and Alien Workshop. I always thought it was really amazing and always used to try and find interviews of him speaking about his work.
French Fred and his documentation of my favourite brand Cliche really showed me what you can simply do with a black and white 35mm roll of film. Cliche really had such a cool visual aesthetic from their board graphics to the tour videos they put together, such a rad team also.
Mike Blabac too: his photography of Danny Way, and his first photo book were insane, and to this day those photos are incredible. What I liked about Blabac was the fact he could shoot a really good portrait in a studio also, and had this really nice high contrast imagery which really has influenced my work even more recently as I did a transition into more portraiture work.
Who were the first pro/sponsored skaters you ever shot?
Sponsored skater has to be Joxa, thinking back: me, you and Joxa used to head out a lot all over the place. Joxa was on Witchcraft back then, so it was always fun shooting with him, plus he’s the coolest, most friendly dude. As for pro skaters: I was at NASS 2015 when the Birdhouse team came through on tour, and I had woken up a little bit worse for wear from the night before. I walked through the back entrance of the park and bumped into Jaws, shot a portrait of him with a fisheye and a flash, because I panicked and didn’t have time to swap my lens. Later that day, I got to shoot Tony Hawk, which was insane, plus got to see Lizzie Armanto skate in person and she rips!
Tony Hawk with a FS Stalefish at Nass 2015
Who are your favourite photographers?
Hands down, my favourite photographer of all time is Ed Templeton. I love the way he documents the world around him. To go more outside of skating, Don McCullin is a British photojournalist who has work that needs to be seen either in a gallery or in the paper layout it was intended for. He documented the rise of the Berlin Wall, Vietnam and many other conflicts but his imagery is always so strong and tells the story like no other.
I was always a fan of Lewis Baltz’s work too: He explored the notion of how humans use space, the ‘urban’, focusing on the shape and form. It was a very matter of fact style of shooting. I have a complete obsession with anything to do with the documentation of the Beastie Boys, so Spike Jonze has to be in there. His latest book is amazing, and the Girl collab boards are so sick. Also a lot of my favourite photographers are my friends I work with, as they are inspiring people: Mike Massaro shot a photo of artist Caribou that I just love.
What format is your favourite to shoot?
Ever since getting a medium format film camera, it’s been my favourite. I really love shooting 6×6 medium format, so the frame is a square. Really tried to champion and shoot more film this year: in New York I shot a load of bands with my Bronica SQ 6×6 camera and fell in love with it all over again.
I saw you on BBC Sport taking pics in the background at the UK National Champs: Was it weird to see UK skateboarding being given such a huge spotlight?
I was really fortunate to come on board with Skateboard England early on, and shoot the announcement photos of the skaters for Team GB. At that point, or maybe even before that, Neil from Skateboard England had really kept me in the loop and tried to get me on board. Saying that, Neil has been a big supporter of me shooting skateboarding, and is the nicest dude, giving me loads of opportunities over the past 18 months.
To get back to your question, I wouldn’t say it was weird, I would say it was about time. There’s some really amazingly talented skaters in the UK, and the spotlight was being put on them deservingly. Hopefully we get to see the rest of this journey towards the Olympics soon. Add any of the guys and girls that were in that comp: if you go on their Instagrams, you can see how much they throw down, so everyone getting that moment of coverage is credit to them and their love of skating.
Alex Hallford at the UK National Championships last year
How did you end up taking shots for the European X-Games?
There’s really no crazy story behind this: basically I emailed and asked. Shortly after, I got a reply saying they would love for me to come over. Just goes to show, putting yourself out there and having a conversation with someone goes a long way!
Which pros did you meet there?
I met Felipe Gustavo the first year I went along, with a few others, but to be fair to everyone, even in practice people were really focused that year. Second year I went, it was way more mellow for some reason. On the first day, I showed up after getting off of the flight and got to chill at the park and hang with Jamie Foy, who was the nicest dude. We spoke about his New Balance shoe, and his thoughts behind it while Gustavo Ribeiro was just tearing it up in the background. Kelly Hart was there judging last year’s comp, which was cool as we had met before at Street League London a couple of times, so I got to catch up with Kelly again.
