Andy Russell: BC Photographer

Really happy to share this conversation we had with BC native & photographer Andy Russell. He tells us about how his son’s longboarding got him into the sport and shares some of his gnarly shots with us.DSC_4468Hey Andy, how are you?
I am real good.

Where are you from?
I am from Vancouver BC, Canada.

What’s it like there?
I think its the best place on earth! We have clean air mountains and the Ocean at our doorstep.

When did you start skating?
Haha I don’t skate anymore. I used to in my youth and have tried at times but the skills are gone. It gives me the time to take photos.

What kind of stuff did the young Andy get up to?
As a youg kid I did competitive swimming and outdoor sports. My friends and I would cruise the neighborhood on our boards. They were nothing like the ones today. To do downhill runs we would get an old tire and put it on the board and sit on the board, the tire would stop us from getting tossed off.

When did you get into photography?
I’ve been interested in photography for a long time but did not shoot much. When Ian, my son, got into longboarding I saw the thrill of the sport and picked up the camera.
It’s fun taking the shot, you get to be close to the action and people are stoked to see shots of themselves. It’s always a challenging to try and get shots that show the skill and balance needed to ride a board.

Were you supportive of his skating?
Yes I have always been supportive of his sport. I don’t understand why some parents would not be supportive of their child being a longboarder. If they were into hockey or other mainstream sports they would come out in droves to support.

Do you ever try to convert sceptical parents to the dark side?
If there are parents that are negative then I try to explain the benefits of the sport. Unfortunately the skate community does not have uniforms or look as polished as other sports. So most people don’t take the time to get to know the great people involved.

Is your photography a way to bridge the gap between the stoked and the observers?
I hope so. I try to take shots that show the thrill and excitement of riding. People that cannot be there can see what is going on and hopefully enjoy the sport.

How did Ian’s thrill infect you?
His thrill and the thrill of the sport are infectious! All you have to do is stand beside the road when a pack of riders fly by at 80 to 110 kmh. scares the shit out of you and you’re hooked.

How has your relationship been impacted by your mutual love of skating?
Due to our mutual love of skating it has allowed me to share time and experiences that I would not have been able to otherwise. I’ve gotten to know my son growing up. I don’t think many parents get that opportunity.

Do you remember the first time you photographed him?
Well the first photos I took of him were when he was a baby. As for his first longboarding shot… I have a good memory but its short.

What makes a good skate photograph?
A good shot has the riders style, shows the skill  and the speed and is in focus without too much background.

What was the first skate event you shot?
The first event I shot was called Something  Fishy over on Vancouver Island. It was Ian’s first race. We left the house to get the ferry at 5am skated all day and got home at 1am the next day  that was spring of 2010.

How was the experience?
It was a great experience the weather was good and the people were so nice. We showed up not knowing a thing and they were very helpful and explained things to us. They made us feel as though we belonged there.

What did you learn from shooting that race?
These people are crazy! They are flying down hill at that speed we were hooked.

How were the photos you got that weekend?
They were not as interesting as the ones today.

In what ways have your photos evolved?
They are always evolving, at this time they have become more close up shots trying to show single riders or small groups.

What is unique about an Andy Russell photo?
As I’ve gotten to know the riders and the sport, I’ve been able to capture their style and personalities.

How was the 2011 season?
In 2011, we were committed to going to the races we could drive to. We have an old motor-home so we packed it up and invited friends of Ian’s that were riding in the races and headed off.
You have to understand, the people that organize these things either assume you have been doing it for years or they are just trying to get it together as first time organizers. We would head off into the night not knowing exactly where we were going to end up! It always worked out we would find the camp-site. I learned early on that you have to give up on the idea that you will know what is planned and just be ready to follow along and go with the flow.
That was an exciting year, we both learned a lot and made new friends. The one thing that I liked was the riders that were in the magazines and were big name riders were always friendly and supportive of the new riders.

Did you have a name for your motor-home gang?
The gang is always changing, everyone is welcome. I couldn’t name all the people that have been in that  RV. We have named the RV Mildred.  She’s not pretty but she’s reliable.

Did you shoot any races in 2011?
I would say about eight races that year. I would have to go through my photos to see which ones.

