After uploading Eby Ghafarian’s Vague Part this week we have took the opportunity to publish the extended version of his interview from the pages of Issue 21. Jono Coote put this interview together so it’s obviously going to be a right treat to read, find out more about Eby; the man behind Stoops Mag and then go rewatch his part filmed by Dmitry Brylev to further the appreciation of this don! Big up to all involved with this one!
Running a print magazine takes a certain kind personality type – somewhere on the mental barometer, between eccentricity, masochism and stubbornness, you will find these editors, writers and photographers twitchily spilling coffee and beer on themselves as they frantically try to meet deadlines, satisfy advertorial demands and keep up with an eternally shifting cultural landscape, whilst trying to present the skateboarding they think deserves to be seen on top of everything else. When Cole Giordano sent us a file containing a full skate clip from Eby Ghafarian, editor of Stoops Magazine, alongside a short bio detailing a nomadic bent and reminding us of his contributions in front of the lens to Colin Read’s Tengu and Spirit Quest, I jumped at the chance to email him a few questions. I wasn’t too surprised when I quickly had a six page document covering his take on spot hunting, the changes face of skateboard media, filming with Colin, disdain for sequences and more, and what you have before you is a version much edited down to fit into the pages of this magazine; ironically, the full version of an interview which is basically an ode to print media can only be enjoyed in a web format, where the constraints of the physical are loosened. So, with your appetite hopefully whetted by the article which ran in Issue 21, here is an insight into those strange, driven keepers of the print magazine torch.
So to start with, you recently made the move to LA, right? What brought on the move and how has the switch up been? I imagine a fair amount of skate culture shock, but then over here the two cities are seen as almost dichotomic in relation to the act of skateboarding.
I actually just moved to Charlotte, North Carolina from Los Angeles. I was in LA for about a year and three months. As for the culture shock, I had been to LA a few times before and mostly knew what to expect. I was anticipating a greater readjustment and thought I’d be bummed on skating LA just based on the way I skate and how you traditionally see LA skated, but it wasn’t so bad. I found so many cool, cutty spots that weren’t the prototypical SoCal spots, plus the pandemic hit three months after I moved there, so traffic was non-existent and you could skate downtown LA and schoolyards any day of the week, most spots weren’t a bust anymore. While it wasn’t the ideal scenario for life as a whole, it was kind of the best time I think I could have been in LA to skate. My friend Jono Sinclair had moved there around the same time I did and I started filming a part with him. In December I was just coming out of a little clip drought I was in, we stacked a few things I was stoked on and thought we’d keep the momentum. I tried to get one more clip the day before the Stoops Issue 6 release, and my trip to visit family for the holidays, and I ended up breaking my patella (kneecap) in half. I came off a rail straight into a brick column. That left me in the hospital for four days with my surgery happening during the magazine release, but fortunately my guest editor for that issue, Darnell Scott, held it down for me. I was in an immobilizer for six weeks and I’ve been in physical therapy until now (I’m still going twice a week). Once I was able to drive, my wife and I packed up the dogs, tortoise, and whatever stuff we could fit in a Uhaul trailer and headed back east. I had to leave my motorcycle but I’m going back to get it after the Stoops Issue 8 release in a couple weeks. I’m going to ride up to Portland to see a friend then work my way across the northern half of the country.
I guess the crusty spots are always there for those who know how to look for them! And you’ve seemingly got a knack for finding some pretty left field ones – what is your usual process when it comes to spot hunting? Wholesome cycle rides, a network of like minded skate mutants, online satellite images accessed via a search engine with a questionable data privacy record, a combination of the above?
