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With the advent of new skate videos coming out 10 times a day on YouTube, it might seem that the art of skateboard photography is waning. It is true that skate photos are becoming disposable and sterilized due to the digital realm and the need to keep up with the web -- but there are a few keeping the tradition of skate photography alive.
Mike O'Meally is one of those photographers. Traveling the world in search of perfect spots and an epic photo, O'Meally walks the lines between the past, present and future. Still shooting film and prolific with pixels, O'Meally is a photographer's photographer and lensman to the skate elite.
Recently, O'Meally held a 20-year retrospective of his photography at the China Heights Gallery in Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia. His show coincided with the Vans Bondi Bowl-A-Rama contest, which had a who's who of the skate industry in attendance. XGames.com contacted O'Meally in Australia, via email, to get the rundown on the show, find out how it came together and hear what's next for the globetrotting photog.
XGames.com: Twenty years of shooting skate photos: Are you sick of it yet?
Mike O'Meally: I am not sick of it by any means. Nothing has come close so far to the feeling of nailing a great skate photo -- and believe me, I have shot some other weird stuff. I love it.
Have you changed the way you look at and approach photographing skating?
I'm sure I have -- but essentially it's still about getting a great photo that you know any skater is gonna look at and get pumped when they see it; that's always something worth striving for. That has not changed.
How did the show come about?
The show came about originally when Shawn Yates from Supply asked me if I was keen to do a T-shirt with a photo on it, or a series of photos from the '90s in Australia, which is where and when I started shooting skate photos. I stalled on it for a little while, since he asked me in, I believe, 2010 or 2011, and by the time it got to now, I realized I had been shooting 20 years -- and I thought it might be fun to do something that showed the evolution of what I had shot over all those years. The different skaters, places, styles of clothing, style of tricks, skaters' faces aging over time, since I have shot with some of the same guys for a long time. So eventually it morphed into somewhat of a timeline.
You go through your collection and you pick photos: Was it that easy or was there a theme?
It wasn't easy at first, because it was physically so much to go through, being that it's mostly boxes of negatives, slides, proof sheets, prints and other paraphernalia. And from about 2008 onwards, it's a lot of digital files as well as film, so it meant looking at a lot of stuff. I don't think I really scratched the surface, but eventually I just had to pull the trigger and I picked photos that were either significant to me in some way or they were gnarly memorable skate photos. That, or just a great photo. But there is plenty more to show, some of which has never been seen.
Pick two of your favorites in the show and tell us why they are special.
Tough choice, but the photo I shot on Sept. 12, 2001, in NYC will always be a photo that's still a favorite after 12 years. It was an intense day, and that photo represents to me so many things, but most of all it's a striking reminder of my time living in New York and how the world has changed since then. On top of that, it's one of the few skate photos I have shot while skating -- and kinda switch backwards as well.
The other one could be of my three oldest friends/skaters I have known since I started shooting. Eddie Martin, Ben Harris and Greg Stewart skitching a Melbourne lane-way in the autumn, leaves on the ground; one is power sliding, one is doing a shifty and the other has a big smile on his face. It just reminds me of why I started skating, and what it is that I like about it. As serious as things get, there's no better feeling than bombing a nice hill, maybe not too steep -- and throw a few friends in the mix, that's a great time for any skater. Plus it was shot at a time when I was young, 1995, and it was all about skating with your friends, before the word "career" ever entered my mind.
Australia's a long ways away; will we be able to see this show in the States? Can we buy the 'zine anywhere?
I would love to bring the show to the States. There has been talk of it already, so look out for it in LA for sure in 2013. All the people at Vans Syndicate have been very supportive, so I think there is a strong chance that the good people of America will be able to see it as well. There is a good mix of the six or so years of when I lived in Australia and the 14 [to] 15 years I have lived in the USA and been lucky enough to have travelled the world from there. It's a visual journey -- so we might as well take it on the road. The 'zine is available online at supplystore. They're going fast; we might have to make more.