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Brian Gaberman “A life in Transition” Interview

If you’re looking for influental and experimental photography in the world of skateboarding, you will very soon stumble upon Brian Gaberman, who had a big impact on skateboard photography over the last 15 years, especially with his unique black&white pictures. Brian has been the staff photographer at Element Skateboard for quite a while now and just recently released his book „A Life in Transition“ with them. We tried to gain a little insight into the project and into his photography in general.

[Interview: Oliver Tielsch | Photos: Brian Gaberman]

A life in Transition, what does that mean?
The title of it is basically about how different the two half´s of my life are. Two very different sides of my life. For me it’s like I’m always in transition between one or the other, so when I’m home, I´m just getting used to be at home again and then when I get on the road it´s so different. I always feel like i´m adjusting, you know. So I never really feel grounded, I´m always sort of in transition between the two. It´s about that and this book is kind of that one half. And i´m hoping to make another book, that´s the other half. Personal work, homework.

So that´s how you look at it? Your personal work and your professional work?
Yeah, it´s really separated, they are so different. Cause when I´m on the road, I´m in a van with a bunch of young guys driving around cities all day, right. And then I get used to that. And then, when I get back home again, I´m a father. We live on a farm where we raise animals and where we grow food. It´s a very slow, different life.

I’m really tired of looking at skateboard magazines when photos all look the same.

I can imagine, especially when you’re hanging out with guys in their early 20s
Yeah you know, stuck in the van with pot smoke all day, and then I go home and I´m a father. I have to help on school stuff school and I have to feed the chickens.

Sounds like a good mix actually
It´s wonderful, but it´s very difficult. When I get back from a trip in the first week at home I always feel like I´m really messed up, just trying to get back into the routine.

So how often does it happen? Are you a lot on tour?
Yeah, probably every month. Once a month or every other month i´m on a trip for two weeks, so it´s like I lose a lot of time in between. Just trying to get used to. Because I´m kind of a person that needs to slow down. Sometimes It´s just getting to hectic and then when I get home I´m trying to figure out on how to come down again. Like how to not be moving around in the city all day. I get on the road and I get food from somebody, and then somebody else tells me where to go. Everything is kind of already taken care of for you. And then when I come home, I have two kids. Feed me. Take me to school. Take care of me. I´m always just trying to get used to this, so I struggle with that. That´s kind of what the idea for the book was. This is one half of it. This is the half of my life on the road.

You worked as a magazine photographer until you quite a while ago. Then the Element job came along. What’s the difference to the things you did before?
Well, i first started working for Slap for a while. Meanwhile I also did stuff for Ipath and got introduced to commercial photography. I was doing kind of lifestyle photography and things like that. Then I moved to Kentucky. Working for Slap was really great, but it was also stressful and then one day I didn´t want to do it anymore. So I made my step away from skateboard photography already pretty early. I was still skating at the time and I still did photography, but no skating pictures anymore. I spent a year in Kentucky working on fine art photography. Just working on personal things. Things started to go really crazy and I soon missed skateboard photography. So I moved back to California and started to work for the skateboarder magazine. It was cool, I was able to bring my own personal approach to skateboard photography. I didn´t really know how to do that before, I was just trying to take the pictures in the way that i looked at stuff. When I came back, I thought like ok i´m gonna do them just the way i do my other pictures, like the fine art stuff. See what happens, that´s the only way it´s gonna be fun. So basically that was what I did. Element hired me to shoot one thing for them and then we just had a good relationship. I slowly went away from skateboarder and started working for Element on a full-time base.

I have to admit that I’m not aware of the early photography too much, but you did a portfolio with us like 5 years ago. And you had a lot of stuff in skateboarder for a while, too
Yeah, that really changed a lot for me. When I lived in Kentucky, I was working on personal things in the darkroom everyday. While I lived there, I started shooting some of the local skaters and experimented with things just to see if I can do the same with skateboard photos. When I realized that it works, I was super excited and just hoping that the skateboard world would gonna except it.

But I imagine when you´re on tour, it´s just hit or miss, it´s not the place where you can experiment a lot. If you´re in a certain city, you probably see the spot once. I think there´s a lot of pressure
Well, it´s just all about how you approach to things. How you come to a spot and how you decide to look at it. I could go to every spot and just take a normal skate photo. That´s easy. You don´t even have to think about anything. When you’re doing this for a long time, things become automatic. The challenge is to get there and look at it in a different way. To take a picture that you still wanna look at in 10 years, that´s the thing. If you’re taking so many pictures over and over for so many years, it really starts to get boring after a while. I’m really tired of looking at skateboard magazines, when photos all look the same. All I wanna do is to make a picture that I can look at in another ten years. I´m not ashamed of this.
That´s always the challenge, it´s all about to find something different.

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