LOOKING SIDEWAYS VOL. 1
Not to put too fine a point on it, print matters. Always has, always will. It’s a well-documented fact. My specific relationship with ink and paper is an intimate one. From those hard-won, imported periodicals that fed my nascent appetite for surf, culture, stories, travel as a northern lad growing up in Thatcher’s Britain, to the proofs signed off as a magazine editor a few year’s later, and the printed particles of CMYK greedily inhaled as a newly published author, it’s been there for me at every turn of the page. Surfaces and shelves in our Cornish cottage overflow with magazines and books, and yet nothing fills me with more delight than the arrival of a freshly minted publication, especially one that so completely seems to feed my unrelenting appetite for surf, stories, travel, culture.
Looking Sideways Vol. 1 from cultural commentator and LS/FF jury member Matt Barr and photographer Owen Tozer is just such thing. This beautiful book stirs the waters and the wanderlust, charting a trip along California’s iconic PCH documenting time spent with heroes and icons of boardsports, the likes of Jamie Brisick, Cara-Beth Burnside, Chris Cote, Herbie Fletcher, Taylor Knox, Greg Long, Kevin Naughton, Craig Peterson, and Cori Schumacher to name but a few. But it’s more than that, it’s a testament to friendship, collaboration.
Frequent listeners of Matt’s essential Looking Sideways podcast will have heard him talk of ‘lifers’ – those individuals those who’ve spent their lives mining at the coalface of boardsports culture. And Matt and Owen are two such individuals. A surfer, a snowboarder, Owen’s photography has the ability to stop you in your tracks. A multifaceted visual creative operating in the realms of design, photography, filmmaking – and recently as part of the start-up team at CBD seltzer Goodrays he always finds fresh angles and approaches.
Matt began as a snowboard scribe, then magazine editor, evolving into the wider world of ride culture. Through his excellent podcast Looking Sideways he has tackled an incredible cross section of topics and tales from our diverse culture picking out the most interesting big names and underground lynchpins from our lifestyles.
It can be a bumpy ride in ‘the industry’. It takes a huge amount of passion, stoke and talent in equal measure to keep the flame burning and this is really what this book is, a celebration of lives spent immersed in our culture. And the fact that it’s currently lighting up the presses with print run number 2 speaks volumes. We caught up with them to find out more and asked Owen to pick a few of his favourite images from the trip and talk us though them.
Looking Sideways podcast is a must listen for anyone interested in action sports culture – where did the seeds for the show come from, what made you want to pick up the mic?
Matt – Thanks! At the time there weren’t very many action sports related podcasts (although now there are loads) and it just popped into my head one day as a good idea for somebody. Then after a while I realised I could probably do it and just decided to give it a crack. Something that comes up a lot on the podcast is this idea of the right idea at the right time. Sometimes you can have a creative idea but for whatever reason it isn’t quite the right time to do it. In this case it was definitely the right idea at the right time for me.
It’s a tough gig to successfully engage with a broad audience like you have – most podcasts are by their nature quite niche. What has been the secret of managing to engage with the wider action sport community?
Matt – When I had the idea and I was trying to work out the format, I did wonder if that was a wise move or not. I listen to a lot of football podcasts and at first was going to try do something a bit more like one of those panel shows where you discuss what’s going on each week – which is what Chris Cote and Todd Richards do really well on the Monday MASS. But in the end I just decided to focus on the stories and let that take centre stage. It is quite a balancing act tho. I mean, I’m not trying to be The Grit, The Nine Club or The Bombhole, each of which occupy that corer-than-core spot in their respective worlds and do it really, really well. From the start I wanted to focus on the stories I was interested in and tell them the way that I’m interested in. Which can be quite unapologetically highbrow (or pretentious, depending on your viewpoint). I mean in that way it has been massively self-indulgent since day one, so it’s been amazing to see people enjoying with it and the audience getting bigger every year.
You and Owen are longtime collaborators – how long have you guys been working together?
Matt – We met about twenty years ago I guess. From the start we got on really well. We approach life in a similar way, and have basically spent two decades talking about art, music, creativity, surfing, snowboarding and all the stuff that makes life worth living. From the beginning I saw that the podcast was a way of us doing more interesting work and travelling together, which is how it panned out.
The California road trip is a real bucket-list kind of adventure. Was the book always a central part of the trip?
Owen – The trip was Matt’s idea, he had been chatting to Visit California about them sponsoring a series of podcasts and pitched the idea of me coming to do the photos. Matt had never been to California before this trip so it was a real ‘rite of passage’.
