Interview with J.Grant Brittain / Skateboard Photographer


J.Grant Brittain, a photographer who has shot photographs of legendary skateboarders such as Mark Gonzales, Jason Dill and Christian Hosoi, came to Tokyo to hold photo exhibition at Tokyo’s one of the most popular music festival “Greenroom Festival” last May. We interviewed him, a witness of whole history of skateboard, and heard about his story of the skateboard cultures and about his creative philosophy.

Photo:Naoto Hayasaka

I think I am just trying to capture skateboarding in a pleasing way that emphasizes the action, feeling, vibe and style.


— During 30 years of your career as a skate photographer, you have spent so much time with many skateboarders. What did you see and feel while involving yourself in the skateboarding movement? And how have you related to the culture?

J.Grant Btittan: I was around for the 80s, I figure that was the Golden Age of Skateboarding. I was around for the boom of the 70s and the winding down of the Dogtown era and the death of skateboarding in 1980ish.I witnessed the beginning of the rise of the new Vert riders, Hawk, Hosoi, Blender, Ruff, Gator, Phillips, etc. I was also there when street skating started up with Guerrero, Natas and Gonzales and we had to figure out how to shoot this other aspect of skateboarding. It was an exciting time and nobody was making any money, it was fun. During this period, I also helped start “Transworld Skateboarding Magazine”, so I had an outlet to show my photos and help drive the direction of the sport.


— Your photographs captured not only tricks but also the scenery, lights, nature, and natural faces of skateboaders. All of the aspects are put together in one photo then it becomes an attractive artpiece. What do you wan to express though taking photographs? Let us know your motto of creation.

J.Grant Btittan: When I show up for a shoot and start working with a skater, I just watch them and we communicate with one another and figure out what trick we are going to shoot. During this I am also accessing what’s going on in the background and what angle I need to shoot the trick from. I want to get rid of a busy and cluttered background and get the scene down to a pretty basic look. I see pretty graphically, I guess doing the magazine helped inspire that. I think I am just trying to capture skateboarding in a pleasing way that emphasizes the action, feeling, vibe and style. I hope people want to go out and skateboard after looking at one of my photos. I guess my motto is “Keep it Basic”.

— Needless to say, many people know your skateboard photographs are wonderful, but apparently you also take a little more abstract artistic photographs, which are not related to skateboard. Do you try to make difference while shooting two types of pictures?

J.Grant Btittan: I think that I approach the art photos the same way as the skate stuff, really break it down to the most basic and simplest composition and form. I am much more calm about the landscapes and abstracts though, it is a sort of meditation for me. Photography history really helped me find a style in my own photography and that style has been incorporated into my skate shooting.


— You’ve been already working as a photographer for 3 decades, and how do you keep on your career in the future?

J.Grant Btittan: It’s interesting and weird, but I have shot the kids of the kids I shot, Zach Miller, Chris’ son and Riley Hawk, Tony’s son. I imagine I will be shooting more of the Pro’s kids as they get older.I continue to do several photo shows a year and contribute and sell work to other magazines and book projects. I am also working on a coffee table book featuring my work and want to finish by the time I turn 60 years old, I better hurry, I will be 59 in July.