This Was Just Now, A Benjamin Deberdt Palomino Interview
Mark Gonzales. Paris 2008
As Benjamin Deberdt releases the second 'This Was Just Now' book/'zine, I spoke to Benjamin about the project, and his thoughts on skateboarding and photography. Hopefully you'll enjoy this interview and then pick up a copy of This Was Just Now #2, which is newly stocked on the Palomino shelves here.
The first installment of This Was Just Now (TWJN) featured photography all shot during 2015, whereas #2 spans more than 10 years. How do you even begin to select the photographs to publish and curate such a (relatively) concise book with an archive such as yours?
I would lie if I told you there is a method to it. I actually really enjoy the freedom of it, and play with that. I have been toying with the idea of doing a book for years, waiting for the right connections to happen. Then, I realised I could just go back to what I was doing over twenty years ago, by just making small publications, like the skate zines we were doing with my friends… And I had met Matthieu Becker who had helped us produce the Richard Hart “The Howard House” zine for LIVE. He is an independent publisher of artist books (http://lemegot.com/), so always good with creative ideas but also super easy to work with. When I started to know what I wanted to do with This Was Just Now, I hit him up. We quickly reached that “almost done” level, then got busy with something else, and the project lagged. Out of nowhere, I got invited to exhibit photos at the MIMPI festival in Rio de Janeiro, and realised that if I did not go there with the finished thing, I was an idiot. So we finally fine tuned it and got it printed in time for me to fly to Brazil with the 'zine. Basically, I have to thank the people of Brazil for putting fire under my ass!
But making the first one, with a theme and time frame, made me realise I did not want to do that every time. So this second one is more an association of photos that work together, I believe, even if shot years apart.
So do those trips to the printers still fill you with the same anticipation and excitement as they always have?
It is just like the walk to the lab… "Did I frame it right, did I miss something? Did a pigeon flying out ruined it all, or made the photo ten times better?" Yes, still excited, for sure. Especially with print, cause at one point you hand it to someone else who will print it for you, and can only hope for the best… Hopefully, when you flip through it for the first time, you don’t spot any mistakes. Then, it’s time to put it out there and see if people get a kick from it.
I know you recently moved studios, did that have anything to do with your decision to start the TWJN series?
We moved about a year and a half ago, and I now have an office room that is supposed to be the place where I will organise and make something out of all my archive. Months later it has reached catastrophic proportions, where there are just open boxes everywhere with sheets of contact sheets spilling on the ground… Not a recommended sight for the fainted heart photo nerd, I’ll tell you that. The ‘zines are just a cover-up for the mess. I can tell my wife there is a plan to it all… “Look, the second one came out!”
Jason Dill, William Strobeck. Paris 2008
Why use exclusively non-skateboard photography for this series? Is that a theme you plan to continue throughout TWJN?
Some skate photos might appear at some point. So far it is more about the experience, the common experience we all get from skating. Traveling, meeting people, being exposed to different cultures… Now, that sounds very grand, doesn’t it?
How often do you shoot "action" skateboard photography these days?
Ah, I can flex on that one: I was out shooting with the Parisian new generation, last Saturday! I shot a skate photo of Tom O’Reilly, but also just the whole crew living the curb life… It’s amazingly the same as it ever was… Kids from various social backgrounds meeting up to go skate one spot, and ending up doing something else, because, well, just because they are 17 and can do what they want. I was internally crying laughing the whole time. Good kids!
But, yep, I don’t shoot skating that often to be honest. Due to long complications with a neurological disease, I have to walk with a cane now, and can’t even stand on a board anymore. So when I do it, it is a bit like shooting with your grandmother… Not necessarily convenient, especially in that super spontaneous stage skateboarding is living through right now in Paris. But, hey, the kids should be documenting their own generation. I just like to peek, once in a while, and hang out with the cool kids. Get inspired. That trip to Brazil was amazing for that. Such a vivid skate culture there. I am so glad I got to experience it a little… And document it a little.
Many of the images in these first two books are traditional portraiture. What do you think goes into the creation of a successful portrait?
A good lens… It’s all about the lens. And looking like you know what you are doing. There is no rule, really. You would think ideally you want to make the person feel comfortable about the whole situation, but sometimes it is the opposite. Sometimes, the whole ordeal is completely un-natural, so you might as well play with it.
Ari Marcopoulos. NYC 2011
Cheryl Dunn, Phil Frost, and Barry McGee appear in the new TWJN, it must have been an amazing experience to be around this community during the time of the Beautiful Losers shows. How did you become to be around these guys and do you have any standout memories from those days?