I was very motivated during my first ten years in NYC. I’m not the most skilled skater, so I felt dumb skating the ledges that everyone else was skating. It always felt like work to me instead of fun, but the more I ventured out the more I was able to find spots where the difficulty was in getting a trick at all. The spot was just as much a part of the trick as what I did on it. I never really had a bike, so would just skate everywhere. If I was going anywhere to skate, or see friends, or work, I’d take the long route or zigzag my way there. I did the usual method of picking a stop on the train and just combing the area, but gradually it got to where I was spending more time looking for spots than actually skating. I switched up my approach and began looking at spots a little differently, or finding non-spots hidden in plain sight at famous spots. I am not a purist though, I definitely watched a lot of videos and came across some spots on Instagram that motivated me. In LA I found a lot of stuff just from the car window. I even downloaded a spot app, which had 98% trash spots; little kids were mostly uploading loading docks and grass gaps to it, but occasionally I’d find some gems. Most of those were gone by the time I got to them, but every so often the stars would align. To be realistic, most of my spots are terrible. I think my friends hate skating with me sometimes because we always end up at some dumb spot that really shouldn’t be skated. I get pretty annoyed at myself sometimes when I am struggling to make something work that just wasn’t meant to be, but sometimes I do make those things work and that’s problematic; because it just reinforces my bad habits.
I think it’s an approach to spot hunting which melds seamlessly with Colin Read’s approach to filmmaking – how was it working with him on Tengu and Spirit Quest? How driven was he when it came to the overarching concept? I almost see it as skateboarding’s equivalent of prog rock, except I think prog rock is shite and his videos are great – I’d buy Colin a beer, but Genesis can do one…
Colin is insane. He is not wired like a normal person. He just kept coming up with these ideas that seemed pretty far fetched and drove everyone else nuts making them happen. We must have been delusional to think he’d be able to pull some of that stuff off… but he almost always did. I’ve definitely never met anyone as committed to any project as he was to those. Tengu was fun and the concepts were a bit looser but we definitely got lucky with that one. With all the subway and rooftop skating we did, we only got a couple of summonses.
One time we were skating the rooftop of Lucky Cheng’s, the drag cabaret restaurant I worked for at the time. I didn’t do drag, which would have been a better story – just some marketing/operations stuff – but we decided to hit that roof one night and it was in the middle of Times Square. We got a few clips and photos until someone called the cops on us. I was doing this roll-in from roof to roof, which was on the edge, and some people who were waiting in line for a concert across the street snitched on us. When the cops came we hid in the office on the top floor, but they were shining lights up and sent someone from the restaurant to tell us they saw us and to come down. I went down alone and got berated by them. My cousin is an NYPD cop and gave me a PBA card (which basically vouches for you), which I think only made the cop more upset. He was cussing me out, ”DOES YOUR COUSIN KNOW YOU ARE SKATING THE EDGES OF ROOFTOPS IN TIMES SQUARE?? I’M GOING TO CALL HIM AND LET HIM KNOW HOW MUCH OF A FUCKING IDIOT YOU ARE! IF I EVER SEE YOU DOING THIS AGAIN, I’M TAKING YOU IN!” He reluctantly let me go and I called the other guys to come down when the coast was clear.
Spirit Quest wasn’t as illegal of a project but there were many sessions where we’d literally all meet up to help get a clip of someone rolling up to a trick at the right angle. We were his non-paid production assistants. My skating in that video was pretty minimal because he had a specific vision in mind for it, so sometimes we would get to a spot, I’d want to do a trick and he’d be like, “That won’t go in your part” and therefore wouldn’t film it haha. His back was pretty jacked so he wasn’t trying to film anything he wasn’t likely to use. He took a beating filming so much and got punched or kicked so many times in the process. He even had his nose broken. My part only ended up being a minute but I did get to do some of my favorite tricks I’ve done in the process, like 50-50ing a chain. I’ve always wanted to make that work and always got served trying it, but it worked out for that one. But outside of my part it was fun filming for the other sections. He hit me up one time asking me if I was down to skate into water. Ollieing into water is super hard, by the way. He definitely short-circuited a few times in the process of making that video. Have you seen the music videos he has made since? I don’t get how his mind keeps producing that stuff. There is definitely something wrong with him, but I hope he keeps exploiting his own sanity for our own benefit. I wish he would still make skate projects but he’ll need a camera operator, because his back is retired.
The man’s got a vision! So you touched on Stoops before, and you were involved with 43 Mag as well, right? As someone so closely involved with skate media, what is your take on the changes wrought on the skate media scene by the rise of the internet? Obviously it’s a huge, nebulous grey area with pros and cons, but I guess our involvement with print media is a statement of intent in itself? If we go with the old McLuhan adage of the medium being the message, anyway.
