100 Heelflips in the DC Manual Hi
August 26, 2021 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuM9TUMelzQ Get ready for liftoff as DC Shoes launches the new Manual Hi shoe with an inaugural colorway by pro...
Behind every icon is a man with a camera. Much like Walter Looss was to Michael Jordan, Mike Blabac has been the man to document some of our favorite skateboard legends. From Danny Way to Stevie Williams, Mike has spent over two decades in the trenches of street skateboarding snapping away and covering some of the biggest moments the skate world has seen. We caught up with Mike to chat about what it’s like to shift from shooting the old generation of DC riders to the new, who some of his photography influences have been, and how drunk he was when he shot the iconic Danny Way Mega Ramp sessions. Mike is a true legend in our world and we owe him big time for capturing over 20 years of skateboarding to share with us.
So Mike, let’s do some basics. Where are you from, how old are you and how long have you been shooting skate photos? I'm from the Midwest. Was born in Ohio, then moved to Lansing, Michigan when I was twelve. I'm 42, and I've been shooting photos professionally for 22 years.
Can you give us a run down on all the skateboarding companies you have worked for and take us through a brief Blabac history? After moving to San Francisco in 1994, I started working for Mad Circle Skateboards. After 4 years in the city I moved to LA in 1998 and started shooting for Girl and Chocolate, then after a year there I began working for DC Shoes and I've been there ever since.
If you had to guess how many pictures you’ve taken in your lifetime, what number would you throw out?Shit! It's hard to say! Maybe a million? I've gone through enough film and digital camera bodies for that many. I've kept a lot of what I've shot over the years fortunately. Photographs take on a different meaning over time. I shot a Gino (Iannucci) photo warming up in 98 that may not have made it in the mag back then, but now it's gold. I kept a lot of my extra film. I keep most of my digital files now from learning that lesson with film. Those random snaps may be amazing 20 years from now. Photographs are kind of like baseball cards in the way that some are worth a lot more than others over time.
Who do you think you have shot the most photos of? Is it Josh Kalis?Yeah, probably Josh because we've know one another since we've been kids. Danny (Way) would be up there too since he's done so much.
Film or digital?Digital. It's romantic to say film, but digital is what I solely use for work. I still love the look of film, but I'm a fan of doing one thing well and keeping everything simple. I did the whole, shoot stills on film and shoot sequences on digital thing also. It's too much. I carry a lot less gear these days.
What was your favorite era of skateboarding to be a part of? The 90's. I was so lucky to be in SF at that time. The city was full of skaters then before the tech boom. Just to be able to skate with my friends all day, every day. I didn't have a car for 4 years. We would bomb the hill to downtown, then skate Brown Marble Benches, Black Rock, EMB, then end up at Union Square at night. That was generally our run most days.
Was it pretty wild shooting Danny Way on all the first mega ramp stuff? Yes. When I first started shooting Danny, I knew most of what we shot would be looked back on for years, especially the Mega stuff! I was trippin the first time I saw that ramp!
Did it feel a little more like shooting surfing or something than skating? I had shot a great deal of Moto prior to that, so yeah. It was on that same scale. It's difficult to show how truly gnarly all that stuff was. No one had ever dreamed of doing anything like that on a skateboard prior to that. The rail stuff was insane!
I heard rumors that you would just post up and crush a 12 pack in the time it took Danny to land one of those tricks on the rail. I don’t mean to incriminate you, but were you wasted shooting some of those photos?Yes. We were camping there a lot of the time. I'd just wake up, and start drinking so by the time the session was over I was definitely pickled. Maybe I was extra careful because I was drunk, who knows! I never blew a photo though. I probably couldn't even walk straight when I shot Danny's Noseblunt Slide on the Mega Rail, but that photograph is perfectly straight, and I don't think I could have composed it any better. I'm amazed looking back at all that stuff. I could never do that now!
A lot of skate photographers end up moving in to marketing positions or shooting a lot more non skate stuff as they get a little older, but you have continued to stay in the streets for a lot longer than most. Why do you think that is?It’s simply because I love it. I do shoot non-skate stuff. I'm actually on a flight to shoot portraits of golfers for an insurance company right now. I feel lucky to do both. One makes me appreciate the other. I enjoy taking my experience of being in the streets to a commercial set. Non-skate stuff is generally done at a much slower pace with the aid of assistants. Going from climbing a fence in the middle of the night with all my gear to being on set with 50 plus people and craft services is quite a contrast.
I don't believe anything will top photographing skateboarding for me. I still get a rush from shooting something no one has ever done before. Being able to make photographs like the ones I once taped to my wall as a kid is amazing to me.
What’s it like going through multiple team generations of a company like DC and spending so much time with some of these young guys like Wes or T Funk? Let’s just say I've learned a lot over the years. Some dudes have tested my patience, but luckily we've got such a solid squad now. Tristan and Wes are two of the best dudes I've ever been around both on and off a skateboard. They're both timeless skaters, which is awesome too. Our whole squad is dope.
If you had to pick an all time favorite photo of yours what would it be? If you can’t what would be the most requested photo that people ask you about? Probably Koston's Backside Nosebliunt on Hubba. That photo defines an era of skateboarding because of the spot, the trick, Eric's gear, etc. It was the cover of a Transworld Photo Annual, which meant a lot to me. I would stare at the TWS Photo Annuals for hours as a kid.
The most asked about photos of mine are the Kalis and Stevie Love Park photos, especially now that Love is gone.
Who are some of your favorite skate and non-skate photographers that have influenced your work?Walter Looss, and Richard Avedon. All of Walter's Michael Jordan photographs are second to none. He captured all of that in such an amazing way. It's like he knew that everything Jordan did would be historic before it was. The dunk photo from above on the blue court is my favorite amongst all of his work. If you don't know what I’m talking about, Google it!
Avedon is simply amazing. Everything he did was incredible throughout his entire career. I'm sure he's influenced photographers everywhere.
Have you ever blown a really gnarly or once in a lifetime photo?I can honestly say no. Dudes are putting their lives on the line. I can't say "Hey Danny, would you mind jumping the Great Wall again for me?" I try really hard to make sure both the skater and myself are stoked when we're done.
Shooting sequences though, I have ran out of film in the middle of a trick twice, but I simply said "that was sick, but I think you can do it better" both times that happened, and luckily they rolled away again. Couldn't do that now with digital cameras!
What’s your favorite foreign destination that skateboarding has taken you?I would have to say Australia. I love it there. If I ever got booted from the states, I'd go straight to Oz.
What’s next for Mike Blabac? Anything cool coming up?Same shit different decade, Ha! I've consciously been trying to shoot a lot more skating lately. There are a ton of needs for DC, and I love contributing to all the magazines, so basically a lot of that. Hopefully making more stuff that will be on people's walls for many years from now.