A few weeks back we had the undoubted pleasure to sit down (virtually, of course) with skateboarding supremo and dark room wizard that is Mr Ray Barbee to talk all things skate, photography, Vans & music ahead of his collaborative capsule drop with Vans Vault & Leica.
Celebrating the "joy of capturing the journey", the capsule collection is now live at HANON, and boasts four footwear styles, two apparel pieces, and a very tasty checkerboard wrapped Leica camera which unfortunately for any interested parties have gone like hot cakes.
We really like the colour palette throughout your collection, as well as the material choices and apparel pieces. How did you select what styles to work on?
"Nate and I put it together, he was my guy that helped me out with stuff like asking what we might not want to do again, materials and colour options stuff like that, but for the most part it was 100% freedom for me and Nate, thankfully there was no issues with our ideas."
That’s always a bonus isn’t it? When the brand is like "that’s cool!"
"Ah dude, it’s the best!"
Straight through the sample rounds. No drama.
"I mean on Vans side, because they have such a history and relationship culturally, very little is lost in translation. You know, that’s not uncommon for them to function like that. All my projects and collaborations with Vans have always been this way, it’s pretty much par for the course in that respect.
What did impress me though, was on Leica’s end where they actually allowed me to have such freedom with how we wanted the camera to look and how the film was going to look. It was equal 100%."
Working with like minded people is always good.
"Yeah, I guess that’s what I'm saying is that it was so nice to see another brand work like that, it was cool they trusted me and Vans to produce this, as its not the same language as Vans you know. Leica function so different, but I was happy with the whole process and our results."
It's cool to see that checkerboard called out on the Leica camera.
"Yeah, again, very grateful everything turned out the way it did. The process was fun too!"
So, talking Leica, how did you first get into using Leica Cameras?
"So I first got into shooting photos in, I want to say, around 95ish when I was on a two-month skateboarding tour. Early on in that tour, we were on the East Coast and the photographer who was on the tour with us, my friend Joe Brook, he had this point and shoot camera - A Yashica T4 and it's pretty much all auto, so it is doing auto focus for you, it does the metering for you. Anyway, probably a couple of weeks into this trip I say to myself, "man I'm blowing it, I should be shooting photos!". With all the fun we’re having and the experience and seeing Joe with this little camera, I inquired about it, “like what camera is that?”, “where can I get one?”, and Joe says we’re gonna be in New York in a couple of days I'll take you to my favourite camera shop and tell you what one to get. So we went to the store, it was called B&H, went to the counter, and Joe asked for a Yashica T4 and then that camera probably went with me on every trip for 6 years."
Nice! So that’s the one that got you started?
"Yeah, I still have a T4 to this day but it was through that experience that gave me the desire to do what all those photographers I grew up with were doing and to learn the craft of photography because I knew I was kind of cheating, you know, in the sense that the camera was making all the choices for me. I could see the limitations of the point and shoot, for example, I would want things to look a certain way but with that camera, I was getting stuck with what the camera wanted to give me. Fast forward to probably about 2007/08-ish I finally gave in to this desire to want to learn to shoot on a manual camera but that was also spurred on by a deep desire to want to make black and white prints in the dark room.
So when the time came to use a manual camera, I was using a Pentax K1000 and that’s an SLR, which stands for single lens reflex so it has a mirror and the mirror has to lift up to let the light and come through and hit the film plane, and when the mirror comes back, it makes a loud sound and because the mirror needs room to move, those cameras tend to be bigger so it was a combination of size and how loud it was which made me realize this wasn’t the tool for me, as I was used to this point and shoot which was super quiet."
"So you’re looking through the lens, the system I was used to was closer to a rangefinder, which doesn’t have a mirror and tends to allow the camera to be smaller. You look through the window and a view finder that approximates the frame of the lens, but you’re not looking through the lens. So I was I used to that viewfinder aspect as opposed to looking at a reflection of a mirror through a lens.
I had my wife’s Pentax 1000 and the moments I'd catch with this noise would end up altering the moment. Everyone was looking at who was (making that noise) shooting?
And my friend John Humphreys, one of my favourite photographers who I know through skating, turned me on to the range finder camera. When you start looking at these, you end up at Leica. They’re the kings when it comes to rangefinders. They make the best."
"I guess what I'm saying is that when you're first starting it kind of doesn’t matter what you have, but whatever you have, use it to get an idea of what you want to be doing. Like what (actually) interests you - this dictates whether you move on to another camera or it dictates if you stick with film or you move to digital. Vice versa. Guess what I'm trying to say is put photography first and what excites you and let that guide you and help you to figure out what tool to invest in. A lot of the time people work backwards and spend a lot of money and waste a lot of time."
