Timeless Shots of Skateboarders and Daredevils

Scott Pommier’s interest in photography began when he started using his mother’s semi-automatic SLR to take pictures of his friends skateboarding. Since then, he has shot covers for every major skateboarding publication and now divides his time between his position as a senior photographer for SBC Skateboard magazine, a variety of editorial and commercial jobs, a book project to be completed next year, and spending more hours either behind the wheel or in front of the computer than he ever imagined possible.

Your photographs have a timeless quality about them. Which photographers or eras do you look to for inspiration?
‘I feel like I’ve picked up little lessons, or perhaps truisms is closer to the mark, from a lot of photographers. I’ve never studied the history of photography. I only really know what I’ve tripped across. A few years ago, I was at a friend’s place and he had a beautiful book of photographs by Deirdre O’Callaghan called Hide That Can, about a hostel in London. Looking through it, I realized that although I had a pretty good understanding of the mechanics of photography, I wasn’t really attuned to the subtleties. Looking back, that was a turning point in a couple of different ways. For a start, I decided I wanted to get a lot more comfortable shooting available light photographs. And also, I don’t think I’d really thought about journalism as art until that point. I was already a senior photographer for an international skateboarding magazine before I started to figure out how I wanted to shoot pictures and even before my pictures began to mean anything to me. It wasn’t until then that I actually felt like a photographer. This is all actually pretty recent. I wanted so badly to be a child prodigy, but I think I’m a late-bloomer.

‘The way that I do things is a struggle. So I relate to other photographers whose work entails struggle. I love Sally Mann’s photographs, for instance. And when think about what it took to take them, I love them all the more. Joel Sternfeld’s book, American Prospects, made me realize how effective it can be to take a step back. Distance can change the meaning.

‘I bought a copy of LIFE magazine from 1968 and it looked like it could have all been shot by the same photographer. Even the ads. I like that era. There was craft to it, but not an overproduction. Depending on what I’m shooting, I’m conscious of cropping out a lot of the clues as to when a photo was taken’.

You were a skateboarder before you were a skateboard photographer. Do you think it’s necessary to really understand the sport and lifestyle in order to shoot it properly?
‘If your audience is a group of skateboarders, then yes, absolutely. If there’s an exception to the rule, I’ve yet to hear about it. A skateboard photographer has to balance a very particular set of requirements. You have to show the difficulty of what you’re photographing, so you have to be mindful that the angle you choose shows that the railing is very steep, the stairs are tall, the ledge is long, and so on’.

‘You also have to capture what a sports photographer would call the peak action. But the way that a skateboarder perceives that might be a bit different to how the rest of the world sees it. If you were shooting a baseball player hitting a ball, you might get a good shot of the batter with the bat cocked or the follow through after the ball has been struck. But if you shoot a skateboard trick even a hair too early or too late, the photo would never run in a skateboard magazine and the core audience would reject it.

‘Skateboarders are a suspicious bunch. It’s not a role they tend to trust non-skateboarders with. So, there’s a question of access. In principle, it’s possible. But clearing that many hurdles and adhering to that many caveats is really only appealing to someone who’s involved in the sport’.

It looks as though most of your photos are shot on the fly. Do you ever set up shots or do you rely more on instinct to quickly catch the moment?
‘My whole approach has changed in the last few years. I used to set up pretty much every shot. Now I usually only it set up when I can’t find a shot. A few years ago something really obvious would have had to reveal itself for me to abandon whatever plan I had in my head. These days I try and tread a little more softly. I don’t sprint to the finish line, I doddle a little, waiting to see if something suggests itself. And I try to be ready for the fleeting moments. You miss them all the time. But that’s part of it. There are always more to come’.

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