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Skateboarding News

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ray Rae’s interview: Where ya goin' with that camera in your hand?

Ray Rae and Tadpole at Venice Skatepark (Ph. Matt Fisher)
In the 70’s, there was an old saying among skateboarders about a hypothetical limit in the sky, even though that limit had already been shattered 10 years before by a legendary guitarist who died of a drug OD in London. Flash forward to 2010 and the sky is not the limit anymore for both skateboarders and Jimi Hendrix’ fans alike. But it takes sometimes incredible circumstances to reconcile both Jimi Hendrix and vert skateboarding in the same story, let alone in the same sentence. And that incredible circumstance is called Ray Rae . Venetian by choice, historian of Jimi Hendrix by passion and skateboard photographer by chance, Ray Rae is not an average Joe and has already been known as a guitar player, and as a Jimi Hendrix archivist/Historian of sorts, his research having appeared in several books and film documentaries. But lately, things don’t seem the same for him and his ultimate experience has more to do with cues, pixels and skateboard tricks than chords and wah-wah pedals.

Whereas RR had not really shot skateboarding before the opening of the Venice skatepark in 2009, the Venice culture has always permeated his experience and hanging out with skateboarders is a natural extension of the Venice way of life.

Like many others, I first met RR back in 2009 on Facebook, where he still displays his skate pictures. But he was just a name among others, a guy posting rad skateboard pictures on the internet until I met him live at the Venice skatepark. I found in him a very warmhearted fellow: we both speak French, like gourmet cuisine, Grey Poupon and recettes secretes… Then, there was this French TV crew that came one day out of the blue to the Venice skate park to film a special on Venice and they dubbed him “Le Photographe de Venice” in the story….
Ray Rae at Venice Bistro. (Ph. Matt Fisher)
How I joked about that for months in his Facebook postings! Maybe too much…

In 10 months or so, since he started documenting the life of the Venice skaters, his style has evolved from being just a gypsy eye to some kind of magician practicing voodoo in order to boost the skaters’ confidence while, by the same token, enhancing his pictures quality. Of course, I already used several times in the past some of RR marvels to spice up my blog. But, that’s because we have the same fascination for the up and coming skateboarders of Venice: kids of 10, 8 and even only 6 years old that already skate like mini Hosoi: Shane Borland, Kiko Francisco, Asher Bradshaw… Beyond the amazing tricks that these ezy riders perform and that are being captured by his multiple lenses lies a true human being with a big heart... He is truly a Venice original by himself.

Ray Rae has a weekly "Skate Park Picture of the Week" feature on local news and event website, just opened a website on the internet and was recently invited by his ol’ pal Block to display his portraits at Venice Original’s skate shop. Are these the first stones of a Castle Magic?

So, it was time to hit the pause button and to dedicate some time to the associate dagger-type and see why and how he arrived so fast where he is now… BTW, in doing the interview, I actually secretly wished we would so be in-sync that he could inadvertently spare some of his voodoo magic to me so I can too, take good pictures, but the voodo did not work… Talk is cheap, art is difficult. Too bad for me.

Jesse Martinez of the VSA
 isTia: The pictures that you are taking remind a lot of people pictures from the 70’s, from the Skateboarder magazine era, when vert was king… Are there a lot of people telling you that?
Ray Rae: Aw thanks, not really, if a pic already looks retro I’ll try to accentuate that by making it black and white especially if it’s an OG skater from the seventies and eighties, I know I’m guilty of over processing sometimes in post too so I try to throw in some black and whites when I feel it. Me and the kids though, we love the cartoon like Marvel comics look. I’ve never claimed to be part of the whole birth of Dogtown thing, only by association if at all. I had a skate when I was 9 or 10 in the early Seventies but after eating shit bombing hills a few times I stuck to my bicycle. But I grew up in that same era, in the same town, went to the same schools, same parties, took the same drugs, hung out at Bay St. This is long before all this glorified commercialized Dogtown bullshit. I had heard the term but to me it only meant either a nickname for Santa Monica or a reference to all the dog shit on the sidewalks in Venice and the skaters and surfers were just other long haired stoners to me which I was always happy to see.

