This interview was originally published in Volume X, January 2022.
Former’s Audible Refuge video project was in our sights long before it was set to be released into to the public eye.
We had however been kept in the dark about an accompanying book by photographer Andrew James Peters. A book going by the name of Please, Don’t Forget This documenting the video project from start to finish.
We travelled to Paris at the end of 2021 for said video premiere and it was here we that we saw the very photos from Andrew’s book for the first time, exhibited in the basement of the Arrow & Beast store. We’d had a few beers. And Spritz. And things were a little wobbly. But we saw the images how Andrew intended his work to be seen. Carefully curated, in a well lit room with nice frames and we were sold!
Now we all know how many photos get left behind on the cutting room floor of these projects, and actually, we were down to re-run some of the book images they were that good. So we hit Andrew up for a selection and rather than conjure up the usual questions for him, we thought why not ask someone who was on all the trips? We put the interview cap on Mr Austyn Gillette, cracked open a beer and left them to it…
AG: With the recent release of Please, Don’t Forget This, it feels like you’ve managed to rework the system of being a traditional skate photographer… Being able to monetize your talents by making a buck or two alongside companies whilst benefiting all parties involved. Was that always the goal with this book?
AJP: I think my approach with trying to do the book was, how do we make this work so that everybody wins. You know, like, I win, Former wins, Globe wins, the boys win by getting to put something out that’s cool and different. And then money wise it’s something which isn’t burdening anyone too much, and could even make some money for everyone involved, or at least covers itself, you know? Then everyone involved gets access to the photos… Everyone gets the assets without it costing everybody too much money. For me to do a book completely on my own would be such an overhead.
And that could take away from the creativity too… If you’re worrying about the financial side when everyone could just work together for the common goal of just making a book, and being creative, and not worrying about it.
Definitely. Getting brands involved to help with the funding just takes a lot of the pressure off. At the end of the day it’s not that expensive to do if you can break it down. Compare, the cost of printing this book with traditional advertising and it’s fairly comparable, but of course it’s a whole different approach. And for sure it’s definitely a bit of an experiment. There’s some tweaking and fine tuning to be done if we were to do it again but it’s a good reimagining of how you can document trips and how you can put a project out that we can all be proud of. It’s different to what we’ve done in the past and I was so much more stoked on putting this whole book together, and, you know, getting someone to interview you and having helped with design and picking photos and all of that stuff, rather than just having an article come out in a magazine…
That kind of comes and goes in a month or two?
Exactly. It was a reimagining of how to do it creatively. And then a reimagining of how to make it work money wise. For one person to take on the financial side of things. It doesn’t make sense. So if everyone can kind of share it then it makes sense… If Former was to try to hire a photographer and pay for their time, and then photos, and..
Oh, we’d go out of business!
You’d go out of business haha. When we went on the first trip, it was like, I really want to go and get out of town. I really want to go on the road with the boys and be part of this project and go on a skate trip because that’s what we love. But as that’s all changed, and the job of a skate photographer has kind of depleted so much, it’s like how do I justify doing this? You know, how do you tell your partner, I’m going to be away for a month, but I’m not going to actually get paid anything. It’s just going to come out of my pocket and doesn’t really make any sense. So it’s not that you don’t want to, it’s just you need to figure out a way to make it make sense. That was kind of where the book thing came from.
I mean, even when we were on that first trip, we were talking about the video before the video, even barely had a clip in it. And we were talking about that and reimagining the video stuff as well. Like, how could you monetize a video? What’s the way to squeeze the most juice out of it.
Yeah that was big conversation. That was a lot of wine…
I think that’s exactly it. How do you make a fucking left turn to break out of that tradition that you’re talking about. We’re in a world where even if you make something, and it’s not through this specific brand, or an outlet, or magazine, everybody’s going to share it, because that’s what that’s the world we live in. It’s all going to be shareable so by creating something that is even bigger than that article in a magazine you’re talking about, which is kind of fleeting… we’re doing something more solid and still actually talking about this book, probably more than the video because it’s physical. You know, like, I’m actually looking at the book, and it’s on my fucking coffee table. For you to now make your own books, you’re almost making your own brand. Or style of? I don’t know… I think that’s got to be pretty gratifying.