I used to help Allen Ying with 43 Magazine, which led to me launching Stoops. He helped with the first couple issues of Stoops as well, as the photo editor. As for the changes, I understand them. I went to NYU for marketing right at the time where the transition was forthcoming. I worked in digital media for years during social media’s early climb into the front and center of our lives. It was going to change our consumption of media but, early on, magazines still had a place. It wasn’t until video was introduced that print media became less exciting. Most skate mags at the time weren’t focused on making a quality product anyway – they were marketing devices, mostly owned by media companies, structured around the goals of their advertisers. Once advertisers had cheaper/easier ways to reach their objectives, they mostly abandoned print media. Even now most brands will tell you that they don’t have a print budget anymore, they just do social ads.
The general public knows that magazines are mostly run on ad dollars. Even if they are for sale, those sales never equate to the cost of making them. I did a couple of ad-free issues of Stoops and, even after selling out, there was a deficit that I paid out of pocket. Larger magazines with a staff can’t afford to do that and either go digital only or fold. I can’t blame people for using social media and not buying magazines, because that is the norm. I use social media too, I just appreciate the brands that support magazines and help to keep the narrative alive. We don’t get a lot of ad support but anyone that advertises in Stoops (and I am sure Vague) are doing so to help preserve the history of skateboarding that would otherwise be doomed to the catacombs of Facebook/Instagram’s memories feature. Those brands are usually being run by people that understand that value. But to answer your question, there is nothing like holding a physical skate magazine in your hands and seeing the photos that made the cut, reading the stories that were not included in those Instagram captions, and knowing that there are people who care enough to invest their own time and money into archiving the present.
I couldn’t have put it better myself! Following on from that (and once again apologies for the looseness of this question), what is it in certain magazines that makes you fall in love all over again with skateboarding? And how do you aim to impart this with your magazine output?
My appreciation for magazines is equal parts nostalgia and intrigue. I read every Big Brother Magazine in my youth and the recklessness of the content was inspiring in contrast to the other magazines of the time; that were much safer and, as a result, boring. But I know Stoops is nothing like Big Brother, as much as I wanted it to be early on. I appreciate that type of editorial so much, but haven’t been able to instil it into my own in the same way. The spirit is there, but maybe just internally, haha. The intrigue I mentioned is specific to other current magazines. I do think more of smaller magazines, but even the big ones pique my interest. I like seeing what the current editors of magazines right now are interested in.
As you asked me before about how I see the internet changing skate media, it literally changed the approach that some magazines take editorially; there are many more short-form pieces, the moment’s hottest skaters with no video parts and just a social media following are getting interviews. I’m doing that myself. Magazine legitimacy comes from social media followings. I am impressed with the content that other magazines are able to put together, because I know the struggle. I spent three years on an interview once. I’ve been turned down for interviews by numerous people that I already had photos of ready; Elijah Berle, Jahmir Brown, Louie Lopez, and even a dude I never heard of before, Justin Adeniran. There are no hard feelings though, I’ve still run photos of all of them. I know interviews can be work and some of them may have done so many that, if it isn’t for Thrasher, it’s not worth the time. They’ve already said their piece. I prefer to read and do interviews with lesser known people who haven’t been given that opportunity and have substance in their interviews. That’s what’s great about magazines like Vague, I don’t know what to expect or who will be in there. I still like reading Thrasher too, even if I’ve seen the story play out online first. They have the pull to make stuff happen, they don’t need to have good print quality or decent writing. They can have skaters that never finished high school doing the interviews because it’s not about that. They show the gnarliest tricks. Their photos don’t need to be shot well, as long as the tricks were captured well enough to make out how crazy they were. They do have some amazing photos too. I’m sure all of us that run pretty much any other magazine gets photos that didn’t make the cut for Thrasher. They get the first right of refusal. But there are some amazing photos that don’t get snatched up by them because the skaters are unknown or don’t have the right sponsors. That is where we thrive. Those photos are the ones that get me hyped. I love finding those gems in all the lower tier magazines.