isTia: Did you go to Marina Del Rey skatepark?
Ray Rae: I have never been there. Even when they were all skating at the Venice Pavilion, in 85, 86, 87, Froggy was telling me “You gotta go down and check this kid, he is like 10 or 12 years old, he is gonna be the next big thing!”. And he was talking about Christian Hosoi. I would go down in the early morning though and check out the surfers from the pavilion balcony and then go home and play music or watch cartoons or whatever and missed out on all those afternoon skate sessions with everyone which I really regret. I was more known as a musician, most of the guys know me as a freaky guitar player, not a photographer. I was playing in a few rock bands and I was doing a tribute to Hendrix. I played in the 80’s with reggae bands, Jah Bandis in particular and we backed up some big artists when they were coming in town and they would need a pick up band. I had a demo studio in my little bachelor pad and was actually making a living with that. I was even in a band with Froggy at one point. And Rex, aka Dread Flimstone, also put me on a few of his albums including “Funky Reggae.” That’s why I’d bristle at being called a “Photographer”. At first, I’d say I’m just a guitar player that owns a camera. Block knows. (laughs)
Hadden McKenna
Daniel Cuervo, The Crow from Dominican Republic
isTia: So, you were born and raised in Santa Monica?
Ray Rae: No. We came here in 72 from Evanston, a suburb of Chicago. I went to grade school in Santa Monica and the first kid I met took me on a bike adventure to Venice all through the canals and the pier, this was before the Marina peninsula was built. It was a lot different in the early 70’s. We are talking from 72 on…

isTia: Did you visit the POP?
Ray Rae: Yes, it had just burned down. I went down on there, but it was closed. We just went on me and my friend and we took sticks for protection and went out there and it was really freaky. Some of it was destroyed, some of it was bent like curved at a slant and there was giant aquariums where you could walk through because they were now empty. It was a real trip.

isTia: When did you move to Venice?
Ray Rae: I would ride my bike my down there from S.M. every day and spend the whole day there when I was a little hippy kid from about 12 on, I had friends there I had met in Jr. High. When I got kicked out of the house at 17, I moved there, my first apartment was on Brooks and Pacific, about 79-80. I moved around a bunch and then in around 85, I moved back to the beach in Venice.

isTia: You were watching those guys skate?
Ray Rae: I wish, I would just see the little skate rat pack rolling around with Bagel, Aaron Murray, Little Man, Tuma (Britton) and all them, they were kids then and I’d see guys like Jesse (Martinez), and Jay (Adams), and Block around, of course Froggy and Rex who both lived right here at the beach, it’s a small community and there were a lot of parties we’d all go too. Plus I’d see some of them at my Hendrix tribute gigs I did at this place called the Glenn Bar.

Kiko Francisco
Asher Bradshaw

isTia: When did you happen to know about the Venice Skate Park?
Ray Rae: I guess I heard it on the street or probably from Rex a few months before they broke ground. Jesse (Martinez) let me in at around 1am in the morning of opening day, it was still surrounded by fencing and I was completely alone in there at night walking around and looking down into the big bowl for the first time. A few days later I was standing with Jesse just looking out over the park and he said “This park is going to change Venice.” I said oh yeah? I had no idea how true that would turn out to be, not an inkling. It was life changing for a lot of people because, you know, you become friends with a lot of cute little kids, local kids and teenagers and see all these homies from the 70’s and 80’s... I saw a lot of people that I had not seen in years we all got reunited by the skatepark and he were are hanging out at the breakwater again standing around talking shit and reliving our lost youth.

