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Interviews, Originals June 7, 2023June 17th, 2023

In Conversation with Ryan Allan

The word legend gets thrown around a bit too often these days. But in Ryan Allan‘s case, it’s a deserving status.

Ryan’s been in the game a long time. He’s seen it all. Perhaps most renowned for his time at Gravis, during what many would label Dylan Rieder’s peak years, Ryan’s influence on skateboarding photography continues to inspire a whole new generation, even today.

So when Former teamed up with the Dylan Rieder Foundation in Berlin last week for their annual ‘Skate For Dylan’, it seemed fitting that Ryan was present with an exhibition of iconic imagery in celebration of what would’ve been Dylan’s 35th birthday.

We sat down with Ryan to discuss Dylan, Berlin and the cyclical nature of skateboarding.

How’s it feel to be back in Berlin?

Awesome. I like love this place. A lot of fun memories here. And every time I come back, there’s always something new and fun to do. Yeah, it’s a blast. I love coming here.

Tell us about your time spent here with Dylan and Austyn here back in 2014. 

I had come here with Dylan two times before through Gravis. and then we talked and he was really wanting to do a full amount of time here. So I did three weeks. I think they might have done more. But we immediately, kind of clicked into this Christiane F. rabbit hole of watching that movie, and then really getting into all the like, Bowie references, and then looking up locations where they’d filmed scenes and going to those places. It kind of set the tone for the trip. There was a lot of downtime because it was raining a lot whilst we were here. So it was like, riding bikes, and the Bowie exhibition had just opened, so we went to the opening of that and it just really set this really great 70s tone of Berlin adventure. It became this cool vibe that we were going off of Christiane F. So that set the tone for the video with the Bowie songs. And all these things were all clicking, it just made for a really good time. And on top of that, we were here long enough that we could skate and party and go out every night and the stress wasn’t as high as it was on a short term trip. So we got to do a lot of really fun stuff. I remember Sara took us to a karaoke bar. It was an empty building at the time. I think it’s apartments now. But it was like an empty church, or something and generators were running the sound system and there’d be dogs wandering around. You would literally go through a piece of plywood to get to the karaoke there. Super fun. It was really good vibes for a skate trip compared to when you’re in a van all day or flying to next place and then flying to the next place. It was like living in the city, you know? It changes the way the trip goes.

How did this trip come about? Who instigated the idea to come to Berlin and have an exhibition?

So Austyn just called me. He tries to make an event for Dylan’s birthday every year. And he said “do you want to do an exhibition?” And I had done an exhibition here in 2019 so I didn’t want it to be the same thing again. We talked about having some of the photos that I’ve never put out anywhere. That was kind of the jump off point for it. And we wanted it to be really low stress. Like the trip was before. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s not high art. You know what I mean? It’s just a nice kind of honouring of our friend. Dylan wouldn’t want it to be bougie anyway. Beers and people hanging out. Some photos tacked up on the wall. That was kinda the energy that we were going for.

You’ve branched out into a lot of commercial work this past decade. What’s it’s like to be back on a skate trip? 

Yeah since the pandemic skate trips really fell off, so it’s nice to get back out. And for me, I don’t want to just go on any skate trip. If someone calls, it really has to be with friends. And I’ve known Jake forever. It’s nice to meet these new guys. But I know that if Austyn brings somebody into the group, they’re gonna be alright. So it’s been really fun and something that I’ve been stoked to do. And then of course going to Portugal, I’ve never been to Portugal. And then doing the Berlin thing after. I don’t even care if anything gets made of this, it’s just been super fun. My wife was like, “Yeah, you need to go do that. Because you’re kind of being a prick lately. So go get some travelling and reset.” I absolutely needed it. 

You’ve been living in Oceanside for 20 years now. How’s that been? Do you miss Canada?

Oh, absolutely. Because Toronto has a lot of similarities to Europe and big city life is what I’m used to. Even though I grew up in a really small town, as soon as I could leave that small town, I was going to Toronto. And then I moved to Toronto, I spent a lot of time in the city and now I live in the suburbs. And it’s slow. But you know, when you’re older, you need to slow too. But it’s a good life in that, I can go to the coffee shop, I can go get food, I can go out and I don’t have to deal with the traffic of LA or the big city and the hectic stuff. I go to my local restaurants and I know everybody and it’s just a really nice, small kind of feeling, you know? It’s quiet so it’s good. It’s just a different tone.

In terms of your work outside of skateboarding, how did that sort of flourish?

Well the funny thing is that in the early 90s, I actually studied to be a fashion photographer. I went to a fashion photography school and that was the route I was going. And then at some point right before graduation, a friend who ran a skateboard magazine was like, “Hey, would you want to come work for us?” And it just steered my life in a completely different direction. But I’d always kind of leaned into, I don’t know, like ‘what if The Rolling Stones were skaters?’ I wanted to cover it that way and have really great photography, that’s not just about a skate trick. A lot of times, it’s the guys just hanging out. And that’s so important to me. And I think doing that within skating, always kept my foot in the fashion and lifestyle realm, too. It’s always kind of gone hand in hand. And now, especially if you look at fashion, it’s just all the skaters are in there. It’s a confusing world now because I don’t know who’s influencing who anymore. But it’s an easy transition to jump back and forth. When people find out you work in skate, they’re like “Oh, this guy knows what’s up.” And so it was an easy transition, for sure. The nice thing about going into commercial is that you go out to do a day’s work, and you come back with a lot of photos and with skating, you might not come back with anything. So it’s nice sometimes knowing you’re gonna get the work done.

