Kévin METALLIER_Javier Mendizabal_Bs Ollie_Taghazout_Morocco_2018
Dreaming of travels and discoveries in the middle of this (long) quarantine? Fortunately, we had the opportunity to talk with Kevin Métallier, a french photographer passionate about board sports, who has been traveling the world for his reportages for over 15 years now.
Hello Kevin Métallier, to begin with can you tell us more about your journey, what led you to photography?
Kévin METALLIER – Portrait by ThomasCanel
When I was in my twenties, I created an independent magazine with a group of friends. It revolved around my two passions of the time: music and skateboard mainly. For the purposes of this little fanzine, I had to quickly take my first pictures. So it was out of pure necessity that I started photography. It was at the end of the 90s and digital was only in its infancy. At the time, my father ran a photographic laboratory and it was therefore with him that I gradually learned all the laboratory techniques, to use the various cameras, the techniques of shooting, of prints etc. Very quickly, I succumbed to the charm of photography. It has become a real passion, a necessity for me to take photos every day
How has your professional activity evolved over these 15 years?
I continued my journey self-taught. At the time, we were a group of friends skating hard. Naturally I started by taking pictures of some of them during the sessions. It was a real place of learning and experimentation for me. Quickly, I started to cover events and be in contact with certain magazines.
At the start of the 2000s, I was contacted by several of them who allowed me to publish my first pictures in the trade press. From there everything accelerated and I started to travel a lot, to work with magazines abroad… I started to make many reportages and publicity campaigns for iconic brands, exclusively in the world of skateboarding. It was not until the mid-2000s, when I settled on the Basque Coast, in Biarritz, that I intensified my surfing practice and that I also began to document this other culture.
Kévin METALLIER_Michi Mackrodt_Pushing Till The Sun_Portugal_2011
How did this love for board sports come about? What are you passionate about in the board world?
Kévin METALLIER_Bastien Marlin_Hippie Jump_France_2018
Passion was born from my practice. I started skating in 1993, and I loved it. At the time, skateboarding was an integral part of an entire underground culture, much more confidential than today, very creative. There were no teachers, no rules. You wouldn’t find that in any other sport. We met up with friends to skate in the street. We felt a little “rebellious”, free. It was a whole universe, with our own codes, our clothing style, the jargon of figures, reserved for initiates and it was fascinating. The passion also came from the adrenaline and the sensations that this practice gave us. Skateboarding, snowboarding and later surfing. I was also interested in specialized magazines and I think that influenced me in terms of photography. I spent my time dissecting all the photos of the figures, the angles of view, the framing, the lights … and I found it fascinating.
How important are these urban subcultures in our society?
I think these subcultures (skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding) don’t have the same impact today as they did 20 years ago. Today these are much more democratized practices, taken up by marketing. They have an impact on the general public, which was much less the case before. In a few weeks, the first skating events in the history of the Olympic Games were due to start in Japan (postponed by a year due to the persistent virus). It is a strong marker of the influence of skateboarding and the practice of sport in general. It also shows the general interest of non-practitioners in skateboarding. Twenty years ago, it was completely inconceivable to see skateboarding at the Olympic Games. At the time, snowboarding, and freestyle in particular, made a breakthrough at the Nagano Winter Games, with the Half Pipe events in particular, which are now essential. It was a precursor and I think skateboarding will become one over time too. It is therefore a marker that clearly evolves over time and skateboarding is, in my opinion, more influential today than it was then, in Europe at least.
What struck you the most about the evolutions of board sports during these 15 years?
I have traveled a lot for my reports on skateboarding and the evolutions are necessarily different depending on the location. Skateboarding is enjoying much greater and faster growth and development in developed countries. What has changed a lot is the infrastructure. At the time, there were very few skateparks worthy of the name, and mainly in large cities. Today, even the smallest villages manage to acquire a concrete bowl or park perfectly suited to the practice. The number of practitioners has also increased sharply. There is a global craze, a federation, it is now very structured and developed; it also generates a lot of business. Some of my friends have become skate teachers when in our time, skate lessons did not exist.
Kévin METALLIER_Jaakko Ojanen_Ollie_Desert_Iran_2016
Despite all these notable developments, there exists and will always exist this core of enthusiasts, of “street rats” who will continue to skate in the street, as we did at the time, without taking lessons and without watching the Olympic Games.
You have traveled all around the world, your photos are true anthems to travel and discovery. Where does this call for travel come from?
For me skateboarding has always been synonymous with discovery and travel. When I started documenting the world of skateboarding, I immediately wanted to take photographs in unusual places. Now it’s become more commonplace but back then it was a lot less. It allowed me to make images that excited me a lot more than the ones we often see on the same spots, in Paris, Barcelona, New York or California … I wanted to take photographs in improbable places and to take skateboarding where it was not expected at the time. Show that skateboarding has no borders and that you can practice even in completely unsuitable places. For example, in the middle of the desert in Namibia, we took photos on a mini ramp which we discovered the existence a little by chance in the middle of the dunes.