isTia: Most of those people, at one time they stop skating?
Ray Rae: I would not be the one to ask. Because I’m not really part of that skate culture. I grew up around here, I grew up with a lot of the same guys, but the guys that were really into it in the 70’s when it was like Stecyk and Glenn Friedman and later on it was Mofo, Chuck Katz and guys like Block which is why it’s really cool to have my little photos in Venice Originals. I mean this is a guy who went around the world shot the best skaters in the world skating the coolest spots in the world for many years.

isTia: What photographers from the 70’s do you consider as an example for you?
Ray Rae: None really, I didn’t buy the skateboard magazines at that time, I was reading the rock mags so most pictures that I saw were later on probably on the walls at friends houses. Rex lent me his Legend of Zboys book so that’s sitting on my coffee table right now. One of the most iconic photos for me personally is one that Chuck took of Block doing a front side grind , that was probably taken in the early eighties but ya know, again, I’m really not an authority on the subject, these guys are like 100% skaters for life.

isTia:  When did you start taking pictures?
Ray Rae: I had been attracted to photography for many years and always felt it was something I had a knack for and about 3 weeks before the skatepark opened, a very old friend of mine he is a skater and a skate photographer his name is John Warren, everybody knows him as Jaydubz. I’ve known him since I was a young boy he gave me a Nikon and I started just playing with it although it was a little frustrating at first, you know, you are too dark, you are out of focus, the image is blurry. You’d often hear people talking about how historical this was so I began to realize I was documenting history which I had some experience doing with my Hendrix related work. A lot of it has to do with helping these kids to become self confident and even some of the older guys that haven’t skated in a while, they come back and they hear that other older guys are skating and even sometimes I even tell them on purpose “You know who was down here the other today?” Because I know they’ll have to come down and skate or at least take a take a run and if I get a good pic, well that’s local news and everyone is stoked to see there homie grinding again. It’s a real pleasure when you are looking at photos at the end of the day and you are thinking wait ‘till this little kid or wait till my homie sees this picture!” I realized that’s a true expression of love and that’s what makes me happy.

Shaun White

Lance Carrera Newton

isTia: When did it really become something that people are telling you: “Hey, you are making good pictures?”
Ray Rae: After a few months… but I’ve had a lot of encouragement and support from a lot of really nice people.

isTia: What kind of equipment do you use?
Ray Rae: I have a Nikon D90 and a sigma fish eye lens …

isTia: It’s what, a 14? 17?
Ray Rae: It’s a 10!

isTia: Whoaa a 10!
Ray Rae: Yeah. And sometimes I use my 50mm 1.8 portrait lens too. Almost all of those Shaun White shots I took recently where done with the 50mm

isTia: I saw the Shaun pictures on Facebook... Would you say there is a difference before the fish eye and after the fish eye?
Ray Rae: That’s a huge difference. The fish eye, I wanted it so bad for so long I was dying to have a fish eye for months and months and months, so, you know, I got rid of the old camera and it gave me about half of the money and then, I borrowed the other half to get the fish eye. And then, Jaydubz completely stoked me with a better flash, an 800 speed flash and that made all the difference, without him there just would be no Ray Rae pix, period. The combination between the better flash and the fish eye, maybe about 6 months ago, that took me up to a new level.

isTia: There is also a treatment of the picture. Some of them you just crop it, but for some others what do you do exactly to give them that special patine?
Ray Rae: I use either Photoshop or Lightroom which Matt Fisher turned me onto, he’s a programmer and a killer photographer and he’s helped me tremendously with pretty much everything. A lot of the kids they really love it if you make them look like a Marvel Comics Super Hero… If you make them look like a super hero, that’s the whole deal. That’s part of the whole point. You can take a kick flip and make it look really huge. A lot of the kids assume I’m a skating expert, which I am not, so I have kids come up and say: “ You know, I’m gonna do a 50-50 rock’n roll re-revert to gay twist faky pop tart Madonna” or whatever and I’m like “Yeaaaah!” (laughs) “Go for it man!” (laughs) “I got you covered buddy!” (laughs) And all I’m asking is “which way are you gonna be facing”?

