From time to time we like to take shine off those in the spotlight and go behind the scenes to expose the true makers and shakers of our culture. DC Skate has recently celebrated the eyes of their brand, unveiling a photographer who has for the last 20 years, captured the true essence of the skate company and its team of riders. Introducing Mike Blabac - all-round top guy, shredder and visionary for a new movement of shutterbugs. With the recent release of Blabac's Photo Book, DC have designed a signature sneaker especially for the big guy - the first ever for a non pro-skater. We caught up with Mike Blabac after his successful local launch to find out more about this coup!
Hey Mike - is this your first time down under?
It's my second time, and it's amazing. I love Australia, and I'm not just saying that because you're Australian...
Aw shuck! Hopefully you brought your camera with you! Let's talk about that, when did you first get into photography?
I've always been into it since I was a kid. Skateboarding really got me pumped on photography when I started shredding in the late ‘80s. I didn't really start taking skate photos until I moved to SF in ‘94.
Why did you lean towards photography rather than skating?
When I was working at the GAP in '94, Scott Johnston asked me to shoot a photo of him, and it got used for an ad. The ‘ole light bulb went off because I made way more money in ten minutes than I did for two weeks folding t-shirts. That's when I started wearing a camera on my back rather than just shredding around with everyone in SF.
The relationships that you've built from the beginning of your career have obviously played an important part in the images you capture - how did you gain the trust of these skaters and how has that shaped your technique?
I think originally from just meeting everyone in the city as a skater. Most guys didn't even know I had a camera. I try my best not to fuck shit up because I don't want to be that guy asking someone to do shit over. I've always been like that so I think that's helped over the years. I just try to keep learning.
What were you doing before DC came knocking on your door?
I started out working for Madcircle in ‘94, and then Girl in ‘98 for a little over a year. I just naturally went to DC because a lot of the guys who are my friends rode for DC at the time.
Is that when it really started to take off for you?
I think I simply was busier because DC had so much shit going on. Ken really challenged me to do cool shit. I remember he asked me to shoot a portrait of Danny (Way) holding one of his shoes with a helicopter flying above him at night, and light the whole thing up. I laughed... I somehow pulled it off even though the ad went in another direction. I was so stoked to do shit like that. I think just having the responsibility of creating images that have to be used so much by such a large company has pushed me a lot to grow as a photographer.
Did you ever regret not having the chance to take images of other skaters that didn't fall under the DC umbrella?
No, but if I'm with someone who doesn't ride for DC I won't kook it and not shoot a photo of them. I just can't shoot a Nike ad or some shit like that. I really get along with all of the guys on the team.
How different is it working for a shoe company as opposed to working at a mag?
I like working for a shoe company as apposed to working for a mag because I get to build a solid relationship with the team guys for better or worse - kind of like being married (hahaha)
You come here under auspicious circumstances with the release of your first photography book ‘Blabac Photo : The Art of Skateboarding Photography' - which was a cool 20 years in the making. What do you hope this publication will do for the future of skate photography?
I'm just stoked to have had the opportunity to make this book. Over all I guess I hope that it opens people's eyes to skateboarding photography. I think that skate photographers are some of the best on the planet. Guys like Grant, Atiba, Ollie and O'Meally are some of the best photographers out there.
Was it difficult to create a portfolio of skate imagery back in the day, without the use of computers, the Internet, or any other skate photographers to look to for inspiration? Was it more just a ‘shoot and hope' kind of deal?
That's just how things were done then. Shoot film, skate to the lab, skate back the next day, go home and sort out all of the film on a light table. There were a lot of photographers I looked up to inside and out of skateboarding like Grand Brittain, Spike, Luke Ogden, Richard Avedon etc. Computers complicated things for me at first because I was used to doing it the traditional way.
Have you embraced the new technology?
I have totally embraced the new technology out of necessity. I have learned digital because it helps my workflow with DC, and now the new cameras are amazing.
Why are skate photographers so obsessed with fish-eye lenses?
I think fish-eye lenses make everything look rad. I've been obsessed with them ever since I started looking at skate photos. Plus it makes things look bigger and more dramatic.
Fair enough! Back in the day when you started making a name for yourself did you ever envision that your work would become synonymous with skate photography, as we know it today? Was there a sense that you were capturing a moment in time forever?
Absolutely not! I just loved skateboard photography and skateboarding. I simply wanted to create images that not only made you want to go skate, but also made me stoked as a photographer. I always try to balance the two.
To coincide with the release of your book, DC have given you the honour as their first non pro-skater to have their own signature shoe - how the hell did you pull that off?
I have no idea. I guess just laying in the gutter for ten years. They wanted something to come out with the book, so I picked the Azure-one of my favorite DCs of all time. I picked the colors based loosely on SF since that's where I began.