You’re right! It is a lot of money; focus on putting the subject and the experience first.
"Yeah, the interest comes first, like you could be interested in shooting trash but as long as you understand and know what you’re excited about then that's what is most important. If you like getting really up close to stuff and shooting detailed shots then a range finder won’t work. You need a SLR with a macro lens so you can get that. But I would say even with film, there’s a lot of ways in which it has this allure to it you know!? It’s seen as, dare I say it, trendy and hip but in reality it's hard man haha."
Ah totally, I’ve got far too many rolls undeveloped!
It’s a labour of love you know, it’s not for the faint of heart, or more what I mean to say is it’s not cost effective. There’s a lot involved with shooting film with prices rising. It seems like the perfect situation to be in, like man I want to shoot film, but unless you're ready or you have the budget, it's pretty spendy. It's not low dough. Unless of course you end up having a setup at home for processing, otherwise you’re gonna have to pay to get it processed and pay for the scans. There’s a steep learning curve when you’re starting out on film - factor in those costs.
I feel like digital is really good in the sense that it lets you do a lot of the ‘groundwork’ ahead of time. Just by learning how light works with these cameras; with the shutter, the ISO speed, the sensor speed or how you manage your noise. I guess what I’m saying is you can learn about the light flow through a camera without having to spend money on film to do that. You can do it and have a quick immediate look on your computer and be like "Oh that’s what depth of field means and looks like"."
Those are some wise words to live by indeed. I guess our next question is a bit like asking someone to pick their favourite film or album of all time... but out of all the shots you’ve ever taken is there one that sticks out as a favourite?
That’s quite a good way of looking at it, almost like motivation to go out and shoot if you need it.
"Yeah I think it's like what you said, it’s almost like asking what your favourite album is. I play music and it’s a bit like "what ones your favourite song?", for me you know, if I was excited about something or like in the case of an album, all those songs are like your kids. They’re all different and that’s the beauty of it."
"I mean there’s certain images in the dark room I might be a little bit more excited about compared to others as it's got that sort of 'skateboarding pulling off a trick' aspect to them. Like 'that one was kinda hard to pull off'. So dark room printing can function a little different as there’s a lot of labouring involved and it reminds me a bit of skating and filming - like trying to get a trick off. With skating you could have a hundred attempts at pulling a trick off and in the dark room it's kinda the same. There’s some negs where it’ll take me half a box just to get the burn right, get the contrast just right and all of that."
That’s a pretty nice parallel with skating, obviously we briefly touched on it earlier, that as well as all the skating and photography you some how manage to fit making music into the schedule as well?! That jam you laid down with Danny Garcia (Shout out the Reverend Barron!) was lush!
"Right on! Danny’s awesome, man that was fun!"
So how did the musical side to your creativity come out?
"Well, you know, I always wanted to play the guitar even before I knew I wanted to skate. I just turned 50 this year, so when I got into skateboarding it was around 84. About then and a little bit before I got into skating MTV came out. I was probably in 5th grade and all of a sudden there's this channel on TV that has all things music and rock! Like when it was first on it was mostly rock and metal I saw - I grew up in a household with a lot of soul and lot of jazz."
I read in an interview your dad used to play in bands?
Amazing, tell us more!
"I wasn’t around rock music much at that point in 5th grade then all of a sudden there’s this music channel with 24/7 music haha! The crazy thing was at that point there wasn’t many music videos as they hadn’t started making them yet. So a lot of the content was from concerts or things the record labels made to promote their bands; a lot of live performances. So, I’m seeing all these live performances from Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, ACDC, Black Sabbath, Iron Madden, Scorpion, the list goes on and on. I got enamored by the lead guitarist - the guitar hero! The guitar seemed so cool just the energy of it and everything. I remember one of my favourite bands then, and still to this day really is ACDC, one of my guitar heroes is Angus Young. I remember for the 5th grade talent show I wanted to be Angus Young so I tried to find an electric guitar for it but I couldn’t find one. I ended up using a broom but there was one guy at my school who I knew had an electric guitar and he was like “my dad will never let you borrow that guitar" and that was it. There was no accessibility or way to experience a guitar until I got into skateboarding. And the guys I was skating with at the time had guitars and were playing in punk bands. They had all the instruments and that’s when I can say I got into music - when I got into skating. Music would take a back seat over the years because of skateboarding but I’d always come back to it."
So just having music as this thing there to pick up where you left off?