We all connected, one way or another through skateboarding… I met Thomas Campbell in Paris, and he took me a bit under his wing, just pointing out things for me. As he was living in New York then, I went to visit him, to skate, buy a good camera for cheap, and try to make something out of it. Long story short is hours after landing in NYC in 1995, I was skating a manual pad by Alleged Gallery with Thomas, Phil Frost, Dave Aron and Andre Razo, before heading back to the gallery to hang out with Aaron Rose. It just snowballed from there, skating with all them, and meeting all those others people that were part of the culture, one way or another, and being introduced to all those amazingly inspiring characters. That trip changed my life. I was interested in the culture of skateboarding, but there I realised that there was more to it then just landing tricks. And the scene was still small enough that you could be hanging at the gallery all day looking at art, then shooting with Chris Keefe that night. And I started to believe that this was what skateboarding was all about. I still do, in many ways…
As for a stand-out memory… you'll have to come to Paris, we’ll pour some wine and they’ll come flooding back! Oh, I remember going to some super hip-hop club with a whole gang of us after an opening, and being swept into the door, cutting the whole line, thanks to a magically appearing Harold Hunter. Man, the super doped-out waiting crowd was not stoked on our bright coloured tight corduroys wearing weirdo crew getting in, in front of everybody!
The New York scene of that era just seems like a magical time. But as you said earlier skateboarding is still the same as it ever was, kids from all walks of life sharing experiences. People of of a certain age bemoan contemporary skateboarding, forever harking back to this bygone era. “Simpler times” etc. I would assume you disagree with this outlook?
As an aspiring old lady myself, I am allowed to say it: the eldest suck… Seriously. No, but by its very own nature, skateboarding is a nostalgic activity. Because you get into it when you are the most excitable. You are a teenager, you are 127% into the things you like when you fall in love with skateboarding. Therefore you will have all those important and intense experiences through skating… Those times will always be important to you. You will hold the first video you ever saw dearly, even if it was “The Storm”! So, as you grow older and balder and you are busy being an adult, you will lounge to the simpler times of being a teenager and wondering if your mates saw you land that first kickflip, two streets away from your home. It is the nature of things… But, let’s be honest: now is the time. Skateboarding is living a great era now, despite all the crap you could rightfully point out. But, I could list you a million things that sucked in the nineties, too…
Jahmal Williams. NYC 2010
Why do you think that skateboarding developed this close connection with art and artists? Possibly the fact that photography is such an intrinsic part of the practice? Board graphics maybe?
I am more and more annoyed by the whole “skateboarders are way better than the rest” propaganda. But, then again, there has always been a connection, it is undeniable… And you are right, boards need graphics, skaters want to get inspired by their favourites, there has always been a need for artists, photographers, filmers. And that’s not going to change. So, the general culture attracts creative minds just as much as people that need to burn energy in a fun way. Not every skater is an artist. Some are. And amongst those some are talented. Those are the ones you will remember. But even if you just get exposed to creativity through skateboarding, in one way or another, that’s a beautiful thing… That’s what I have always tried to do through the mags and now the website: expose kids to the less obvious.
Noah Bunink. Berlin 2015
The feel of TWJN seems a million miles away from your website Live Skateboard Media. Being able to spend time with a printed photograph is a world away from the fast moving world of skateboarding these days. Was that a conscious decision or do you think it's just an organic result of working entirely with your own photography?
I realised I was turning into a glorified blogger, and I had to remind myself that I was still a photographer… [Laughter] It has been a nice feeling so far. Seeing people respond to it, it's the best. I have been connecting with many people from it, and that’s the best part of it all, really. As for the photography in this day and age debate, we might need more wine for it! In a way, skate photography has lost all its value, in the past years. In terms of documenting the tricks, I would say. But documenting the feeling of it still matters.
Are there any other photographers out there at the moment also self publishing who you particularly admire, either from a technical or emotional perspective?
I would say Sergej Vutuc, for sure… I have seen him cut and put together zines on our floor when he comes to Paris so many times, then walk away with a box under his arm to go meet people with it. I would be whining about what I should be doing with my photos, and he would look at me wondering what I was waiting for. So, yep, Sergej definitely inspired me to get back to just do things because you want to. Thanks, buddy!
Are you willing to share any details of future releases in the TWJN project?
I don’t want to have a set plan for it. The only thing I know is that the format will keep changing… Next one might be a post-card series. Who knows?
Any plans for a retrospective Benjamin Deberdt book??
So far, I only have the title: My Best Fish-Eye Photos with Five Flashes…