Jonathan Mehring Photographer interview

by
July 7, 2017
photos by Jonathan Mehring

Frankie Spears, front board

What was the skate scene like growing up in Virginia?

Ha! The skate scene was pretty much me.

You didn’t have shops or anybody to show you the way?

My friend gave me a board in like 6th grade. But I lived on a dirt road so I’d go two miles down the road to these abandoned tennis courts and skate there. Until I got a mini ramp.

Did you ever try to get sponsored, or think about trying to be a “skateboarder” instead of a photographer?

I mean I guess in the early days of course, but I was always pretty shitty at skating haha. So it wasn’t an attainable goal.

So when did you first pick up a camera?

Maybe like 11th grade or something, I guess I just wasn’t interested in anything in school and was pretty over it, but then I took a photo class. Then all of a sudden I was showing up to school an hour early to print in the darkroom and stay an hour after to develop film. I was just super stoked on it immediately.

Did you go to college for photography or anything?

I did actually. My first year was really based on the fact that the east coast skate scene was all in Philly and so I wanted to go to a school out there. But I ended up deciding to not go to Drexel or Temple or anywhere in the city, and went to this school Beaver College. Maybe I should have just gone to the city, haha. It sucked so bad, I had to take the train in on weekends to skate Love, which I did all the time. But I just hated the school and the people there so after that I went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, which was in-state so a hell of a lot cheaper so super glad I did that.

Do you think it’s worth it for kids to go to college for photography if they want to shoot skating as a career?

No. Not at all.

That’s usually the answer.

I mean I learned a lot a stuff, and it was super valuable, but do I apply it to my day to day life? Like as a photographer who is mostly involved in the skateboard world? Not really. I was always shooting skating for fun, and then I would do class work that was more art related, but whenever I showed photos of skating in my classes everyone was like “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time with this shit.” Of course my art career never went anywhere, so luckily skating worked out haha.

 

Tyler Bledsoe, bs flip

Do you remember yr first published photo?

I guess there was several iterations of it, depending on what you consider published. I had a photo printed in a zine that was made by this college kid in my home town. I don’t even remember the name of the zine now, but that one got me psyched! Then when I was in college I started sending photos to Thrasher and Transworld a little bit, but mostly Slap. I don’t know why but I guess Slap was just most my vibe. The first photo was actually in Thrasher of this contest, ‘Beast of the East’ they called it. It was Chris Cole doing a benihana to fakie on a quarter pipe with a helmet on.

Ha! Holy shit.

Yup, haha. But they had sent a bunch of photographers out there to shoot the contest and I just randomly sent that in and they ran it in the article. Which I’m sure some people were not too psyched on. Then the next photo, which I kind of considered the one I’m most proud of, or at least first photo I was proud of having published. It was my friend Will Lee in Charlottesville, Va. back tailing this shitty ledge against this crusty building and we called the spot the New York Grinder, cause it looked like it was in NYC. And it was a gallery in Slap, like a two page spread. So I was super stoked on that. Then Joe Brook called me and is like ‘we’re super stoked on your stuff, keep sending it in.’

Hell yeah, and then Slap became yr first job in skateboarding right?

Yeah so after that I stopped submitting to other mags, and was like I’m all in for Slap. So I would pitch them a bunch of article ideas, which they didn’t pick up until the third try. One of them was the Richmond, VA. skate scene and then the next one was a road trip, where my friends and I each saved up like $500 and we drove around the country for a month, just camping and shit. I think we might have stayed in motels like two nights. Slept in the bushes in laguna beach, it was pretty rad. But I was basically thinking I’d get to California and meet a bunch of pros and shoot them and that would be the article, haha. Of course we didn’t meet any when we got there!

And they turned both those down?

Yes, and then after that I went to DC and did an article called ‘The Forgotten City’ it had all those dudes that were super sick in the early 90’s and they were still skating, but the scene had kind of died out cause of Capital and whatever. So I did a thing with like all those guys and then a bunch of young dudes, up and comers, and then Slap ran that and it was like fourteen pages. After that they put me on retainer.

Solid. Did you have to visit SF ever when you were working for them or were you just the East Coast guy?

I was really just the East Coast guy. I mean they would fly me out like once a year. But I was basically just on my own the whole time. Sometimes they’d ask me to shoot with so and so, and I didn’t even know the guy at all. So they had me move to Philadelphia and it was pretty tough man. I mean there was already a couple photographers, and all these skaters I didn’t know, that I was supposed to be shooting with. It took awhile before anyone was really down to start shooting with me, you know? Like Kerry Getz, Mike Maldonado, Josh Kalis, any of those, but eventually I did. Kalis was my first cover actually on Slap.

So who were some of yr favorite people to skate with when you were living in Philly?

I mean honestly I liked shooting with my friends the best. Like the up and comers, Jack Sabback and Rich Adler, and then I really liked shooting with Ricky Oyola. He showed me the time of day pretty early on so that was sick. It was totally inspiring shooting with him, cause I had always watched him growing up and all that.

Brandon Nguyen, fs smith

So what are yr favorite and least favorite parts of living in New York?

