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First Thursdays brings you the photographic collages from San Jose-based artist, photographer, and skater Jai Tanju.
Customs X ringleader Russ Pope got to ask Jai a couple questions in honor of the new collaboration.

First Thursdays Jai Tanju


CCS: How long have you been in San Jose?

Jai: I moved to San Jose when I was 11. Of course a lot happened before then but I feel like it’s really where my life as I know it began…

Where were you born and where is your extended family from?

I was born in Long Island, New York and lived in Brooklyn for the first year of my life. My mom's side is Irish/English from Long Island and my father’s side is Turkish from Istanbul but lived in the Bronx. My parents met at art schools in NYC in the mid 60s. My parents joined a community called the Group and everyone moved to Arkansas where I lived until I moved to California.

Jai Tanju art

What got you to start skateboarding, what was your first skate board?

My uncle Chris got me into skateboarding and punk. He was kinda the mistake of my mom's family where he is ten years younger than the rest or the siblings and just 10 years older than my older brother and I. He was a big influence on my life as a kid… He gave us both boards in the 70s! I think it was a Sims Taperkick? He brought us to skate parks when we were 7 or 8! Later he moved to California to live with us, he was a full on punk with dyed hair and a drug problem (dyed hair wasn’t normal in the 80s). He also took us to see the Ramones when I was in the 4th grade! Thanks uncle!

How about photography, when and how did that start, what was your first camera?

I started photography a bit late in my life when I was 25 or so. I had just moved back to San Jose from Maui where I’d lived since the day I graduated high school at 19 and in order to live at home I had to have a job and go to school, I took a photography class.
Around that time I randomly meet Salman Agah in the grocery store near my house. He had a class with my younger brother and knew who I was, he invited me to go skate a local mini ramp and that is where I meet Jason Adams. From that day on I became part of their crew. I played around with photography for my class but it wasn’t until Tobin Yelland came to shoot Jason that I thought maybe I could do that too? He made it look so cool and fun plus I was seeing Jason , Salman & Tim Brauch skate like that on a daily basis!
I got my first camera from my grandpa on my mom's side, it is a Nikon FE2 which is perfect for skate photos because it has a 250th flash sink which is a mandatory.

Jai and The KidThe Kid and Jai

What is PEP, and how long has that been going?

The P.E.P. (Print Exchange Program) is a global exchange of photographs through the mail. I started it around 2007 after seeing the Ray Johnson documentary called “How To Draw a Bunny”. Ray did an exchange of art via the mail in the 60’s called The New York School of Correspondence. I was really into it for a good 10 years then other things started to creep in… At its height I was getting 5 to 10 pieces of mail everyday and was religious about corresponding back! Some years later I started to show the mail I received as an art show called “Film Por Vida!” and that show went to NYC, London, Tokyo, SF, SJ, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Portland, Norway and Croatia. I still love to send and receive mail! Since I sent mail for so long it’s aesthetics has made its way into my work & you can see that in my CCS collection. I never really wrote messages but opted to draw the same doodles or characters and used its terminology such as “Place Stamp Here” or “Don’t Forget to Write” I would encourage anyone reading this to take up the exchange of mail! Its a very rewarding pursuit!

Do you have a favorite photographer? Artist?

I've always been drawn to Peter Beard. He was an epic photographer, artist and adventurer. His book “Zara’s Tails” is such a fascinating read.

How about favorite musician or genre of music?

I'm an old man who is stuck to the music of my youth so I still listen to bands like Fugazi, Minutmen, Superchunk, Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth & The Smiths… My wife likes to listen to newer music & that seeps in sometimes in the form of Morissey, Parquet Courts & lots of great Mexican music. I love music in foreign languages! It becomes more about the tune & not what it’s about… I can always listen to anything by Ray Barbee and Loose Groves by Tommy G has just become the new soundtrack to my life!

Can you talk us through the skate mags you’ve shot for and with?

After the Tobin interaction I started to try to shoot skate photos with Tim & Jason which was a fun and easy way to learn. They both skated for SMA at the time so I started to try to do photos for them via NHS and that’s where I meet you! After that, I started sending photos to Transworld and got a few photos in the mag then I meet Lance Dawes at Slap. With Slap I felt like I fit in more so I started to try a bit more to do articles and when Mark Whitley and Joe Brook came in I was home! I never actually worked for Slap but felt like we were on the same page so to speak. Ive always been more on the artsy side of photography and that early artsiness lead me to where and who I am today. Of course I did some stuff for Thrasher via Vans then went on to be a staff photographer for Skateboarder for a few years. Big Brother was down the street from the Skateboarder offices in LA and I was allowed to contribute what Skateboarder didn’t use to them and got a lot of photos in BB! A few covers too! Ive done a tone of stuff for foreign mags too such at SB journal in Japan. All in all I was a very lucky photographer in so many ways with the people, friends and the opportunities that have come my way!

Jai Tanju

Mind sharing a handful of the awesome photo projects / gallery shows you’ve had, where they were, and something that made them memorable?

I was lucky to be invited to be a part of a group show in Japan with Mark Whiteley and Jerry Hsu at a place called No. 12 Gallery around 2006. That show sparked something in me that lead me to a string of shows there at No. 12 and more around Tokyo. I started to do my own shows and curate group shows of my own in California And 2007 I put out my first book “With a Camera from Marc” and that lead me into doing books & zines on a yearly basis. Then came the P.E.P. shows I talked about earlier & the “Supply and Demand” shows you did which were epic! After helping out with your shows in NYC my wife Blanche and I decides to start our own gallery in San Jose called Seeing Things and that lasted 5 years which was a whirlwind of about 100 shows! At the moment I’m working through a photography project where I shoot letters on the streets that when shown as a contact sheet spell out things like song lyrics or photo book that I like. I don’t actually have much time to shoot these days so I mostly shoot these contact sheets on my break or lunch hour at the museum…

What is the work you do with / at The San Jose Museum of Art and do you enjoy that?

I wear a few hats at the museum. When we are doing an installation I am part of the exhibition team & when we aren’t I work on the facilities side taking care of our historic building and helping out with events and other things hat are happening. I do love working there! We have a small tight crew who work good together and that feels good.

You can choose anyplace… what’s on the top of your list for an art / photo based trip?

I just went to Istanbul Turkey to visit my family there and I feel like I only scratched the surface. It was the biggest, most populated and interesting place Ive ever been so I would like to go back there!

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions and for being part of the Customs X First Thursdays project. Do you have any parting comments or thoughts, can you share details on upcoming projects to keep a lookout for?

I'm stoked to be a part of what you guys are doing over there at CCS & Customs X! I just was a creative director or guest editor of a small skate/art zine called Tails Of… which we did the issue on books by skateboarders. You can pick it up at tailsof.org - I also curated a cool group show at a small gallery in Santa Cruz, CA called Minnow arts with Jay Howell, Rich Jacobs, Nathaniel Russell, myself Jai Tanju & you, Russ Pope! As for parting comments I’d say if your a young adult get yourself a passport and see the world and “Don’t Forget to Write…"

Jai Tanju - Tiltmode Army


Let the Jai Tanju collaborations continue with Customs X skate decks, grip, shirts, and hoodies. Jai curated over 40 art elements that you can drag, drop, mix, and remix into a one-of-a-kind collage graphic. Or hit the curbs with Jai custom pick on an exclusive CCS shaped deck.
Make sure to tag #CCScustoms on any creations you design. Hit up Jai on his Insta and maybe you'll get to exchange some mail from him.

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