The Other Side
Longtime pro skateboarder Arto Saari has developed his middle-school interest in photography into a second career as an admired lensman. Part of his perspective undoubtedly comes from being the subject rather than the shooter. "Skin Phillips. Joe Brook. Jon Humphries. Anthony Acosta. Ryan Allan. Atiba Jefferson. Dan Sturt. There's so many skate photographers who have influenced me," he says. The following slides highlight some of Saari's recent work, including behind-the-scenes shots from the July 2013 Playboy magazine fashion shoot for which he also modeled. Pictured here: Marius Syvanen.
Tony Alva, Brandon Biebel
Skateboarding legend Tony Alva, left, arrives at the fabled Pink Motel pool for the Playboy fashion shoot, while fellow respected pro Brandon Biebel hangs out in wardrobe. The magazine feature was shot by famed lensman Tony Kelly, whose range includes ad campaigns for American Apparel and stories for Vogue Paris. Saari's behind-the-scenes images ground the final product in skateboarding.
"There's more to skating than just the tricks. Sometimes a pushing photo says more than a switch-flip back lip on a rail," offers Saari. "I was recently shooting pushing photos in New York; I love that stuff. It might not mean much to a magazine, but that's such a huge part of skating."
Biebel makes his entrance at the Pink Motel for the Playboy shoot. People have been skating this place since the mid-1970s -- it made a notable appearance in the Bones Brigade flick "The Search for Animal Chin" -- and it now plays sanctioned host to the annual Pink Motel Party skate event in addition to the occasional film, TV and photography crew.
Swan Dive, Palau
Saari recently launched a website of his photography, showcasing several dozen of his color and black-and-white images, with special sections dedicated to portraits, landscapes and, of course, skateboarding. "Photography has so many different areas, which is rad," he says. "Right now I'm gung ho on black-and-white with natural light."
Tony Alva, nose wheelie, Playboy shoot
"Give it 10, 20, 30 years, then I might be able to call myself a professional photographer. It will be a long road," says Saari. "Hopefully it will happen sometime. Right now I'm just enjoying shooting photos."
Sliding Rock, Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, Calif.
"Photography has an endless play field of things to do," says Saari. "I don't think I'll ever get bored with it. In a way, it's like skating: You can ride different spots in different ways just like you can shoot different angles with different lighting. But it doesn't hurt as bad when you make a mistake."
Old Tree, Grand Canyon
"I purchased a Nikon FM2 with a 16-35mm lens and a light meter. That was in 2000, the starting point with my camera and photography craziness," says Saari. "But then sometimes you have to get new toys to keep the spark. In the early 2000s I started messing around with Hasselblads, but it became too much gear to take with me on tour. Then I'd go back to the FM2 and some snapshot cameras, like the Yashica T4, and then occasionally lugging around bigger 6x9 cameras and medium-format cameras for shooting landscape stuff."
"I'm always acquiring gear because I just love it. I nerd out on that. With studio flashes it's not some of my best work, but I'm learning how to do portrait photography," says Saari. "That's what I want to learn how to do properly. Just create the light. It's just a whole other aspect, learning how to set up light. It's a never-ending process, just creating along the way."
"Outside of skating, the photographers I like are Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams and war photographers Don McCullin and James Nachtwey," Saari shares. "Some of the early Annie Leibowitz stuff, like when she toured with The Rolling Stones. Peter Beard. Helmut Newton."
Tony Alva, Playboy Shoot, Pink Motel
Now that he's got one in his backyard, Saari's been getting plenty of practice shooting pools. "I'm trying lighting stuff up at the pool with reflectors instead of a flash," he shares. "Skin [Phillips] taught me [how to take photos] and gave me a cheat sheet with some notes about how to set the camera to shoot skating. I ended up losing the sheet and wish I still had it because it would be an amazing piece to have."