I mean, I’m not the first person to make a book hahah
No, but I mean for example Greg Hunt, or somebody like that will come out with a book every fucking 10 years. And it’s like, You’ve now made it possible and accessible to make a book every year or whatever it is, even if it’s biannual that’s pretty proactive…
Yeah, it’s definitely exciting. It felt like we cracked a code. It’s been so frustrating the last 10 years of trying to figure out magazines. I’ve been so frustrated personally trying to figure out how to make the zine thing work or like putting out Fuknoath in Australia or putting out Heapschat in the US and trying to figure out how do we keep on doing this and make it work? There’s only so many things that you can do that make no money whatsoever and make zero impact before you feel like you’re just throwing fucking shit at a wall.
It feels like we finally found what we wanted, and it took that evolution of social media taking over everything. Website’s taking over everything. The whole thing, kind of doing its whole cycle and then realising we still want to print something nice. We want to have something a little bit more substantial at the end of this and cracking that code of like, oh, we could just make a book if we figure out the backside of it by raising the money and the…
The general logistics of it all ?
Yeah that just takes care of the logistical side of it. Everybody can have their own personalised website and personalised shop these days. It’s so easy for you to be a shop, and be your own distribution and not rely on on the bigger channels to get it out there because you’ve got so much access to that by yourself.
By the time we kind of started to fine tune how it could all work it just became exciting. I don’t think it was like, Oh, my God, we’ve finally changed everything, It’s just like, oh, man, we could do this again! You know we can still go on skate trips and doesn’t sound like a dead thing to me… Which it did for a while. I would get hit up to go on skate trips and I’d have to turn it down, because I’m just like, I can’t take a week or 10 days off other work, where I’d have day rates which are gonna’ pay me more than then the whole entire article or whatever.
And how’s the response on the book been ?
I feel like it’s really gotten such a strong response and people are talking about it. People hit me up, like oh, dude, I need to see the book! I’ve seen so much about it bla bla bla… It generated a lot of a lot of discussion on it. And I’ve had so many others, like my peers in the skate photography world who hit me up and asked, how’d that go? How’d you how’d you do that? How did it go and how do I do it sort of thing? And you’re like, Yeah, you could totally do it. Actually you should totally do it. Everyone should do this.
What I’ve noticed working with companies is it will often be like, this person’s gonna’ shoot a photo, and it’s gonna’ go on Instagram, that’s how much it’s worth. If a company is going to get behind something they want to know what they get out of it… With this it’s like, you’re getting a physical book that lasts forever.
Yeah you get to document skateboarding and everything which goes with it because you don’t have 10 pages in a magazine, you have 100 pages in a book! So there can be dead space in between the tricks, it doesn’t need to be just the really important things that happen. It can be a bunch of room to breathe in between which actually creates more of an atmosphere of what the the trips might have been like.
And that’s what obviously dictates how you shoot a book… Going into that first trip to Miami, how many rolls of film did you bring ? Was that the same for the other trips once we decided we were doing this? That was the first time probably in a long time where you were like, I’m going to shoot exactly what I want and I may not even shoot you skating! I may shoot everything around you… A guy hanging out his window in Miami at South Beach, and you might have missed the trick, but you got exactly what you needed.
Haha yeah, I mean, the first trip, I didn’t shoot anywhere near as much as the rest. But I was shooting just a bunch of point and shoot film photos. And that was fun. I mean, I shoot a lot more other stuff these days than I ever used to because I’m generally doing a lot more of the work for myself, I’m not working for a magazine. So you don’t just try to tick their boxes knowing they’re only going to run the double page of this person doing this trick. They’re not going to run any of this other stuff so what’s even the point of me shooting it? Whereas knowing that I wasn’t going to do this for a skate magazine, pretty much from the word go after we talked in Miami freed that up so much more, and just made it so much more exciting. The first trip, I would have had 10 rolls of film on me or something. The next trip, I probably brought 30 because I was so much more excited to bring my medium format cameras, and like actually try to plan this out because I knew I wanted a book out of this.
Honestly I wanted that book to be less skating than it even was probably. So much of the skate stuff got left out of the book, because it was just like, it’s in the video! It can go on Instagram, but it doesn’t need to be in this book, like the books not about that. The different approach to shooting the trip was awesome. I’d totally encourage that for any skateboard photographer. To do that just as a practice or something…
Just practice getting back to being a photographer. Because you’re so confined saying you’re a skate photographer. Like Alright, cool, we know you’re going to set up flashes, this is what it’s gonna look like, you just shoot it for a double page or a single page. It’s either going to be vertical or horizontal. And they have to be framed up so it doesn’t land in the gutter and you’re like, fuck, if it’s your book, the face or the trick can land right in the gutter and you don’t give a shit.