Daniel Cuervo
isTia: Good question, yeah (laughs). How often do you take pictures at the skatepark?
Ray Rae: At least a couple of times a week. I try to be there every week-end because that’s when a lot of my favorite kids and groms are there…

isTia: Yes, but you were talking about Shaun White early on, my guess is that people like Shaun White don’t go on Week Ends?
Ray Rae: I don’t think so. Last time Shaun White came, that was on a weekday, but I’m not sure the time before that…

isTia: My guess is that’s it’s probably too crowded on the week-ends…
Ray Rae: Yeah I guess, it’s probably too crowded and it’s hard to park too… But when Shaun is there, that’s just another kid on the skate park. He’s the same as the other skaters.

isTia: But, I guess people recognize him?
Ray Rae: Yeah they do, mostly the spectators.

isTia: What section do you prefer, the vert or the street?
Ray Rae: I like a lot the pool and the snake run, but I like them both (street and vert). Whatever is a good picture, whatever makes a good picture and whatever makes people happy. The big part of it is getting a great picture of somebody so they’re totally stoked, that’s part of the fun.

George Watanabe
  isTia: Do you have preferred skaters?
Ray Rae: Everybody is nice there. In the beginning there were people they really wanted to have their pictures taken but they did not know me and then they got more comfortable realizing that I knew a lot of skaters out there, because I grew up there and I know the same people as they do so that got me a kind of ghetto pass as they say (laughs). But whoever is doing something like a lot of the time a stranger would say to me how, you know, “I can’t do that!”, is a way to say “You don’t want to take my picture!” and then I say, “Do whatever you do” and with the fish eye you show that to them afterwards and they say ”Whooo, can I have a copy of that?”…

isTia: Yeah, I guess with a fish eye, everybody looks like Hosoi!
Ray Rae: Yeah, (laughs) Exactly!

isTia: So, you are not going to tell me who is your favorite skater?
Ray Rae: There’s no one favorite skater , I mean these guys like Mighty and Lance (Carrera) and Daniel (Cuervo) are just incredible to watch and guys like Eric Dressen, Tuma (Britton), even street skaters like Stoney, I can watch them skate down the street and jump a curb and it’s entertaining but it depends on how much fun we’re having just hanging out taking pictures so a favorite doesn’t always depend on how good their skating is. It’s so cool to have little kid friends and teenage friends, hang out with them and keep an eye on them. I love those kids, all us old timers that are out there a lot do.

Steve Primo

isTia: Those kids are amazing, of course I don’t know all of them, just a couple of them like Kiko and Asher or Daniel (Cuervo) and they come and skate and after 6 months or one year, they skate at an amazing level …
Ray Rae: Not even one year, you know, Asher started last May of 2009. So that’s a good example of their level. What is more amazing is that you don’t show up for 2 to 3 weeks and all of a sudden they will take it up to a different level. I didn't go there for a couple of weeks and I come back and all of a sudden, Asher is doing frontside air in the big bowl and not little ones either. Same thing happened with Kiko.

isTia: Who have you seen with the best progress?
Ray Rae: So many and not just the top skaters that get air and get all the attention, all the snake run addicts and street skating section kids too. They’ve all stepped up since the skatepark opened. Haden just came back from a trip up north like 15 days ago he told me they’re at a whole other level and you can see he stepped it up, total ripper, style for days.

isTia: How do you see the future of vert skating?
Ray Rae: Well can you imagine in ten years kids like Shane (Borland), and Asher and Kiko will only be in their teens? And look at Haden (McKena), I mean the difference between his skating less than a year ago and now is incredible. Again, I’m maybe not the one to ask but I know amazing when I see it and I see the progress of these skaters in one year and not just the kids.

isTia: Venice is very different from other skateparks in a sense that there is a lot of spectators other here. Do they participate, do they cheer or applaud?
Ray Rae: Yeah, you know, sometimes there are more spectators than there are skaters (laughs) although (…) and yeah, they cheer especially for the little kids. They cheer and they go “Oooooh” and “Aaaaah” and “Uuuuuuh”...

