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Daniel George – "Create and Destroy" Gallery

We get photos sent a lot of photos by random people. Most of them are blurry iPhone shots from soccer dads trying to push their nine year old for a sponsorship or "action sports photographers" trying to get in the mag with longboard articles. But some of them are really good. This was the case when Daniel George sent us some of his shots. He is documenting DIY spots for a while now an captures them in a really interesting way. That’s why we wanted to know more about Daniel and his work.
Daniel, please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Daniel George, and I am artist/educator/skateboarder who currently lives in Idaho, USA. I started skateboarding when I was 13, so for about 19 years now. My interest in the visual arts began as a teenager as well—mainly through skate magazines and videos. As a youth, I quickly realized that my skateboarding skills (or lack thereof) weren’t going to take me anywhere, so I began thinking about a career in photography. During my college years, I became heavily invested in my photographic work, so much so that for the first time it surpassed skateboarding as my main interest. Now, I teach photography at the university level, I make photographs, and I skateboard whenever I have the chance.
How did you start with taking photos of DIY spots?
I began making photographs of DIY spots several years ago when I was a graduate student at Savannah College of Art and Design. I was involved in some heavy studies of landscape photography and critical theory, when I began thinking about my own perceptions of the environment. I remembered that as a teenager, shortly after I began skateboarding, my interpretation of my surroundings changed. I didn’t see stairs, curbs, benches, or plazas. All I saw were skate spots. I kicked around ideas about how I could visualize that perception, and ultimately decided on DIY spots.
What is the main idea behind it?
My main focus with this project is to communicate what it is like to see the landscape as a skateboarder. We (skateboarders) heavily romanticize some relatively ugly places. For this reason, I am very selective about the type of light in which I photograph these spots, as well as the framing and overall design of the images. I am deliberately taking visual cues from the classical landscape painting style—the goal of which was to present environment in its ideal state. Skateboarders, through the construction of these spots, are creating their own ideal environments. These locations are by no means beautiful in the traditional sense, but we (skateboarders) find them very appealing.
Did you skate all the spots?
I try and skate as many of the spots as possible. However, I don’t always have time—especially if I’m traveling with other people. Recently, we took a group of students to Los Angeles to visit some art museums, and there were several spots I wanted to shoot while I was there. I barely had time one morning to drive downtown before sunrise to make some photographs before I had to be back at the hotel. So, I was very focused on image-making that trip. When I’m by myself, I definitely take time to skate. Once while I was living in Georgia, I woke up at 4 AM in order to drive a couple hours and arrive at a spot before sunrise—Hotel Nahunta. After I got the shot I wanted, I figured I earned myself a private, early-morning session. I skated by myself for about an hour before taking off. The locals in this small, southern town that were getting coffee at a nearby diner probably thought I was crazy.
Do you travel to the spots or do you find them by accident?
I travel to the spots. I have found a few by accident, but I always do some research before a trip—this includes looking for photos online, calling local shops, or reaching out to local skate photographers. If I am traveling to a new city, or going on a road trip, I will try and find spots along the route or in the place where I am staying. I like to take advantage of any opportunity to make a photograph for this project.
The spots in your photos are not the big DIY spots, they’re more like spots where there is just a little ledge built or stuff like that. How do you choose your spots?
I will make a photograph of any spot that I am able to visit, but it seems that the majority I find are small. Burnside, Channel Street, and FDR are great, but they are not your everyday skater’s spots—they serve a small population. Most kids only have access to that small ledge or bank that they built with some friends. I feel inclined to romanticize those places because they represent a more collective experience within skate culture. For me, the simplicity of smaller spots clearly translates this idea that skateboarders interpret their surroundings differently than others. And who knows, maybe we’re seeing the beginnings of another large, iconic DIY spot in these photos.
What camera do you use for your photos?
I mainly shoot with a 4x5 view camera. Sometimes I will use a 6x9 rangefinder, but that is only when space is tight while I’m traveling. Like last year on a trip to Hawaii, I couldn’t justify bringing a large format camera when it meant sacrificing luggage space for my wife and son’s clothes. So, I made due with a smaller film format.
Richard Gilligan did a similar photo series. Did you guys connect?
Around 2012, I heard about Rich’s work from a photographer I had met in Atlanta, who was helping me find some spots to shoot there. I wanted to get his book, but the edition published by 1980 was already sold out. After I got my hands on the Prestel edition in 2014, I reached out to him via email to let him know that I was interested in DIY spots too. I appreciate that there are others who are looking artistically at skate culture, and I find it interesting to see the differences we all bring to the work. In the case of my and Rich’s work, the differences are subtle. A few others that I like (besides Rich) are Ashly Stohl, Carlos Jaramillo, Yann Gross, and Jessica Fulford-Dobson.
For how long did you work on this series and is it finished now or is it still going on?
I have casually been building a portfolio of these images since about 2010--as I travel, and as I have lived in different places across the country. I am interested in functioning skate spots and their evolution, and ones that show some destruction. Those spots that are shut down, but that still retain evidence of a ramp/ledge/etc., become these forgotten relics of skateboard culture. To date, I have shot somewhere between 50 and 60 DIY spots across the United States. As long as kids are skating, these places will continue to exist. Then those will disappear and new ones will pop up. So, I will continue to document them as time goes on—until I’m tired of it. But because skateboarding was a huge part of my formative years, I don’t foresee that end being any time soon. Daniel George