Salad Days: The Australian Skater Scene in Black and White

All images and words by James Grundy. Used with permission.

My name is James Grundy, I’m a 28 year old photographer from Australia.

I guess I became a photographer at around the age of 11, when I used to steal my mum and dad’s digital camera and sneak off to document what was happening around me, little social events and misadventures. I was finally gifted my own camera at around 16 which was one of the first Olympus digital waterproof cameras. I think I took around 20,000 photos on that thing before it seized up. From there I moved onto DSLRs starting with a Nikon D200, then a Nikon D3000, Nikon D3100, then a Nikon D7100.

After moving to New York from a small country town in Australia, I started to play with 35mm and medium format film cameras. I picked up a Canon AE-1 Program, Nikon FE, Pentax 645 and a Yashica A TLR. I would wander the streets for days on end capturing what I saw – this was my first foray into street photography, and I was hooked. I launched a campaign on Kickstarter and received enough funding to publish my own photography book called Urban Race. I sold around 70 copies and a few prints. The book documented each neighbourhood in Manhattan from the southern tip to the northernmost point.

Why I love photography is because it’s a combination of history and art. On one side you are presenting a historical account of that moment in time, but you are also providing it in an artistic context. Your art is literally before your eyes, and you create it by framing it and capturing it. Additionally, I enjoy playing with light and shadows in my photography to create striking visuals with silhouettes and shapes.

I like shooting film specifically because it refines my abilities as a photographer. At times I feel as if I can get a little lazy with a digital camera and rely upon the memory card too much. With film you are forced to think critically about each and every shot, you become more engaged in the photography as every click of the shutter release button counts as a material result. It puts pressure on you to perform and pressure is good.

Why did I get into photography?

I found it an effective method to express myself creatively. Give me a pencil or paintbrush and I can only draw stick figures, but give me a camera and I’ll take a portrait that will make you look twice.

What photographers are your biggest influences?

My biggest influence in photography would be Michael Scalisi, a photographer and friend from New York City. He has fostered my passion in photography and supported me whenever I’ve reached out for help. Beyond Mike I’ve been a big fan of the classic street photographers like Robert Frank and William Klein.

How long have you been shooting?

I have been shooting for around 17 years.

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

Photography and shooting is so important to me because it is my most prized creative outlet, I feel empowered when I’m on the street with a camera in hand. It’s almost like a hunt or a search for treasure. It feels good to be creative, and photography makes me feel good.

Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?

I began my photography passion as a documenter, as I would just be photographing what I saw around me. In my later years however, I started to notice elements of creativity sneak into my street photography. After finishing my project in New York, I then went on to finish another project called Salad Days which has been a much more creative endeavour. I have also worked on photographing some fashion projects which has required much more creativity. I find the creativity has come along in the later stages as it can be more challenging to execute effectively. I like my creativity to be subtle and nuanced, it can easily come across as over the top when trying to be creative.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?

If I’m on the street I’m usually wondering “Shit, is this person going to start throwing something at me or yelling at me. But I really need the shot. Hold out for just another second, another second, another second…’ I’ve had groups of guys run after my for taking their photo on the basketball court in Brooklyn, I’ve had small Asian grandmas throw cans and bottles at me in Chinatown for taking their photo. I’m usually in a very alert and defensive mode on the street. When at home or with friends everything is much more relaxed, I can ask them to repeat the pose again or stand somewhere where I want them. Mechanically, I’m usually thinking what the light is doing. How is this going to look on film. Do I need to step down my shutter speed to get a darker backdrop, or do I need to speed it up so that the foreground isn’t blown out.

Want to walk us through your processing techniques?

For photographs that I shoot on film there is never any processing aside from some cropping of the images. But usually I will try to do everything I can to have the image come out exactly as I want it without processing. With regards to digital, I usually just tweak the sharpness and might add a VSCO filter if it is for wedding photography or aligns with the style of a customer.

Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.

The project I’m pitching is one in which I’ve just completed in Australia, titled: Salad Days. It follows the lives of several Australian youths in a small country town. It’s a group of guys who are skaters, they stay up late smoking and drinking, and skate by day exploring their surrounds. The introduction of the project reads as follows:

BEER, CIGARETTES, TATTOOS AND SCARS. These are the life-bloods of a disheveled youth who wake, one foot in bed, the other on a board. Footpaths sound a rhythmic chink like a freight train coasting into the night. Stoic expressions and taciturn skate sessions – this is their rich tapestry. The skate culture in rural Australia has a strong sense of identity and camaraderie.

Empty fuel tank, skateboards in the back and the last drops of beer drained from the bottle, evening shadows edge across the park, content on another misadventure. Their tendency is to push the body and mind past limits, exploring new ground – this is where they find enjoyment. Insanity lurks around the corner. Beer temporarily unhooks the leash. Professional misbehavers while a dreary town sleeps.

A heightened sense of urgency, the time is now – let me have at it, damn it! Onlookers erupt, adrenaline blasts through the body in an electrified twitch for more. Dopamine and serotonin flood the veins. Do you blame them?

Quiet rural towns offer little in the form of entertainment, a poor man’s sanctuary for those who have the sickening passion to live. Still, the show must go on. And what a time it is to be alive.

THIS IS SALAD DAYS.

What made you want to get into your genre?

I suppose I would call my genre street photography / documentary photography. It really came down to the excitement of it. I find that fashion and landscape photography can be quite dull as your surroundings move very slow or you have almost full control of your environment. In street photography everything moves at an almost dizzying pace, if you’re too slow or don’t have the foresight you can miss the exact shot you’re searching for. It’s that danger and excitement that keeps me loving it.

Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.

When I’m on the street I’m either using my Canon AE-1 Program with a 50mm f1.8 lens and kodak Tmax 400. At weddings I’ll throw a Portra 800 in there for some colour. And if I’m not using film I’ll likely be shooting on my Fujifilm x100s. The Canon and 35mm film helps me to capture the essence of the street through the gritty and imperfect nature of the film. New York City is one unclean place, a concrete jungle. In the same token, the Australian skaters I captured are a grimey lot of kids, unkempt and sweaty. So the black and white grainy film helps to portray these.

What motivates you to shoot?

The feeling of reward and satisfaction that follows a shoot. It doesn’t matter whether it’s street photography, documentary, fashion or landscape. When you capture that striking photo that you just can’t peel your eyes away from, you feel content with life.