During the rise of professional skateboarding in the late ’70s and ’80s, one man involved in the industry became known not for riding a skateboard, but for the photos he took of skateboarding’s rising stars.
Meet Jim Goodrich. He’ll be one of the legends appearing at the El Gato Classic in Palm Springs Friday through Sunday, Dec. 4-6.
During a recent phone interview, Goodrich explained how he became a photographer.
“It really was an accident,” Goodrich said. “I had a photography class when I was in high school, but I was sort of a kid without direction back in those early days. My brother started skateboarding, and that’s what got me interested in it. I got a homemade board and didn’t really know anything about the skateboarding scene. I played around with photography while I was in high school and never really thought about it. I just wanted to skate like all kids do.
“I don’t know if I would say I wasn’t very good at skating. … Living in San Diego, skate parks hadn’t really come along quite yet, and I was skating in competitions doing slalom with some of the best skaters in the world. I was always pushing myself beyond what my skills were back then, and I kept falling and breaking body parts. When my arm was in a cast, I decided to buy a cheap little camera and take pictures of my friends.”
At the time, there was a demand for photos of skateboarding for magazines. Warren Bolster, of Skateboarder Magazine, is responsible for giving Goodrich entry into the photography world.
“Warren Bolster was a local in La Costa, so I saw him and got to know him,” Goodrich said. “I started bringing my slides up to La Costa to the skate park and showing them to the skaters. Warren walked over one day and said, ‘Hey, can I see those?’ He asked me if it would be OK to take some of them and put in the magazine. Of course, as a young kid, I’m going, ‘Ohhhh yeah!’ Six months later, he hired me on staff at the magazine. Given I was working at the magazine, it became tough to skate, because every minute I was skating, I was missing out on getting that one shot that would be in the magazine. Over the next year, I was skating less and less, and shooting more and more”
Goodrich said skateboarding photography is unlike any other sports photography.
“It really is unique,” Goodrich said. “I was really just learning photography, and I didn’t really have anyone to teach me. Warren Bolster was not a kind, warm and fuzzy guy who would come over and say, ‘Well, why don’t you try this?’ He was unapproachable for advice. Once in a while, he’d tell me he’d like to see more of a certain kind of shot or a specific skater … .”
“It was a quarter for every shot I took, for the film and the processing. It was fairly expensive when I was shooting on my own dime, so I didn’t shoot as much. I really shot in-camera, and made every shot count, because I was a kid on a limited budget. I was really trying to learn photography as well as learn skate photography. … I started developing my own technique using slower shutter speeds, flash, remote flash, colored strobe and colored flood lights for different techniques.”
During the ’80s, Thrasher magazine was showing skateboarders doing higher aerials and crazier tricks as the sport continued to evolve.
“Craig Stecyk is famous for a quote: ‘Go for what you know you can’t make,’” Goodrich said. “If I ever get my book finished, that’s definitely something I’m going to include, because I think it’s pretty priceless and pretty telling. But my philosophy was: It really mattered to me if the skater could pull off the trick. … I was really reluctant to shoot a skater I knew was just going for something for the photo, but couldn’t pull it off. We had this dialogue on Facebook when fans talk about my photos. They’ll ask, ‘Did they make that?’ My response 40 years later is, ‘Of course there’s no way for me to remember in certainty on any given shot.’ But one thing I can always say is, ‘That skater was able to pull off that trick, but he may not have pulled off the one that was in that actual photo.’”
Goodrich said he’s not sure whether digital technology has made a substantial impact on skateboarding photography.
“When digital first came along, I just didn’t have the money to buy the best camera with the best sensor in it. In the early years of the digital cameras, they didn’t have a good dynamic range, so you’d end up with a lot of whites blown out, and the darks didn’t have detail,” Goodrich said. “The quality of the photos didn’t come close to film. But as the technology has advanced, it became better. Because I have a better camera, I totally embrace digital and don’t miss film. I feel like it has the dynamic range now.
“From the standpoint of working in any industry as a digital photographer, it’s cheaper, and it’s almost necessary, because clients expect to see the photos on a laptop in the scene. I would say there are too many positives with digital. Whether it’s made skate photography better or worse … it’s immediate; it doesn’t cost anything to speak of; and in some ways, it’s made a lot of photographers really sloppy. You can afford to motor-drive or to shoot hundreds of photos and not be concerned about getting the shot you wanted to shoot, because you’re shooting so many photos that an idiot could get the peak action. … I still shoot in-camera even though every shot is essentially free, but I still want to get that shot. I don’t want to Photoshop it. But I totally embrace digital now.”
These days, many print skateboarding publications are gone or on their last legs.
“I dealt with it on a very personal level with Skateboarder Magazine. In 1979, skateboarding was slowing down, and I don’t think anyone saw it was going to crash,” Goodrich said. “I went through the change with that on a very personal level at Skateboarder Magazine. In order to attract new advertisers, because some skate companies were going out of business, they went to BMX to rock bands to anything else they could cover to generate additional advertising revenue. … It was definitely a difficult transition, as it was dying and (relaunched as) Action Now, and I quit, just because I wasn’t interested in shooting the other things they were covering, but also because I couldn’t make enough money to support myself … . ”
“I’m fully aware that digital makes print in most ways we’re familiar with completely irrelevant. There’s very little money to be made in print now, and it’s a very difficult market. While TransWorld is still out there, it has struggled for a few years. … It’s difficult to say what will remain in print and what will completely disappear.”
Goodrich said he agrees with El Gato Classic founder Eddie Elguera’s philosophy of the event honoring the past and championing the future. He said he’s looking forward to this year’s event after missing the inaugural event last year due to illness.
“I don’t go to too many skateboarding events; a lot of it is just too commercial for me,” Goodrich said. “I generally usually go to see my old skateboard friends, but I was really bummed I missed (the El Gato Classic) last year. I was really excited when Eddie said he was doing another one this year. Guys like Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tony Hawk and Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski all came in during the early ’80s, and that really was the true renaissance of skateboarding, where it really found its roots, and we found out who we were. I do love events like Eddie’s that bring the old school and the new school together. Maybe half the kids look up to people like Eddie, or Tony Hawk, who is an enigma himself, but I came from an era where the public looked at us like we were Hells Angels. We were outcasts; cops would pull us over and hassle us just because we were skaters, and not for any broken laws. For me to see society as a whole and embracing it so much … it’s just a different scene.”
The El Gato Classic will take place Friday through Sunday, Dec. 4-6, at various places in downtown Palm Springs; ticket prices vary. For tickets or more information, call 760-832-3388, or visit www.elgatoclassic.com. Below: Darrell Miller at Lakewood in 1979.