CCS Customs X First Thursdays Interviews: Jay Howell
November 05, 2021 - CCS launches the Customs X First Thursdays program with one of our favorite artists: Jay Howell.
Art and skateboarding have been walking down the beach, peacefully, hand in hand for generations. Some people might even tell you that skateboarding itself is an art. Judging by all of the skateboarders who are great artists we would venture to agree with that statement. Not all skateboarding could be considered art, but most of the truly great skateboarding that has gone down in the last half a century is most certainly gallery worthy. This section of the CCS Catalog is dedicated to the artists who move among our skateboarding community both as participants, and enthusiasts, taking inspiration from the thing we love most, and re-purposing it as something different, but equally as rad. This is the CCS Featured Artist.
One time I was in the Zero van with Jamie Thomas and Jacob Messex. Jamie was referring to a trick he did in ‘95 and asked us if we remembered it. Jacob responded with, "I was born in ‘96". Jacob started shooting photos in early 2012 and got a job working for The Skateboard Mag by the end of 2014. To say that his career has been on a fast track would be an understatement. He may be the only minor in history to land a staff position at The Mag, but growing up dead in the center of the skateboard industry, it’s no surprise that he did. Jacob moves fast, talks fast, and learns fast, so it’s no surprise he’s getting twice as much done as most people in his industry. We caught up with Jacob last week right before his 3rd zine release and photo show for Filmus3 to talk about The Mag, shooting film, and balancing a full time college education and working for the biggest skateboard media entity in the world.
Jacob, how old are you now and how old were you when you started shooting photos? Hey Matt! I am 20 years old right now, I’d say my first photos were from 2012 when I bought a Canon AE-1 and just started shooting photos of my friends for fun.
Tell us a little bit about the history and inspiration behind Filmus Zine.Well I’ve actually had the idea and name of “FilmUs” since I started shooting film photos of all my friends. I kind of put it together: film plus us and the name stuck since day one. My first zine came about after I had a couple images in a zine called FERSHER by Sagan Lockhart and Josh Terris. They did a couple shows and it was my first time doing something like that, which sparked my imagination to create my own zine.
Is the whole zine shot on film?Yes. Every zine has been shot on some type of film, 8x10, 4x5, 120mm and 35mm formats. I really felt a need to follow through and keep the format of the zine 100% film.
For someone who started shooting photos in a digital age, what makes you so stoked on shooting film? I guess it was kind of fun and different, and since I was born in to digital photography, film was a new thing to me. I think my friends and I kind of understood that it was something mysterious and fun. Now that I’m more technical, I like it because it’s harder to shoot properly and I take pride in that more goes into it than shooting with a WiFi enabled DSLR.
What different types of cameras did you use to shoot these photos? To shoot the newest book, I used a variety of cameras and formats. For the large format I used a Crown Graphic 4x5, for 120 I usually shot Portra 400-800 film on a Mamiya 7 range finder. I also have some Hasselblad shots and a snap shot section shot on a Contax T2. All these cameras and formats I grouped throughout the book because the photos are all project based.
What’s your favorite film/camera combination to shoot? I really like Portra 160 shot on the 4x5 and my Contax with Portra 400 film.
You shoot skateboarding professionally, but none of the photos in the zine are actually of skating. Why did you decide to just go with portraits? Ha! That’s the whole point of Filmus3. I’m trying to break out of my raw skateboarding cookie-cutter self. That’s what I really like about going to school at Art Center, because I basically didn’t tell anyone I shot skateboarding and just focused on learning the portraiture and lifestyle side of things.
Who are some of your biggest photography inspirations? What photographers did you grow up being stoked on? It’s funny because I’m really bad at names and I don’t really even look at too much photography. Like, I’m graduating college and don't know shit about famous people. I see a lot of images, but I have never really fanned out on the photographers. I do really like Avedon and Philip diCorcia to name a few off the top of my head. Growing up in Los Angeles I knew a lot of photographers early on. I used to just look at magazines and try and make my photos look like theirs. Some inspirations would have to be the ones closest to me like Matt Price, Atiba Jefferson, and Sam Muller, to name a couple.
Awe, thanks bud! So growing up in L.A. around professional skateboarders, is there anyone you still fan out on or is it pretty normal to you to be around those types of dudes? Yeah, I don’t really fan out too much. It was crazy shooting with people like Greco when I was like 16 or something and also skating The Berrics since I was like, 11 made it pretty normal for me to be around pros.
You got hired at The Skateboard Mag when you were only 17, how did that work? Did your mom have to sign a permission slip for you to go on trips? HA! Right? It was also around the same time I started living with my mom full time. She was stoked when I got sent out to Tampa Pro with per diem for the weekend.
Since working for The Skateboard Mag and The Berrics what has been your favorite project to work on so far?So far I really liked working on the PUSH project. It was something that I got to focus on and travel for. It was something that took over a couple months of my life and it was cool to see it all finished.
Where is the coolest place you have traveled because of your job? I really liked Colorado when I was there on a Zero trip, but Barcelona is super fun and that trip was my first time out of the country.
What’s the one place in the world you want to see? I really want to go to Italy and visit the town my grandma was born in. Other than that maybe I would go somewhere tropical? Wherever skateboarding takes me, I’m down for!
You have been in college almost the entire time you have worked for The Mag. What’s it like trying to balance being a full time student and working as a photographer? A lot of people trip on that, but coming from skating everyday when I was in high school, I’m used to not ever really sitting still and I’m always “on the grind” hehe. I also stack my classes as best as I can, so if I’m at school it will be like, 9am to 10pm sometimes. Right now it's Wednesday through Friday, 3 classes a day, and after that It’s like I’m not even in school and I often forget I go to school until Tuesday night.
Do any of your teachers know about your job or about how your photos are regularly being published in magazines? Kind of, but maybe they don’t realize that it is kind of gnarly. I don’t really talk to many people at school because I don’t like to brag or talk about skateboarding because no one gets it (spoken in angst-y teenage voice).
Are you planning another Filmus zine? If so what can we expect? More skating? Less film? Keeping it pretty similar? You guessed it! Another one maybe, but I haven’t been shooting as much digital lately. I have a few ideas for new projects. One is digital-based and I’m using it for my graduation show, and there’s another one that I want to start shooting at my local skate park that will hopefully be shot on film.
What are you going to do after you answer this last question? Well I’m in a class right now called Final Crit. We are laying out of the Grad Wall and I haven’t eaten yet so I'll probably go get a grilled cheese or a burger from the cafeteria. JK! I got BBQ chicken and mac n cheese!