For Venice Beach, California-based Julian Bleecker, the past two years have been a labor of love. What started off as a weekend hobby slowly morphed into a full time project, and after receiving support and funding from a Kickstarter.com campaign, the full-time product designer began piecing together his first skateboarding photography book, “Hello, Skater Girl.”
The result is a glossy, hand-made and assembled coffee table book, with a limited edition run of 255 copies, which are nearly sold out. While in the beginning stages, Bleecker shot photos for more than a year, with just the goal of establishing a new angle on an already widely-used photography subject, or “a new view to an old landscape,” as he puts it in the intro to Skater Girl.
“As soon as you ask yourself, ‘Is this right?’ Am I okay? Will this get me in trouble?’ Now you’re seeing the old thing in a new way,” says Bleecker.
The new angle that emerged for Bleecker came from several shots he had taken of Amelia Brodka—a female skateboarder who is heavily involved in the action sports industry and working on her own women’s skateboarding documentary film, “Underexposed.” The next twelve months saw a flurry of energy building around Bleecker’s project, and at the beginning of this year, the book received more than $13,000 in funding and Bleecker was able to begin the book-making process.
We caught up with Bleecker to find out more about taking his skate photography hobby to the next level.
How long have you been involved in the skate industry and how did you get your start?
Completely accidental. A few years ago I literally stumbled into the skate park in Venice Beach and started taking photos the way a lot of curious spectators do. And then I started shooting the local skaters as just a weekend hobby for about a year, mostly because it was a great way to get to know the culture and history of Venice Beach, where I had just moved.
I became a bit ambitious though once I realized it was hard to do well — I wanted to learn how to shoot skateboarding the way I saw in magazines. And that’s what I did for a year until I felt comfortable enough that I thought I could challenge myself and also challenge what that skateboard photography I saw by pros is by trying to look at the sport a bit differently from other photographers.
I wasn’t precisely sure what that meant or how to do that until I stumbled upon some really amazing skateboarders who happened to be girls. And I thought — that’s it, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll do a photography project around girls who skateboard. And I thought it should be a book because that’s harder and requires a different sort of discipline and editorial considerations than an endless stream of photos online. Plus, I’ve done lots online but I’ve never done a photography book and I wanted that challenge.
What inspired you to start snapping shots of these women?
The possibility of a good, unexpected project just waiting to be done that no one else was doing. That’s from a selfish perspective — it was something that I could do that not many others were doing and then I get to define a visual aesthetic without lots of pressure to shoot the “right way.” I managed to get photo credentials at X-Games in 2010, I think it was, and I went into the Nokia Theater to cool down and the girls happened to be doing the vert competition and I was just blown away. I took a photo of Nora Vasconcellos and when I looked at it later I was absolutely awed and thought — right. That’s it. That’s what I’ll focus on.
How long have you been working on this project?
It was a year project that went on for about two years. I got the idea in the fall of 2010 and started being a bit ruthless about going out to shoot and meeting people and describing the project. A year later, I more-or-less stopped shooting and started thinking about how to produce and design the book. That’s when I thought about Kickstarter. And that effectively added another 10 months to the project!
How does it feel to have finally finished the end product?
It’s incredibly satisfying. I work day-to-day in a design job with lots of secret high-tech stuff that often never sees the light of day. As an innately creative person its vital that I share my creative work. So having something I can put out and get feedback from lots of people is like breathing again.
What was your main goal in publishing the book?
To create a photo book project that was relevant and topical from beginning to end was the main goal. To contribute a bit to this super interesting corner of culture was another. To sort of put a stake in the ground with a visual aesthetic — that’s a goal I’ll continue to work at.
Why do you think a book like this is important for the skate industry?
Humbly, I’d say because the skate industry has never seen what I have to show, and to grow, often times you have to change the way you look at the world and see new things. It’s important because every industry should disrupt itself at least once a generation in order to stay relevant least ye perish at the claw of Darwinian beasts — the new guys. I work in advanced technology product design and for us one must be disruptive once every 24 months, so I understand and appreciate the importance of turning crazy things into the new normal. I tried to apply some of that approach and logic to the Hello, Skater Girl project. I tried to do as little as possible that would be “by the book.” I wanted to reinvent the look of skateboarding and its photography.
In your opinion, how have you seen women’s skateboarding grow, and where do you think it’s headed?
The women are skating on their own terms, and that’s fascinating to watch. They’re being mentored by legends. They’re getting comfortable with their style. More of them are skating rather than just watching. If there were a graph you’d see women’s skateboarding going up and to the right.
What do you think the industry as a whole can do to better promote women’s skateboarding, and get more women involved?
Yeah, well — that’s hard. It’s business, and business is conservative almost by definition. No one wants to take risks that might disrupt the status quo. Unfortunately it’s an industry who’s audience can easily be biased and chauvinistic and reactionary, so the business has to be mindful of that. Supporting women can make boys who buy their stuff jealous and frustrated which comes out as anger and resentment in most 14-30 year old boys.
Have you worked with any particular brands or retailers in the making of this book, or to promote it now that it’s out for sale?
It’s all been word of mouth. Mahfia, Hoopla, and Silly Girl have all been super supportive all through the whole project and they’ve given shout-outs. As for the making of the book, my designer and I basically did it all ourselves along with a small family of friends who were unstoppable in their encouragement; Some of whom were generous supporters of the Kickstarter campaign and got a kind of “ad” in the book. And that got me thinking that in the future it would be fantastic to do another skateboarding photo book with proper endemic sponsors to bring a bit of legitimacy and also help circulate the book further than I could on my own.
Where will this book be sold?
Right now it’s basically off of the website, although a book seller in Tokyo bought a whole box of them to sell over there, which is fantastic.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve got a few more books left. I mostly did this as a semi-private publishing run for those folks who supported the Kickstarter project. But I printed some extras which folks can get at http://helloskatergirl.com/2012/09/13/get-the-book/
I’m also starting another photo book. I’d like to do a small series of skateboarding photo books similar to this one. But this time I’d like to try getting more endemic support rather than a Kickstarter sort of thing. A series that’s a bit more than a magazine but less than a one-off photo book. A bit lighter than The Skatebook, but something that could be supported with a few industry advertisers.