'Hand in Hand'

Fred Mortagne

Javier Mendizabal soul carves in an Israeli bowl, featured in Fred Mortagne's book "Hand in Hand."

As odd as it may sound, videographer extraordinaire/photographer Fred Mortagne had never been the sole photographer on a skate trip before the Cliché Skateboards team took a trip through Israel in 2010.

Why Israel, by the way? "We wanted to go somewhere with a strong identity, different from the Occidental atmospheres we spend most of our time in," the Lyon, France-based lensman simply explained.

When the resulting travel book of photographs that ensued, "Hand in Hand," sold out instantly, Mortagne decided to share it for free. This became a good excuse to examine how a suspicious logo can almost get you detained, discuss the analogies between skaters and cats and determine what's the best day of the week to skate in Israel.

XGames.com: I've heard horror stories of people being strip searched or detained for hours when flying to Israel.
Fred Mortagne: Things actually happened at some of the departure airports. Javier Mendizabal and Charles Collet got asked some crazy questions straight away. Like, "How long have you been with your girlfriend and where did you meet?" -- intimate stuff completely out of context. Javier was saying he went out the night before, pretty much didn't sleep, showed up at the airport not fresh at all, so definitely looking special to the people. This, along [with] the fact that he was returning to Israel a year after his first visit, might have sounded sketchy to paranoid people. Everyone is suspect!

'Hand in Hand'

Going in was pretty easy, but going out is actually insane. It even came to the point of asking who designed the Cliché logo! They dig very deep to make sure you are not a terrorist.

Did you already know skaters in Israel?
Only Javier Mendizabal, who had been there already. But anywhere you go, you easily hook up with skaters anyway.

What was the concrete quarterpipe with a crack on it? An older skatepark? No, apparently it's a very old movie set or something like that, from what I remember we were told. But the transition is very good for skateboarding.

Who was that girl with the M16 on her back?
I was just wandering around some old Jewish neighborhood. There was a bunch of teenagers with a guide, just visiting. I was tripping out. I wanted to shoot a photo so bad, but was scared. I did, and no one even noticed me. It's just so random to see people carrying such deadly weapons: lovers, teenagers buying pizza, teachers.

In your photos, it looks like everybody is carrying an automatic weapon. Strangely, I never felt so safe in a city, even though it's subject to terrorist bombings. Some have happened since we were there.

What is this crazy spot that looks like a Niemeyer building?
Despite the fact [that] I love Oscar Niemeyer's architecture, and that it looks very similar, he's got nothing to do with it. That's a strange place. It's a memorial for John F. Kennedy, on top of some desert mountain near Jerusalem. Everyone was wondering why in the hell there's such a place in memory of JFK there. Connections we can't understand. It is shaped like the stump of a fallen tree, representing life cut short. Each one of the 50 concrete pillars represent[s] a U.S. state. It was designed by Israeli architect David Resnick. I have no idea which state Charles Collet was skating on, though!

Why are there so many photos of cats in the book?
I never shot pictures of cats, nor I thought I would one day! But they were everywhere; I've never seen so many in one city. Then, looking at them, it rapidly made me think of skateboarders. If you think about it, they have so much in common. They spend most of their time out in the streets, exploring, surviving, eating, chilling, jumping and running.

What was the best city to skate?
Tel Aviv might have more spots, but also more security guards, and less feeling than Jerusalem, I thought. So despite rougher grounds and more difficult spots to skate, I think Jerusalem has much more interest. You really don't feel like you are in California!

What's your best memory from this tour?
Wandering all night long by myself in the maze of the old city of Jerusalem, listening to "Godspeed You Black Emperor," which put me in a trance, shooting photos, making sure to get lost, shooting more photos, floating like a ghost in this heavily religious place, charged with such special energy. That was one hell of an experience -- unique!

And the worst?
Leaving the country, and also finding out someone broke into the car to steal a video camera on the very last day! And yeah, we got a camera bag stolen from the car, as well as Flo Mirtain's backpack, [in] which he had his passport and stuff .... So it was quite a mission for him to get back home.

Nothing sketchier?
Not really any sketchy stories, but on Sabbath, on Saturdays, when Jewish people are basically not allowed to do anything, the contrast between them and skateboarders shredding the streets created an awkward feeling, making you feel really out of place, and annoying people more than ever. The looks we got said very much. Then again, Sabbath is the best time for skateboarding, absolutely everything is shut down, so that's the day to be out, the only chance to skate certain spots. Just try to avoid eye contact!

Why call the resulting book "Hand in Hand?"
In addition [to] making print articles for press, there was the idea to make a little book out of it, but there wasn't any concept for it. Then, while shooting out in the streets, and looking at cats and other street-life elements, I came up with the idea of doing diptychs in the book, associating a skateboard-related picture to a local ambient one on each double spread, going hand in hand. And this expression could potentially apply very well if Palestinians and Israelis could definitely chill out.

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