What was it like shooting someone as gnarly as Jamie Foy skating? Did he land everything practically first go?
At these big comps, the practice sessions are basically the guys putting their runs together: they are trying the same thing over and over again. Watching Jamie Foy just Krooked everything in sight super pinched was super gnarly, it was crazy to see that level of skating in person. On the other hand, there’s Ishod Wair, who just flowed around the course adding bits on and improvised as he went: he’s probably the best skateboarder in the world.
Leticia Bufoni with a BS Disaster at the European X Games in Norway
What was the difference in vibe between the European X-Games and the UK National Champs?
At the X-Games, you can really tell it’s a big TV style presentation, with music and competitions and loads of other stuff going on, plus there’s all the other sports there. At the UK National Champs, everyone knew each other, and if you didn’t know anyone, by the end of the three days you did and it was rad. Churchill was on the mic, so what else do you need?
X-Games is that finished, high-end product that’s been going for years, but I got to go to Simple Sessions’ 20th event this year. Simple Sessions is this great comp run by people who do it for the love of skateboarding, and it comes across. Everyone has a really good time with loads of stories coming out of it. You see amazing skating at all of these events and I guess the difference in vibe is maybe down to what’s on the line for these skaters who enter.
With so many high profile photography jobs on the books, do you get any time to skate?
Once a year, me and the Ghost Town Social Gang (Andy, Lyle, Ryan, Paul and Chris), go to a far away land like Paris or Barcelona and have a week or so of skating, hanging out and beers. On the run up to that I attempt to skate, but it doesn’t normally happen if I’m truly honest. Think I’m more of a documentarian these days, and see skating as more social than ever, hanging out with some of my closest mates and having a push about.
Cov’s own Andrew Scott popping over a unique gap opportunity
Did you get to skate the X-Games course?
Never got to skate it – saying that, I never have my board at those events, as I have to carry loads of camera gear and clothes for a few days. I wouldn’t be able to skate it anyway: they have a schedule of who’s allowed on the course to practice, and they break down the days so everyone gets time without it being hectic as the courses are only small. If you had all the men and women involved skating at once it would be chaos. I think you have to have the correct wristband to skate as there are stewards everywhere checking. I’m lucky I get pretty good access, just no athlete access!
What has been your favourite park/spot to photograph?
Favourite park to shoot was the first year Street League was in London, at the Copper Box Arena. Apparently, the course was awful to skate but it had the Union Jack done in concrete so up high the photos looked great. Also I have had some good times over the years shooting the vert at Epic/Creation: normally Jim The Skin is skating, so always get rad photos. The big Herbert 3 set in Coventry with the old cathedral in the background looks epic. I shot a photo of Tez Aldersley that I still love to this day of him kick flipping it.
Tez Aldersley floating a kickflip down at the Herbert spot in Coventry
Which skater (that you haven’t photographed) would you love to get pics of?
Arto Saari would be sick! I love his skating. Spanky would be pretty high up: been really enjoying watching his footage recently. The skater that takes top of the list would have to be the fastest man in skateboarding: Dennis Busenitz. Just a photo of him pushing or bombing a hill would be a dream shoot!
What advice would you give to any aspiring photographers out there?
Just enjoy your photography. Put as much time as you can into it, and most importantly talk to people and make connections.
One last note on this: educate yourself! Take time to learn about photographers before you. Look at different areas, visit galleries, study photo books, listen to lectures – it all helps and gives you a better standing when moving into the professional world.
Anyone you would like to thank?
Firstly, I’d thank you Ade: all the lifts to parks years ago, and people I met through you, and the videos you made.
In skateboarding: big thanks to my friends over at Skateboard England, and always a big shout out to Jim The Skin and Ride. Everyone at X-Games & Simple Sessions: you rule.
Thanks to Andy Scott also, as he kept me in skating for years, he’s the hype man. Vic Frankowski: always a supporter of my photography from Content (@hello_content). There are so many to thank, as I can’t do what I do without people giving me opportunities and their time. Love to everyone.