"Yeah, just because it was more of a case of doing what was in front of you at the time. Skateboarding had so much momentum and energy with it and also the fact was I didn’t have my own guitar for a long time. So I would only play when I was hanging out jamming with the guys in the band, otherwise it was hard to get the chance to play and guitars were super expensive."
"It probably wasn’t until like senior year of high school where I came back to it and wanted to play again. My friends who played in bands invited me to come with them and then Stacey Peralta got me my first guitar after a tour with Powell Peralta. When I had that guitar with me I'd also have that guitar at interviews, I'd always be asked for portraits of myself with the guitar. Then when people found out I could play they’d be like "Let’s jam!" or "Come to the house, bring the guitar and we’ll play!" so I guess it was super cool how it became a part of it all."
It’s so inspiring the eco-system that lives on the West Coast, skating and bands, how everything coexists and is connected.
"Yeah, it’s the landscape you know, it's just what you’re doing anyways like you don’t have to work too hard to incorporate the two. I’m very grateful as with photography too, it's just all apart of what makes the culture!"
So what’s been playing recently, listened to anything good whilst you’ve been on the move?
"Hmm what have I been listening to… It's more like guitarists that I dig. I’ve just been playing more too! The listening has just been techniques and people doing lessons on Youtube really. It’s been funny man, most of the time it’s just been going back and listening to older things. I like the Menahan Street Band. There’s actually a trio, I forget the name, they come from that same sort of world they play organs... man what is the name! I’m so bad at names. With that algorithm on YouTube they’re just there."
I know the feeling! All these worlds of new music, fresh to your ears to explore.
Yeah, I’ve found that recently too, I was in a record store at the weekend for the first time in a while. It was quite nice to have to think and take in a sleeve and see who’s playing what on an album.
"Totally, it becomes easy to find out about something new and not commit straight to your memory online because you don’t need that memory to get back and find it again. It’s there waiting for you."
I’m guilty of that also, just leaving tabs open and giving something attention for a bit and not retaining what it was. The way of modern consumption I guess, it's all so easy and at your fingertips.
"Yeah, which is lame and unfortunate haha. I wanna hear 'Dear Hoof' I really dig that band and I heard they have a new album, so I haven’t had a chance to check that out yet."
Always exciting when you’ve got a new album to look forward to and to soundtrack something you're going to do. So I guess we should get onto Skating! HANON was actually birthed out of skateboarding in the late 80’s into the 90’s, obviously yourself and the whole scene out there was a huge inspiration starting out. What’s your memories of that time?
This whole new world of freedom!
"Yeah, it wasn’t like what it is now. So I’m very grateful for that experience and to be a part of skateboarding from when it was a new thing... to not only see it but to also have had some sort of input."
I guess in Scotland one of the best known ‘traditional’ spots, a bit like the ones you touched on pre them getting demolished, is the bowl. The bowl in Livingston has a special place in HANON's memories. So what in your mind makes a great skate spot?
"I mean at the top of it, it’s the level of fun you can have skating it. You know what I mean? It could be a lot of things, in some ways it's no different to the question earlier "what’s your favourite image", for me it's more general, it's what is the experience and emotional connection because of what happened. A lot of times the best places are the ones that let me experience it in the most enjoyable way, so any spot that I can have a lot of fun and challenge myself at. Sometimes it can be smooth, sometimes it can be rough. It just depends on how things come together. Sometimes a raw spot that is unassuming can be super fun the more you skate it. I don’t think I can pinpoint one specific thing. I think it's more general. Like if it's fun and challenging there then that’s good, maybe it's got some newness to it - both the spot and the trick. It can inspire a trick you’ve just never done. I would say its about the ingredients - the factors that make it for me rather than specific spots."
That makes total sense!
"Sometimes the curb cut is cut just right. That can be super fun but I wouldn’t put that over another spot."
Well I think that’s just about our time done for today. Time to wrap things up before we leave you to enjoy the sun. What plans are on the horizon for you, any more projects with Vans, any tours?
"Nothing on the tour front, just a lot of concerns with new (Covid) variants right now. People are still only slowly exploring, so nothing major, maybe just some spot dates, checking out some places over a weekend. So there’s some stuff in the works but nothing solidified. There is actually another project in the works, a collab with ** a little teaser** Krooked and Vans Vault with a special guest. I’m really excited about it, feeling super honored and grateful he’d even want me to be in the mix. I think people will be equally as excited as I am! That’s happening around February."
Nice! We’ll keep our eyes peeled for that in the future! Thanks for taking the time out to chat with us today it’s been a privilege!
"Thanks it's been good! Stay warm out there, have a good holiday season and hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to come and check out the shop!"