The idea to do a book came once we got home and I realised how many photos we had, not just of the people we interviewed but of the places and the trip itself. Like so many photographers I have thousands of images languishing on hard drives which will likely never be seen and I really wanted to do something with these photos. The first lockdown happened and we all found ourselves at home with more time on our hands, so I set about designing a zine to show Matt. It became clear that we had too many photos for just a zine so we started talking about a book.
The book threads the path of being both a photo book and also one rich in editorial content – how hard was editing process?
Owen – It wasn’t really hard (for me), it was a joy to be honest, but it was long! Mainly because we had no idea what we were trying to make from the start. I often find it’s easier to show somebody a creative idea than describe it, especially when it’s something as visual as this book, so I just set about making a first draft to show Matt. He loved the pictures and, ever supportive of my work, he suggested we should put out a photo book. I had to talk him into the idea of including excerpts from the podcasts and making it more than just my pictures. Once he got going he went to town on pulling in contributions from so many amazing people – all of whom he’s had on the podcast – and it became this amazingly rich document about boardsports culture and history in California.
Who was your favourite person you interviewed / shot with?
Matt – Everybody was so generous with their time, so each chat had its moments. But a couple stand out: interviewing Jamie Brisick on the site of his burned down house in Malibu, firstly. That was just a very evocative situation and conversation. Plus, I always love spending time with Jamie, who is so generous with his time and insights. It was a real honour that he agreed to write the intro to the book for us. I also really enjoyed meeting and interviewing Peterson and Naughton. I’ve loved their story since I was young, and they were just a pair of brilliant characters, full of life and so pleased we’d made the effort to seek them out and speak to them.
Owen – That’s difficult to answer, I have a few for different reasons. Taylor has always been one of my favourite surfers and he’s friends with some great friends of mine, so meeting him was ace. He’s a lovely fella and still one of the most incredible surfers on the planet. Herbie and Dibi Fletcher were like an amazing whirlwind of energy and a deep well of surf history. It was so fun hanging with them and hearing stories, seeing all Herbie’s boards and watching him make his art was pretty special. Jamie Thomas’s interview was pretty incredible, he really opened up and let us in, that was special to witness. Photographing Jamie Brisick on the spot where his house burnt down in Malibu was a super powerful and quite moving experience, I’m in awe of how Jamie has come through some extremely tough times and still manages to be generous, interested and funny. Our last interview of the trip was Cara-Beth Burnside and that was pretty amazing. She’s such a huge influence on skateboarding and hearing her talk about her battle for equality as a woman in skateboarding was really shocking. She opened things up for a lot of women and I’d say people like Sky Brown have a lot to thank her for.
The images in the book have attracted praise from some venerable names – what were the highlights and challenges of shooting in the California light and landscapes?
Owen – California itself, and the people who make it home are just such a pleasure to photograph. The light is amazing and so is the landscape, so from a subject matter point of view it was all amazing. All great places and faces. The challenge for me was Matt’s scheduling! We had so many people lined up and so many other ‘maybes’, add to that the fact that people kept changing times and days and we had to cover a lot of ground to get to people. For me it was quite frustrating to be driving to an interview early in the morning when I wanted to be out shooting, or only having 15minutes to shoot a portrait in the middle of the day in midday sunshine. We didn’t make the schedule around photography because that wasn’t why we were there, the priority was always the conversations. But that’s also why the book is like it is. If it had been down to me I would have arranged a shoot in the water with Taylor and gone skating with Cara-Beth and Jamie Thomas. The thing is, there are so many great pictures of those guys doing those things, so it might have just been more of the same. Because it was all shot in snatched moments and rare mornings when I got up to catch the light while Matt researched another interview, it has a more honest and lyrical feel about it I think.
Are there any plans for a second edition from another iconic location?
Owen – Matt has already been chatting to Visit California about doing a second trip to cover Northern California, and to be honest we could do volumes and volumes without ever running out of people to meet and places to visit. It’s such an amazing part of the word. I would LOVE to do a Looking Sideways Hawaii book (if the Hawaiian tourist board are reading!). I think Australia would also be amazing. And a European one covering the same route Torren did in his Lost Track Atlantic would also be epic. I’d also really love to make films on future trips.
Where can people get their hands on a copy?
Owen – We published the book ourselves so you can buy it directly from www.wearelookingsideways.com
Interview: Chris Nelson
Images: Owen Tozer