Exactly, or just like I’m going to shoot this skate trick on film, which these days you don’t normally give yourself the chance to do because you’re like, if I fuck it up I’m losing money on not selling this ad to this brand that needs everything to fit in with their campaign and that’s going to be just like a perfectly landscape photo, where as you’re just like I’m just gonna shoot it on like, natural light. 3200. grainy as fuck film. And that’s how it was. Yeah, it’s a cool way to re approach and get to really make the decisions like for yourself how exactly, you think that it could look best or different. Or not even know…
I remember when I did the board slide, I asked you, I was like, Oh, how’d that turn out? And you’re like, I don’t know. And I was like, wait, you just shot that on film? I didn’t know you were in the tree, shooting it on film. It’s been probably 15 fucking years since I’ve shot a film photo skating.
Yeah there’s only a couple photos that weren’t film. A couple photos of Jake pretty much. I think almost all yours except your switch Pop Shuv. Most of the stuff I ended up shooting film unless I had to really shoot it with lights, then I was a little bit more hesitant to do that because you can blow it a little bit more when you’ve got the other variable in there. But I really enjoy that side of it being like, Sorry, can’t show you, you now, and it kind of makes everybody just be like, Oh, sweet. I guess it is what it is like, rather than being worried about what it looks like or how does it how’s my foot look? Or how’s my how’s my placement, should I redo it? Should I this and that? Because you kind of you get the film back and then you’re like, Nah, it’s sick anyway, Even if there is a little bit off with it. I don’t think there was any real photos that we didn’t use or you know, were like that looks so bad. We can’t use it. I think everything worked out or had its own charm anyway to be usable like all the film stuff.
Favourite photo in the book?
Well, I have a favourite of you and a favourite of Jake so…
And a favourite lifestyle photo? Ok let’s go with all three. Fuck it.
Definitely my favourite photo of Jake is the backsmith at Pulaski which is the Ender of the whole video. And it was just fun to feel like I shot a photo that hadn’t really been shot there. I climbed up on the statue, which I later found out Mike Heikkila and Alex Papke had both tried haha. Both must have been like, “I want to get up there” and then couldn’t figure out how to get up. It was really fucking scary and sketchy but getting up there and then being like sick, this looks epic. I hope I get a good one out of this sort of thing. So I mean, I was just going through film, shooting and shooting film as he was trying it. That one felt really sick. And I was really happy with how that turned out. I thought it was a cool perspective of that spot. And you could kind of see like the Pulaski scene in the background. It kinda told a story of what happens at that Plaza a little bit, you know, in between the skating.
My favourite photo of you was the ollie in Philadelphia, that you did in the line with the tre flip at the beginning of the line. I like that because I got to make the decision of, I’m going to shoot this black and white 3200 speed film. I also knew I was gonna’ have to plate out Jeff. I mean, I didn’t have to but I’d made the decision that Jeff was gonna’ get taken out of the picture. So for all the purists out there, I’m sorry, there’s there is some some trickery going on in this.
And my favourite lifestyle was actually when we were shooting in North Philadelphia and Jake was trying that kickflip. There was a whole scene going on there with people driving with music blaring out the back of their cars and also some 12 o’clock boy kids riding motorcycles ripping around. They came down one time and saw I kind of stepped out into the street but I just missed them, but they saw that I had a camera and then sure enough like a minute later they just did the block and light which is coming straight back at me wheelies up. There was no verbal communication. Like, can you do this again? They were just like, Yeah, you better be ready second time round. You better be ready for that shit..
Let’s finish this with a question for you, Austyn. The process of this book and how the whole project turned out… Has it made you reimagine how to go about putting out projects in the future ?
Definitely. Having Former, and it being a small brand and just seeing who the audience is has made me think, how can I speak to them more directly? Obviously there’s magazines and outlets that will help broaden the audience, but most of the time it’s going to be the people that currently follow what you do, and those are the people you need to speak to. The further you get away from that the more you’re going to lose them. I think that video projects have changed and I don’t feel the need to whore the video out anymore. I’d rather give it to the people who want to watch it and I know would watch it. If they stumble upon it by accident that’s cool, but it’s more like the people that would get this book. They wouldn’t really get it by accident you know ? It would be us telling them we’ve done this special thing and we want them to be a part of it. I think just getting better at directly speaking to those people that support what you do is key.
We already know the template – put out a skate video, it disappears in a week and you don’t know what your future looks like. You have to do it again, and again, and again, and so this is a way of stamping something happened. And it can be remembered in a different format forever.