LEE LEAL PHOTO FEATURE

LEE LEAL PHOTO FEATURE

Texas is the reason. It’s home to the biggest skatepark in the USA. You can find this month’s featured photographer Lee Leal there to capture the stoke. It’s not easy trying to juggle and multi-task a handful of duties. Lee acts as photographer and team manager for Embassy Skateboards, a Texas based skateboard company that he manages along with his wife GiGi and John “TEX” Gibson. He’s been putting his camera to work since the 70’s. “My first camera was a Yashica. Shooting with film was always fun,” says Lee. He says his early influences were James Cassimus, Ted Terrebonne, Glenn Friedman, Jim Goodrich and MoFo. One of his most memorable images is the Chris Miller shot at Upland that J. Grant Brittain took. At the time it was so creative to put the camera on a stick. Lee is always up for a road trip. “Getting to travel around the globe doing what I love has been a blessing.” Every year he takes his Embassy crew to Australia, Europe and Brazil. “I’ve never been to Asia, so that’s on the bucket list. Taking action photos is no easy task. There’s so many variables that come into play: the lighting, angle, place, skate trick and camera, along with so many other variables have to be perfect.” One of his proudest moments is having his picture of Tony Hawk displayed in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. “It’s a picture I took at the 80’s ALL DAY in Orlando, Florida. I was in the right place at the right time. He’s doing a tuck knee invert.”

So Lee, tell us what you think about the current skate scene in Texas and how that’s all changed in last few decades?
Let’s go back three decades during the vert renaissance. We had the first metal vert ramp EVER, the “Kahuna,” built for speed, feel the steel. The culture has changed, and it’s always evolving. Street skating has become mainstream. We grew up with punk rock blasting out the speakers. Nowadays it’s Hip Hop. Texas is home to the biggest skatepark in the country. It’s a Grindline build park and has the huge bowl shaped like Texas. The scene is strong in Texas. “Kingsfest” is something to look forward to each November. It’s our version of “Skatopia”. There are DIY spots popping up everywhere, the STOKE is real.

You’ve been doing this [taking skate photos] for longer than a lot of readers have even been alive, what are some of the pros and cons about the digital era we live in today? And what would you say you miss the most about shooting film?
Personally, I haven’t discovered any cons yet with DSLR cameras. Everything is at your fingertips. You can review the shot real time. It’s easier to setup the “slave mode” when shooting wireless flash. Most DSLR’s are equipped with video capabilities, and HD. It’s a good time for taking pictures. With shooting film, the margin of error is very thin. The film had to be certain speed. Faster 400, 800, 1600 shutter speed for action or dark lighting situations. Film has to be developed. I learned how to use a darkroom and chemicals in high school. There’s also the element of surprise, when you have 24 or 36 shots and only five are good. The final outcome using film cannot be matched with digital photography.

Embassy Skateboards, tell us a bit about them and what your role is for their growing success?
I actually wear lot of hats with that. We started Embassy in the heart of the recession in 2009. John “Tex” Gibson is my business partner. I grew up with most of the OG Texas dudes: Gibson, Ken Fillion, Todd Prince, Craig Johnson and Troy Chason. We built the foundation on the history and the Texas vibe. Henry Gutierrez from Virginia Beach brought me Collin Graham at a Jeff Phillips Tribute in 2010 we had in Dallas. I’ll never forget. He said, “Lee, I brought you a present.” Collin kills it! Social Media plays a big part in developing a brand. We’ve been blessed to have a top shelf artist in Shane Munce. He and I get together and develop the graphics. His style is perfect for us. It’s a total group effort from everyone involved. I wanted to have the Texas Outlaw Renegade feel to it. There are 20 rippers on the roster from every time zone, from Dave Duncan in Cali to Ivan Federico in Italy. We’re a little ole’ brand from Texas leaving a trail of dust in the wind.

What made you get into skate photography, and at the time, did you think this was gonna be a career move?
The first time I saw Steve Olson skate a pool in the mag. I’ve always loved taking pictures, I consider it an art form. I always knew I’d be involved in photography. Now I have to keep up with the “Joneses.” Keeping a presence on social media has created that job. Always being in demand of updated content (for Embassy) keeps me busy. Currently I shoot for JUICE Magazine, World Cup Skateboarding and AIS, just to name a few.

Who are some up-and-coming skaters that we should keep an eye on and what makes them so special?
In the vert world, it’s Moto Shibata from Japan; he’s from another planet…. Jimmy Wilkins, Alex Perelson. Up and coming, I’m a Kiko Fransisco fan, pure style and creativity.

When it’s all said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
Everybody wants something positive. I’m just a simple guy, living by the Golden Rule. I do it with integrity, honesty and a big attitude!

Anyone you’d like to thank or give a shout-out to?
I’d like to thank Chris Ortiz and BL!SSS for the opportunity. Everybody that is true to the core, who keeps the vibe alive. And all the OG photographers for the inspiration.

If you could shoot just one last session, who would it be with and where?
Jay Adams and Christian Fletcher surfing perfect left barrels at Pipeline.