Graham Tait of North Skate Mag for HANON & Vans Vault

Towards the end of last year, Vans introduced the Vault by Vans x Ray Barbee “Capturing the Journey” collection which celebrates creativity by putting Vans’ signature skate twist in collaboration with the sophisticated photography brand, Leica Camera AG.

Legendary photographers and artists from all over the world prize Leica quality, and Vans pro athlete and professional skateboarder Ray Barbee happens to be one of those influential artists using a Leica M camera for years.

To celebrate this iconic collaboration, HANON have teamed up with Graham Tait of North Skate Mag to explore Ray's mantra of; 'The joy is in capturing the journey'. Born and bred in Livingston, Scotland, Graham has been involved in skateboarding for over 20 years and in 2011, utilising his passion and love for skateboarding, he launched North Skate Mag and with each issue, presents the best in film photography from himself as well as a number of contributors from around the world.

We headed south, down the A90, across the Forth Road Bridge, and into to Livingston for the day and caught up with him at the famous Livi Skate Park and it's iconic bowl.

Graham was joined by Livi veteran Craig 'Benson' Stewart who first made an appearance at the skate park in 2001 before quickly going on to make a name for himself in the Scottish skateboarding scene. While Graham worked with the Vans x Leica D-Lux 7, we took a backseat and documented both Graham and Benson while they done their thing on a cold Friday morning in Livi.

Before we get into it, let us give you a very brief history on the skate park itself.

Built in 1981, Livingston is a skate park situated between Scotland's two biggest cities Glasgow and Edinburgh. Affectionately known as Livi, it was designed by an at the time Edinburgh-based architect named Iain Urquhart, who was tasked with finding new and exciting things for people to do, particularly targeted at the younger generation. He set about liaising with local skaters, visited skate parks in California, and pieced all of his learnings together to create Livi.

As someone who grew up in Livingston and spent many of his days at the skate park, as well as delving into Graham's deep love for skateboarding and photography, we asked what the park means to him, so scroll down to check it out!

Tell us a bit about yourself Graham?

I've been involved in skateboarding for over 20 years now. I started shooting photos of my friends skateboarding which led to shooting photos for the newly opened Focus Skateboard Store in Edinburgh in 2001. That got my foot in the door to start managing the store in 2005. I was still shooting photos and getting published here and there which was amazing, but when the credit crunch hit in the late 00s the UK was left with only one skateboarding magazine and a bunch of photographers competing for the pages. Things were changing quickly to digital but I wasn't a big fan of how it looked in the earlier days, so I stopped sending in photos and decided to slowly start compiling content for my own project, which turned out to be North.

What is so special about Livi Skate Park?

I mean, it's special to me not only because I grew up there, but because it opened my eyes to the world of skateboarding. It's been around for 40 years now and still brings people from all walks of life together, it's amazing.

What are your memories of the skate park growing up?

I unfortunately missed some of the big names visiting in the late 80s like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero and the rest of the Bones Brigade, but did have the pleasure of watching some greats skate it in the 90s. I'll always remember the day a mysterious van appeared on top of the hill one summer's day in 1997. Watching Alan Peterson, Karma Tsocheff, Max Shaaf, and the late Phil Shao and Jake Phelps skate that place was amazing. Just being in the presence of those guys and shooting the shit was sick. They were all so down to earth put up with all our dumb questions and patter all day and night.

I think I've spent more time there than anywhere else, some of the friendships I've made there have passed the 25 year mark. Way to make me feel old, guys!

How did you first get into skating?

I was born and raised in Livingston so I was lucky enough to be able to experience the skatepark from a young age. It was one of those places that you discover when you're allowed to venture further than the end of your street and we were lucky that Livingston had lots of outdoor facilities back then to get lost at as a kid.

It wasn't until I was around 13 that I started to understand what was fully possible on a skateboard. I watched a lot of movies growing up and was heavily influenced by American culture, so when I started paying attention to the tricks and to what was actually happening on my doorstep, it blew my mind! So that's actually closer to 30 years since I first got hooked.

Knowing your work shooting and producing the essential North Skate Mag, what is it about film that keeps you shooting on the medium?

When I started taking photography seriously I was influenced by the American magazines, especially Transworld, everything looked so good! The quality of the photography, the different film types, colour and black and white shots. I tried my hardest to emulate what I saw in those pages, and by the time I had found out what the right gear to use was, how to light using flash properly, what film these guys are using, it all started to switch over to digital. I just never really got on board with it, it's taken a long time for digital to catch up with that quality.

Maybe it's part nostalgia, but to me those magazines from 2000-2005 look amazing and still influence me to this day.

Who or what would you describe as your biggest influences be that in skate, creativity, or photography?

My biggest influences in skateboarding are the photographers from the pages of the American magazines I tried to copy. Oliver Barton, Mike Blabac, Lance Dawes, Brian Gaberman, Michael Burnett, Mike O'Mealy, Dave Chami, Jonathan Mehring, John Bradford, Atiba Jefferson, to name a few. Those guys did an excellent job of documenting skateboarding at that time, and most of them still do.

I get influenced by lots of different things these days, my Instagram algorithm is all over the place. You'll find soviet posters from the 40s and 50s mixed in with retro paper bag collectors and 90s fashion pages. I really enjoy looking at old and new fashion accounts, they help me get inspiration for the North clothing capsules we produce.

Okay allow us to get hypothetical here; Vans are on the line chatting about producing a shoe, what shoe are you dreaming of putting your spin on? – Anything you’d love to see Vans bring back/introduce?

I'm a big fan of the Half Cab so I'd definitely take a punt at trying to put my stamp on that!

The Vans Vault x Ray Barbee x Leica collection is available online now. Hit the button below to shop!

Please note: The Vans Vault x Ray Barbee x Leica D-Lux 7 Camera is sold out!


- The joy is in capturing the journey -
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