Asher Bradshaw, prodigy from Venice Skatepark
Asher Bradshaw
isTia: Do you see sometimes skaters that are so afraid by the size of the bowl and the level of those kids that they just stay behind the bars and don’t do anything?
Ray Rae: Yeah, I see a lot of skaters staying out of the big bowl or staying out of the snake run, because you know, the snake run can sometimes get dangerous. When it starts to get crowded, people get hyper. You can just feel the tension rising and shit dropping in a bowl is no joke, it’s scary!

isTia: What do you see as the most used part of the skate park?
Ray Rae: There are a lot of little kids in the street course it’s great they have the street course because you can take toddlers over there they have the little angles and gradings where you can take little 2 year olds but probably the snake run is the most used. The other day, on the week-end, there was nobody in the big bowl and a few of us just climbed in there just horsing around taking pictures and just standing in there having fun and goofing around but you’re gonna see people come and go. It will be really interesting to see all those skaters in 10 years.

isTia: I’d like to talk about the VSA and the security. I’ve been several times at the park and I saw how the VSA is greatly handling aggressive behavior from some skaters…
Ray Rae: I’m really surprised there isn’t more fights, more police harassment there… It’s been pretty cool, there have been some instances, but it has not been as bad as you might imagine for Venice. The VSA does so much under the wire that people are totally oblivious to. No one ever sees the graffiti that Jesse and the VSA clean off in the early morning hours or all the sand and dirt and there’s a lot of locals that volunteer. We also all make an effort to make it a good atmosphere for kids and everybody knows the locals aren’t going to put up with a lot of fighting or drug use so for the most part people don’t even go there. The older people in particular love their local skatepark kids and are always looking out for them myself included, it’s a privilege to know the kids and get to hang out with them.

Ray Rae Venice skatepark, Daniel Cuervo
Daniel Cuervo
isTia: There was a controversy when the park opened regarding the helmet law and it seems to me that very few people are using the helmets in the skatepark. Do you usually see the cops don’t enforce the law?
Ray Rae: There’s a lot of kids with helmets, but it’s your choice. I think one of the reasons why they can’t enforce it is because there’s also a helmet law with bicycles. So if you strictly enforce the helmet law with skateboarders then you would have a potential discrimination law suit because you are not enforcing it with all bicycle riders. It’s a choice. There are a lot of people that have young kids and when you have somebody like Shane Borland, he is 10 and he doesn’t wear a helmet and I’ve heard some grumbling but you know, when you are at that level… I know he is only 10 years old … But when you’re that good it’s kinda hard to force somebody to wear a helmet.

isTia: How did you get your pictures at Venice Original’s?
Ray Rae: Block just called me one day and he said, I’m gonna do some series of art photo shows to coincide with the Venice Art Crawl and I want to know if you wanna be the first one to do it?

isTia: How many pictures do you have on expo?
Ray Rae: There are ten 11x14, twenty five 8x10and forty 4x6. And those are really reasonably priced because I would like to see some of those kids get them.

isTia: How long will the expo last?
Ray Rae: Until the beginning of the third week of September or whenever Bobby and Block say so.

isTia: Tell me about your website…
Ray Rae: It’s, click on Galleries, pick a Gallery, choose a view size of an image or click on slideshow to see everything full screen. There's a search box right there too where you can easily find pics of you or a friend on the site which is pretty cool. You can order prints in just about any size or printing option you can imagine and they're shipped direct from one of the best photo labs in the state. They color correct each image by hand. If you don't see the size you want or you want an image on a T-shirt or on Canvas or something, you can just contact me through the site via the 'contact' link at the top of the home page. I also have a Sunsets gallery, Animals, Music, Portraits, Life in Venice, and I'll be adding others soon like Surfing.