Part of the requisites for shooting for Stoops is an avoidance (with exceptions) of sequences. It’s something I’ve noticed a lot recently since I relieved my parents’ attic of an unwanted magazine stash, it’s a format of trick coverage which has died out in recent years with the exception of maybe Thrasher (which plays back into your statement about their place in skate media of demonstrating the gnarliest skating happening at any given time). Do you see anything replacing it for covering more complicated tricks, or should that be saved for video, and skate photography kept to better thought out, artistically shot photos? I really like the morph photo format as a way of showcasing multi-part manoeuvres.
I don’t believe the attention span of the skateboard collective is there for sequences. They can be time consuming to look at. We are at a point in time where we consume media at such a quick rate that shifting pace to physically flip pages is arduous and a long sequence will get the page skipping equivalent of the vert button. I do think a two (maybe three) frame sequence can work sometimes, as could the occasional morph photo. But, generally speaking, those long sequences just waste pages. The individual frames are so small that you struggle to see the perspective of the trick and they take up pages where other photos could be run. Combo tricks are almost always better off as video. I really appreciate a perfectly timed photo of a complicated trick that is captured in a single frame. The best example I have is in Stoops Issue 7, Jahmir Brown’s switch front shuv nosegrind back 180 out at Eggs in Boston – Liam Annis captured just the right moment where every element of that trick was present, which isn’t easy to do. It’s hard to believe there was a time when people were wasting multiple rolls of film shooting sequences. I guess there were only so many 411 Video Magazines per year and it was the only way to show the advances in technical skating. I don’t see us going back to that, because there is no need for it.
Funnily enough, I kind of feel like sequences have become obsolete just as the perfect medium to showcase them has appeared in the form of social media image scroll features – giving new life to old sequences I never paid much attention to in print. Continuing on the photo questions, as someone who shoots non-skate photos as well, do you find one art form informs the other? And what/who inspires you photography wise both within and outside of skateboarding?
I never intended to be a skate photographer. It’s hard and can be super stressful! There is so much pressure to not blow the photo, which I’ve definitely done on multiple occasions. I used to shoot a little skating but really only began shooting skating more seriously after starting Stoops and needing to fill a photo void due to a lack of quality submissions initially. That’s not to say I shot (or even currently shoot) great photos. As I mentioned before, Allen Ying used to be the photo editor for Stoops and most of my photos got rejected. Not a single photo of mine made the cut for Issue 2. I’d like to think my photos got better but I’ve never considered myself a proper skate photographer. Even outside of skateboarding my photography was just for my own archives. I love perspective and capturing images of not just a subject but the subject synchronized with their environment. I try to implement that with my skate photos, but sometimes that approach compromises the trick itself which I have to prioritize at that point. I am not a professional photographer in any capacity. I have never been paid to shoot or paid for a photo (minus some print sales). I took some photo classes in college but otherwise have had to learn through editing the magazine. Allen’s photos inspired me early on and I did learn a lot from him, despite our tastes sometimes being a bit different. I remember connecting with him originally on Metrospective, an NYC skate site/forum around in the early 2000s. There are a ton of skate photographers who have influenced me since but I’ll definitely forget some if I begin to list them. More so than specific photographers, and as cheesy as it sounds, New York was/is too perfect of a setting for photography. That’s why anyone in the city who owns a camera or editing app on their phone is a photographer. The real test is capturing images as strong in less photogenic cities. That’s my current challenge.
Which nicely brings us on to/starts to answer the last question I wrote for this; what cultural influences outside of skateboarding do you consciously bring to bear on the zine making process?
The biggest influence culturally is social justice. I’m trying to stay informed and do the little I can with my small audience. Representation is often hard because I rely so heavily on submissions. The balance between representation and quality is tough to pull off without having staff shooting for those objectives, but, editorially, I won’t shy away from the issues. I have been dedicating some issues solely to some underrepresented demographics. My hopes are that those issues will command quality submissions of those demographics outside of those themed issues to give a greater balance, generally speaking.
Eby Ghafarian – Vague Part