MARCEL VELDMAN interview • delon isaacs
Hello Marcel, I’m so glad we finally locked you in for this feature. How’s everything going at the moment? You still been holding it down in Amsterdam? What’s a normal day like there for you?
It’s going great, and I’m very happy to say that there’s never a normal day really. I don’t really have a routine, and half the time I’m on the road anyway. But when I’m home in Amsterdam I’m usually with my wife and son.
Along the same lines as, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” were you a skater turned photographer, or a photographer turned skater? What age and year did this photo game start for you?
Skateboarder first and foremost, although I always had a special interest in photography. I think it was 1999 when I first stumbled upon my first “real” camera, a Canon SLR. Before that, I used cheap pocket cameras. Not much later after I bought that camera my grandma bought me a new TV, as she felt bad I had a shitty black-and-white one. I didn’t really care as I didn’t watch much TV anyway and I was living in a typical skate house in the center of Rotterdam at the time. Unfortunately there was something wrong with the new TV and I brought it back to the store and got the money back and bought a Canon 15mm fisheye lens. Even though my grandma couldn’t understand that the lens was the same price as the TV, and didn’t really understand why I got a lens instead of a TV in the first place, she was fully supportive. But from that moment on I started shooting a lot more skateboarding. Thanks again, grandma, rest in peace.
Did you have a tight clique that you ran with when you were in the process of your learning years? Did you shoot the same group of skaters all the time or would you link up with guys randomly?
Yeah, basically all my friends. There were maybe two or three other photographers at the time in all of the Netherlands and half of them were busy shooting other things anyway. We never really saw them too much, so I took it upon myself to shoot all the crazy stuff my friends did, which would have never been documented otherwise. Started a zine called Guilty! (1999) and soon after we started Fluff Magazine.
We couldn’t help but notice that the batch of photos we received from you is composed of about 90 percent black and white. Is that kind of your jam? Why do you choose to shoot this way?
I like a good black-and-white photo for the fact that it more so relies on strong composition, and focuses more on the subject without any colors to distract you from that. Nothing against color photos though, I love them both. It depends on the spot and subject I guess.
Are you strictly freelancing at the moment? From the look of all your photos it looks like you run pretty close quarters with all the new up-and-coming Nike riders. What’s your association and how did you come across photographing this bunch?
I’m working with Nike SB for quite some time now. It happened pretty natural as some of the riders in the past were close friends of mine. One thing leads to another and before you know it you shoot guys like Koston. And as far as up-and-coming Nike SB riders go, some of them I knew already before they got on Nike, others I got to know on their first tour, it totally depends. We’re all skaters, so it’s a natural thing I suppose.
What is your involvement with Fluff1826 Magazine? How’s Fluff stand apart from your normal skate magazine? From just scouring the Internet it looks like you guys just released a fantastically thick issue. Can you tell us what that’s all about, and how we can find/order a copy?
We started Fluff Magazine in 2000. We change paper and format all the time, so it never looks the same. We release an issue when we’re finished, which could take a year or so sometimes. Sometimes we do collaborations with brands, as is the trend these days, like Fluff1826, which we did with Nike SB. It covers five years of my work for Nike SB, 1826 days, and it has 1826 pages. A real big paperweight. But we made a gossip issue too, for instance. It was three in a ‘discount’ pack, with the shittiest paper and layout, like the mags at the register in the supermarket, and we made one that looks like a reading book, one that weighed 5 kilos, etcetera, etcetera. There’s some samples on my website for those who are curious. We like to keep things interesting for both the readers and ourselves. Who knows what the next issue will bring? We sure as hell don’t. We send them to skateshops worldwide depending on our budget, so that’s the place to find one, skateshops only. And sometimes I put some issues for sale on my website if I stumble upon a box with old copies.
How bloody fucking cool is print? Do you have any issues with this new disposable world of digital web content and social media? How much better does it feel for you to get a photo ran for a print magazine? Do you think print is doomed?
I love killing trees! I love print. Just for the fact that the collection of images and even advertisements will always be together in the same publication, forever, and therefore creating a timeframe. Look at old magazines: the language, the ads, the outfits, all a sign of the times. We would lose this on the web. Of course, one can find possibly the same photos and ads as a certain publication from the past, but most likely never together or in the same order.
Having said this, I don’t really have any issues with the disposable world of the digital web. It’s also a sign of the times. Same reason I don’t mind shooting people on their phones or new cars in the background of photos for instance, as much as I like classic cars myself. But at one point these phones and cars and other contemporary stuff you’ll see in photos will also be old and ancient. I just like documenting what’s going on now, never a dull moment.
Amazing architecture and composition seems to play a huge roll in your photography. It seems like you do a very good job at not shooting at the same played-out skate spots. What are your favorite countries (or cities) to try and shoot? And how much scouting do you do for some of these photos?
Thanks. But as far as skate spots go, it’s usually a joint venture: the skaters, the filmer, tour guides, team managers and myself. Most of the time we’re on tour and I have to shoot when we get to the spot and the skater’s feeling it. Rightfully so, back in the day I could never wait for a photographer; pretty ironic as I make them wait [for me] all the time. Every now and then I get to convince them to come back at a different hour when the light is better. It’s the difference between a good or great photo. I always try to shoot the best photo I’ve ever taken, so 99.9% percent of the time I’m disappointed, haha. But when we’re in the Netherlands, and perhaps some other places I go to a lot, I know what time to go to each spot.
Who is your hands down favorite subject to shoot? That portrait of young Oski kills me. It’s so good. How much time do you spend getting comfortable with your muses before you actually start photographing them? How important is it to build those relationships where people trust the way you portray them?
Well yes, I think it’s important, although not always necessary. But yes, the better you know them the more you can get away with. All these guys know I love to shoot photos, plus I’m a skateboarder, so they never mind. I think, haha. Plus, I have a really big mouth, so it doesn’t take long to get acquainted. My favorite subjects are usually those who live life to the max.
What’s the rest of the year look like for you? Can we expect to see any exhibitions, magazines or books?
A new and very special Fluff is in the works, which should come out during Bright Tradeshow in Berlin in January. Right now there’s a group exhibition curated by Raphaël Zarka called Riding Modern Art that’s on display until January in the museum of contemporary art ‘Les Abattoirs’ in Toulouse, France. Many great skate photographers participated in this one, and I’m honored to be part of this once again. I’m working on a new Roll Models book right now, which should come out in the next decade. Aside from all this, who knows? Let’s see what happens tomorrow.