What was the highlight of that year?
The most memorable race would have been Danger Bay on the sunshine coast. It was well organized and had a campsite that was huge. All through the woods of the sunshine coast. Punk rock bands playing all night moshpits and general mayhem.
The race was good, all the big names and lots of action. All the longboarders are invited to participate in the town parade and festival its a full weekend of stoke.

When did your photography start getting noticed?
People were receptive to my photos from the beginning. I would post them to facebook people seemed to enjoy them.

What’s special about races on the BC circuit?
The BC races are good because we have so many mountains and different terrain in a days driving distance. BC has some of the best longboarders in the world and they are at these races. Racers travel from all parts of the world to race the BC hills. The circuit is busy and every race is different.

Are there any other photographers hitting up the same races?
Yes there are, you see some of the same faces, Manslaughter is at most of the races. There are getting to be more and more photographers at races. Sometimes we even have to jockey for space with journalists from the local papers.

Do you guys have a community?
We have mutual respect and friendship between us.

How important are good photographers in the skate community?
I think it is important to have the sport and the community represented in a way anyone can enjoy it. It helps to promote longboarding and the skate community.

What did you get up to in 2012?
We did more of the same. Ian was doing well in the competitions getting noticed by the skate companies. We went to some of the farther away races in Calgary and down to Maryhill.

How did having rad photos by dad help his chances of landing sponsors?
It may have helped. They would not have taken a second look at Ian if he did not have the skills and the style he does. What probably helped the most was getting him to events.

When did you first skate outside BC?
Our first trip out of BC would have been down to Maryhill WA. We got there in the dark and I didn’t know about all the windmills. They all have red lights on top that blink on at the same time. We rounded a corner on the highway and went ”WHAT THE F%^^* WAS THAT”

What did you enjoy most about Maryhill?
Maryhill is a fun event. Our first one was a festival of speed, the atmosphere was enjoyable everyone is having a good time. All the riders love that hill. There are lots of places to get good photos from. Just watch out for rattlesnakes in the hills.

How do you get nice photos at Maryhill?
I try to find interesting angles and perspectives on all hills. Maryhill has so many corners and is quite wide open so there’s lots of room to experiment.

What do you shoot with?
I have a Nikon D7000 with an 18 to 200mm lense. It does most things I want. I load my photos to photoshop but I don’t edit or fix.

How come you don’t edit your photos?
I don’t have the time and I have never taken the time to properly learn the program. One day I will, when I have time.

Who are your favourite people to photograph?
I try not to have favourites. I have taken photos of people I don’t know and they have had a huge positive response. I tend to take more photos of people I know. Now that Ian is riding for Rayne, Switchback and Unkle I tend to get more shots of those riders.

Is there Ke$sha magic in photography?
Yes every time Switchback is involved.

Where have you shot this year?
Britannia,  Whistler, Skylands / Kelowna, Vernon,  Maryhill, Giantshead / Summerland, Cathlamet WA. I didn’t get to as many events as Ian did. He did some travelling with his team.

Do you have any favourite memories from this tour?
My best memory from this year was Ian winning the juniors race at Cathlamet. He and Roger Jones were side by side till the last 30 feet and Ian took a crazy inside line that no one was taking and ended up way in front of him.

How has being a part of the skate community affected your life?
It’s an interesting journey. I like to have things to keep me busy and this has been keeping me pleasantly occupied.

What do you do when you’re not taking photos?
I work as a mechanic for the University of British Columbia. I am a dad, I ride my motorcycle and drive the motor-home.

Pick 3 numbers between 1-14.
6 9 12

6 – if you could have any super power what would it be?
I would like to fly.

9 – what would you choose as your last meal?
Big ass roast beef dinner with gravy and Yorkshire pudding.

12 – Who would you like to be reborn as?
As me! I wouldn’t trade this ride in and I would do it all again.

It’s been great getting to know the man behind the photos. Thanks for your time and thanks for sharing rad pictures!
Thank you! It’s been fun, I think you know more about me than my mother does.

Any thank yous?
Rayne longboards, Switchback, and my son Ian Russell for introducing me to the sport of longboards.