isTia: What is the size of your pictures?
Ray Rae: The raw files are around 10 megs

isTia: That’s a pretty good size…
Ray Rae: Oh yeah, it’s big enough so you can print a 20x30 or bigger no problem…

Eric Dressen
 isTia: How many pictures do you have? 2000? 3000?
Ray Rae: (Laughs) Yeah, something like that, let me see (he is checking his computer)… Since the park opened it’s really hard to say. In 2010 alone, I have 10,000 photos and that’s a couple of months after the park opened. But I still have pictures from 2005, I have a lot sunset pictures and I’m going to be adding different galleries like Animals, Portraits, Concert Photos which are all already up there but also a Visions of Venice gallery and Derelicts Gallery, and more stuff our friends from out of town and overseas might be interested in. I’d like to be able to take a picture, hand someone a card and say: This will be up on my site tonight, if you like it, you can order a print, and I’m almost there!

isTia: Facebook has helped you a lot in getting recognition for your pictures because that’s where you first published them …
Ray Rae: Absolutely! The cross between Facebook and the skate park coinciding with each other has been amazing. It’s been life changing. And again it’s amazing and so great to see old friends and have so many new friends of all ages, especially the kids of course

David Fowler

Eddie "Mighty" Moreno

isTia: Have you been contacted by some magazine like Juice?
Ray Rae: Not really, I’m friends with Dan and Terri, they’re really cool people but I mainly shoot at Venice and they’re located here so they can come down and take their own shots anytime they want, I mean they always have really nice things to say about my photos and I’ve sent them a few things but they’ve never used any of them. From what I’ve been told a lot of schmoozing and jockeying for position goes on in the skate publishing industry and I guess I’m not into that.

isTia: Its orchestrated right?
Ray Rae: Yeah, it’s a lot of politics in other words and I do it for fun. And I think most people realize that and appreciate it although it would be nice of course to get paid and I actually have been a few times.

Kiko Francisco
isTia: When I read the mainstream skateboard magazines, I can see that the same picture is inside the magazine and then, you see the same guys with the same session in an ad, and again the same session in a video and everything coincide with the release of a new brand and a new video, so you know everything is pretty much orchestrated by those guys.
Ray Rae: You know, from what I understand, there is a group of about 10 pros that get most of the work and, you know, they all have pro equipment, I’m not trying to be Mr. Skate photographer and again, I think most people know that but it’s a process, it’s evolving at it’s own pace or not, I don’t trip. Some skaters are starting to educate me a bit about sending their sponsors pics with their products on it and trying to help me get paid which is way cool but I’d be way stoked to just make a few extra bucks doing what I love and if someone wants to publish my stuff, great. I may start submitting stuff eventually but like I said, I’m letting it take it’s own course and that’s worked for me so far.

isTia: Well, you are pretty close…
Ray Rae: Yeah, I hope to be pro some day, you know (laughs). You know, I just don’t really care about the politics and like I said, I’m not trying to be the next skate photographer and in a way, I think that’s what a lot of people like about me…

isTia: Yes, you are true and that’s really what matters, really…
Ray Rae: It’s from the heart…

isTia: Exactly! What plans do you have for the future?
Ray Rae: I want to do more local landscapes and portraits, classic Venice, murals, sunsets, stuff like that, maybe next time have a showing in a photo or art gallery but I consider myself very lucky to be more or less an amateur that’s been shooting for less than a year and have a photo exhibit of my skating shots in non other than Venice Original’s, I’d like to thank Block and Bobby for that.

isTia: Thanks for the interview Ray.

All pictures by Ray Rae. Except pictures of RR by Matt Fisher. All pictures used by permission.

If you wanna purchase RR pics, go to his website: or go to Block’s skate shop:
Venice Originals located @ 1525 pacific ave
Venice, california 90291
phone : 3103141525

Additional reading:

- Interview with Asher Bradshaw
- Interview with Kiko Francisco
- Interview with Daniel Cuervo

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posted by Xavier Lannes @ Monday, September 13, 2010 


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