Favorite parts are definitely the energy and how everything looks and feels, it’s just super inspiring. I love running into people on the street that I know, cause even though it’s such a big place that sort of thing happens all the time. It’s just a good vibe out here, super positive. As far as what I don’t like, that’s garbage on the street.

What made you move from Slap to Skateboarder?

I guess part of it was money, part of it seemed like the right thing to do at the time because the Skateboard Mag had just started and they had stolen O’meally and Barton from Skateboarder. So they’re sitting there with no staff photographers and they had a lot more clout than Slap honestly by that point. I think Slap was on a downward trajectory and everybody knew it, and Skateboarder basically said they’ll fund all my travels so I kind of figured that was the way to go. So it was a rough breakup with Slap but in the long run I think it was the right thing to do.

If you could guess, why do you think both these magazines eventually went under?

Haha, I hope it wasn’t cause I was involved! I mean it’s tough man. The reason Skateboarder went under is because they’re parent company bought Transworld so then they had two skate mags and they decided to put Skateboarder out of business since the ad deals from Transworld were better. But everyone liked Skateboarder.

What are yr thoughts on the current state of print mags?

I don’t know, I guess Thrasher’s doing fine… But I love magazines and I hope they’re around as long as possible. I mean I think there’s still a market for print and people do still like it. But people are also really harsh critics in skating, so people tend to hate on stuff all the time. But I love all of them, I mean they all publish my photos haha.

It’s a weird time, everyone’s turning into books, or bi- monthlys…

Yeah I mean for the first time I’m sitting on stacks of photos, well hard drives of photos, that can’t get published because there’s too many photographers and not enough pages. Also I guess not being a staff photographer has it’s disadvantages. There were years where I could guarantee that anything I sent in would get run which was pretty amazing. But now that is definitely not the case.

Yaje Popson, bluntslide

So would you rather never publish another book or never post anything on social media again?

Haha! Fuckin a man that’s a tough one. Honestly from an idealist standpoint I would definitely say I’d only do books, but from a practical standpoint I’d have to do social media cause that’s where I get a lot of my business from. It’s almost more important than having a website these days so it’s kind of hard to say no to it.

It’s true, it’s unavoidable at this point.

It sucks don’t get me wrong, but it’s ingrained into our society. So unless something drastic happens I think social media is gonna be king, sad but true.

Miguel Valle, switch ollie

So I’m trying to avoid talking about National Geographic since I’m sure yr sick of talking about it. But what was the shittiest part of the whole process? Did the editors have any idea about skateboarding?

They had no idea about it at all, but they were super down to listen to what I had to say and were so easy to work with. It was just such a positive experience so it’s hard to focus on the negative parts of it.

Totally, so are you satisfied with the project as a whole? Do you think you reached a lot of people who wouldn’t have seen skateboarding otherwise?

You know that’s a great question. I wish there was some way to measure the number of non skaters who bought the book. I mean if you read the book, it’s kind of written for the general public. There’s a lot of explaining and stuff that a skater wouldn’t need explained. But that was kind of the purpose to be like a bridge between the cultural gap of the average joe and anyone who skates. Try to give a little more understanding to the lifestyle we live and stuff. Cause there’s just still so much hate towards skateboarding. I guess there’s some type of attractiveness to that, but at this point for me I’m so tired of getting kicked out and shit. I’m just tired of confrontations with heroes on the street, it drives me fucking crazy. And you go to foreign countries and the property owner comes out and is like ‘holy shit this is awesome! Please skate that rail!’ You know, that’s so sick. Or at least a way better experience than getting the cops called on you.

Jordan Gesko, kickflip

You know how many countries you’ve been to?

I mean I guess I could count em up, but definitely over thirty. Not that much in the grand scheme of things. I mean they’re all skatable. My friend was just in Antarctica and ollied down a three stair, I think he’s the first person to skate there.

Has there ever been a trip that just totally failed?

As far as like blowing an assignment or whatever I guess if I had to say one it’d be 2006 in Morocco. It was just really tough and we drove a lot and I think Kenny Reed only got like one photo. It was just so rugged man, the whole crew was having melt downs and shit. So then I extended my stay and shot a bunch in Spain and made the article with a story about Morocco, even though like sixty percent of the photos were shot in Spain. I mean I used to write like fictional stories.

Really?

I mean a lot of my Skateboarder articles were just like made up stories. I guess I took a page out of Neiratko’s book, he was always writing about his grandmother in England or something. So I was like fuck it I’m gonna write about whatever the hell I want to.

It’s better that way, one time we did an article that was just an omelette recipe.

That’s dope, that’s like scarfing material. You ever heard of that? It was like an old column in Thrasher, it was in my first skate magazine from like August, 1990. But anyway they had a monthly column of basically just recipes. I mean a lot of them were fucking disgusting, but some of them were real. My mom actually still uses this rosemary potato recipe, there’s a page of Thrasher in my moms recipe book, no joke.

That’s amazing. Anything specific yr trying to accomplish in 2017?

I guess more foreign trips, cause they’ve been harder and harder to get going in the last couple years. I really love adventures, so any sort of thing that involves that vibe I want to do more of.

Josh Wilson, kickflip

So any words of advice for the skate photographers of the future?

Whoooo, I don’t know. I guess I would say if you’re not passionate about it then you’re probably not going to do it very well.