Do you keep on top of skate photography in general? Is there anyone you’ve been hyped on in recent times?

I mean I’ve known Matt Price forever. But to see what Matt’s doing makes me really happy, because he kind of booked the style that everyone was doing and made his own. He does all the really close up fish eye stuff with the shutter drag. Takes some of the elements that we were doing in the 90s and makes it kind of current. And kind of throws caution to the wind when maybe you can’t see the spot so much. But then there’s a lot of energy in the pictures and stuff. So I really like what Matt’s doing. But honestly I started to get pretty burnt out on skate photography, because everyone was doing the same thing. Back in the day I threw flashes away and tried to do more black and white. And then that sort of became the norm so then I got fried on that. And so now I’m trying to find a balance between the two. When I do skate stuff, it’s like, I want to do something that’s mine y’know? So I’m always trying to find a little little niche that makes it a little different so I’m always experimenting. It’s funny because the people that I’m seeing that I still think are crushing it are like, kind of the older guys still. I don’t want to sound like I’m young bashing because I absolutely do not want to do that. But I think the kids are so influenced by what everyone was doing in the 90s that I feel like I’ve seen it all. So I want to see something completely different. I haven’t seen that yet. Once in a while you see something and you’re like, “holy shit”, y’know? It’s that perfect storm of everything working but for the most part, I feel like everyone’s just doing the same thing. There’s so many rules in skateboard photography. “You have to see how many stairs it is” or “you have to make sure that the guy or girl is in the right position”. So it like really boxes it in. And so it’s nice to see when people can take that box and work with it and make something new. But I think that people are so about filming skateboarding with their iPhones right now that a lot of that is getting lost. But there is some cool people doing film stuff and that stuff is nice to see. I don’t know, it’s kind of all over the place right now.

Having worked within skateboarding and helping brands such as Gravis grow back in the day. Where do you feel skateboarding’s at now in terms of a few big brands having the monopoly. Feels kinda hard for independent brands to survive,.

Yeah they’re all regional and very small. Like a local shop and or homies making a brand. That part I love. The dilution of it where none of us can afford to make a living in skateboarding anymore is kind of a bummer. But I think it’ll balance itself out. This happened in the 90s too. Everyone quit Plan B and started Girl. And then they were the big dog and now they’re not anymore. And so it’s the same cycle that happens again and again. Vert skating had to die to make way for street skating and all these little fuck you brands started up to go against Vision and everything, so you know, it’s the same thing.

Gelek and I were actually talking about this other day, like, those little brands will become the big brands for five years, and then they will go and then something else. It’s just a cycle. It’ll keep happening. I sort of really like how many genres there are in skateboarding right now. I don’t like when we all become uniform. That really bothers me. So it’s cool to see all the different things happening right now. And like, everyone’s kind of got their own little home within skateboarding. I think that’s really, really good. And props to the YouTubers and the Instagrammers. If everybody’s finding a lane to make something work in skateboarding and having fun, who cares?

And just to wrap this up, what’s your favourite memory of Dylan, or something that stands out?

I mean there’s a million but a testament to his personality. I’ve told this story once or twice before. But when we were early in our relationship, Arto (Saari), had a party at his new house that he just got in Hollywood, where the bowl was built later, but he didn’t have the bowl yet. But he had a grapefruit tree and when he moved in it was full grapefruit season. And so we had this party, and I was like, “I’ll make grapefruit vodkas for everybody.” Because I love grapefruit vodka and I kinda was the bartender and like drinking grapefruit vodka as well. Literally for every one, I made I would have one too, and not really keeping track of my night. All of a sudden, like, “oh fuck! I gotta go lay down. I’m gonna die here.” And the house was under construction so a lot of the rooms weren’t done, things were locked. So I just went upstairs on a day bed and like crashed out in the hallway, lay down for like, 10 minutes and then the world just started spinning. I’m like, “Oh my God, I gotta puke.” So I  sat up and the bathroom was shut, I can’t use it. So I just opened the balcony window and barfed and as it came out of me, I just saw down below Dylan sitting smoking a cigarette down below me. This is full long hair Dylan talking to a girl. And I just Nickelodeon slimed him. I didn’t know him that well at the time and he came running in the house, and he was so fucking mad. He thought Joe Pease, a friend and amazing videographer, he thought he did it. So he was screaming at him and I was like, “no, no, no, no, it was me, just take your shot. You earned this. Just fucking have it out on me.” And he just kind of looked at me and shook his head and walked away. And then the next morning, I got up and I was so ashamed to face him and he just looked at me and started laughing. And then we were good, like, that was it and we’re like, best friends after that.

So essentially you puking on Dylan led to a beautiful friendship?

Yeah, it led to like us being really really close and that’s a tough thing to let fly. I really respected him a lot after that.


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