Kévin METALLIER_Tjark Thielker_Bs Noseblunt Revert_Nonidas_Namibia_2015
I composed the team and then we left to do our reports on the other side of the world, a little haphazard luck, saying “we will see who we meet on the spot” and it was always great adventures and enriching discoveries. There were reports where I almost took advantage of the “alibi” of skateboarding to discover distant countries and their cultures. I think this is also what pleased the skaters who came on the trip with me, they knew we were going on an adventure, and that we were bound to think outside the box… What interested me was to document my passion for skateboarding but also to make “beautiful” images and not to be confined to “sports” photography, not to stay focused on performance. I took advantage of my travels to produce a whole bunch of shots in which skateboarding did not really appear, but which offered a sociological character and which, mixed with skateboarding photos, made the reader travel more.
You say that skateboarding has no borders. Are the codes the same everywhere, all over the world?
In almost all the places on the planet where we have been fortunate enough to go skating, we have always found communities, even microcosms of skateboarders, and even in regions where access to equipment was complicated. We noticed that the young people who practiced skateboarding had a different philosophy from the other inhabitants of their country. They had chosen to skate because for them it was a form of expression, a demand for freedom, to be able to do something that was not governed by the same rules as the rest. And yes finally, we found the same codes and the same motivations that had also pushed us to one day skateboard. We didn’t have the same native tongue, but we shared the same language. We understood each other on the references, on the tricks, on the gear. From a sociological and cultural point of view, it was particularly enriching.
Kévin METALLIER_Brian Delatorre_Pivot To Fakie_Kirghizistan_2014
In addition to numerous collaborations with major magazines, are you on other projects?
Yes, absolutely, I am, among other things, the photo editor of the photography book “De Biarritz Yearbook”, we have produced two volumes for the moment and we are thinking about making a third. I am also the co-editor-in-chief of the Skateboard Annual Magazine, a magazine that comes out once a year, at the start of the September school year, and we are working on the fourth issue. I also co-founded 4 years ago now, a photo studio – named Studio 255 – based in the Landes in which we take all kinds of images, mainly in the world of fashion. I am also working on my first solo photo book, which should be released in early 2021.
Among all these projects, what impressed you the most and why?
More than projects, it is mainly destinations that have stayed with me. The common concept to the vast majority of my reports was therefore to form a team of pros and go to the other side of the world with them, to find totally unknown spots and reveal them through photos and videos. Some destinations have been particularly enriching. There was for example this report in Inner Mongolia, in a province of the north of China, in the ghost town of Ordos precisely. At the time, the Chinese government re-launched urban planning to fuel its economy and built huge cities. It turns out that some of these cities, including Ordos, were very sparsely inhabited. At the time, there must have been barely 100,000 inhabitants for a capacity of over a million and a half inhabitants. We knew it existed, we made the necessary arrangements to go there and we ended up for 3 weeks in a brand new but completely deserted city, with nobody in the streets. It was quite an unusual experience.
Kévin METALLIER_Antony Lopez_Kickflip_Ordos_China_2013
The trip to Iran also made a big impression on me, and it is particularly linked to the political regime.
Most of the destinations where we have been dealing with totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, have proven to be very significant places. At the heart of dictatorships, the practice of skateboarding can be perceived as a real snub to the regime, a form of protest submovement. These trips allowed us to meet fabulous people who shared the same passion as us for skateboarding in a context diametrically opposed to ours.
You do not only photograph board sports. We can find on your website many portraits, photography of objects, architecture, landscapes. What are the influences of the aesthetic codes of board sports on your artistic gaze today?
After all these experiences and adventures, has your relationship to travel changed? Is « home » everywhere for you?
I had a baby boy a few years ago, so I calmed down a bit but it is true that I move all the time. I love being in unfamiliar places. I love that feeling when I get out of an airport, the smell, the atmosphere, the first taxi ride there. It’s always a precious moment, all over the world. Discovering places fascinates me. Mass tourism has evolved so much today, there are many places that are much more accessible than before and that have changed in a few years. For example Bali, between the first time I went there and today, it has nothing to do with it, all in just 20 years. With the internet and capitalism, everything is evolving at great speed and tends towards global standardization. So, I also have this desire to take advantage of the time I have, to go and discover as many things as possible, because little by little everything will become the same everywhere. The clock is ticking, and the impression that the world is getting smaller and smaller is more and more pressing…
To answer your question, I don’t consider that I’m at home everywhere. “Home” is where I am with my family in the Basque Country. I’m always very happy to come in and that’s where I recharge and feel the best. But I’m still just as excited to go back to unusual destinations.
Kévin METALLIER_Korahn Gayle_Ollie_Myanmar_2016
A next project you can tell us about?
I was supposed to go to Palestine and meet the skate community to document what is going on there right now, which was not possible with the virus and quarantine. We are not the first to do it but it is a destination which is on my to-do list. With the release of the next issue of “Skateboard Annual Magazine” at the start of the school year, we wanted to integrate this report on skateboarding in Palestine. The current events mean that we will not be able to do it for this issue there, but we will shift it and we will do it as soon as the situation allows it.
Afterwards, I have a lot of other projects in my pocket, more “confidential” ones, and I still have great ideas for interesting places to photograph!
Thank you very much Kevin Métallier, for your enriching and inspiring answers.