How did you get into photography?
I don’t know, it’s such a long thing. The first time I took a picture was on my dad’s camera just messing around as a kid. I always thought it was super fun just like capturing a moment and when I got a bit older I started skateboarding and that’s kinda when I actually started properly. I actually stole one of my dad’s cameras and I used to take it skating, my dad wouldn’t let me take it because I’d broken one in the past. But yeah I took it out and just took photos of me and my friends skating, skateboarding goes hand in hand and you want to document yourself and your progression, everything like that. I was still wasn’t thinking I was a photographer or anything like that, I just kind of like did it for numerous years. Then I went to uni, started off studying architecture and dropped out. Then I did graphic design and then dropped out. But all the time I had a camera and I was always just going skating and bringing my camera skating with me. And then you’re just out in the world – skating gives you a unique view on the world and I was just trying to capture that myself and yeah before I knew it I’ve gone to uni, failed with everything and I was like fuck what am I gonna do with my life, and somebody at that time had came along and was like “Ah you take pictures, do you wanna come shoot this for me?” I was just like yeah okay. They said it was paid and at this point I knew you could make money out of this. I thought this is maybe something I should try and do and that’s when it all kind of happened. So I just fell into it, there was years where I would just do it but now I kind of just fell into it.
Who was the person who contacted you?
Who does he work for?
He works for Monster energy drink. I used to work for Campus skatepark and they got me doing a few things for them, but then he was the person who came along and was like “I’ve seen your photos, I like them, do you want to come on this job and what’s your day rate?” I didn’t know what a day rate was, what does that mean? So I had to ask some other photographers what they were getting paid and how much to charge, I still don’t know now. The other day an American company asked me for a photo for a magazine, I was like fuck how much do I charge? I’ve charged for adverts and stuff before but usually they tell me a price. I’m usually like yeah “that’s fine” but now it’s proper and a bit more serious, I have to really think about it and I have to ask other UK skate photographers. All of us skate photographers are all friends. We’re all friends and in this unique little circle, we’re like a few guys in the UK that actually do it. I don’t want to undercut people but I also don’t want to overcharge – I don’t want people to not use me again because I overcharge. By the sounds of it some of those guys have been doing it for ten years and they still don’t know what to charge.
Can you remember your first camera and what was it like?
I remember when I was a kid I had a disposable camera that could go underwater and I was so stoked. That was probably like, I don’t know… I remember going on holiday to Portugal and umm I just remember like all the photos, like I took. It was an old film disposable camera and it goes underwater, it had a casing and all the pictures I took were underwater photos. Why would I shoot anything else. When I got the photos back I was so excited, but when I got them developed they were all so shit, it was such a bad gimmick you could just put it under water and nothing really came out, and I was heartbroken. But um that’s the earliest memories of me owning a camera but since then, when I was in college, I got a bit of money and got a DSLR – that was my first proper one.
Can you think of your favourite photo you’ve ever taken?
It’s a hard question man, um.. wait gimme a second. There’s like certain photos that stick out in my head. Like uh, there’s this one photo I shot of Trent mclung
The one with the pigeons?
Yeah, that one. That one really stood out for me. Cus i remember, that was the first ever proper trip with American professional skateboarders. And it was quite a big thing for me, and that was through Ed Wordman, Rock Solid. That was quite a lucky break because I think somebody had dropped out and couldn’t make the trip, so they asked me to come for the second half, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was panicking, I was with these huge dudes and I was like I dunno why im here? I felt like such an imposter, I’m a fraud. And uh, he was doing this front blunt on this ledge. Every single time, these pigeons were like flying down because there were loads of bread crumbs on the ledge. And then I tried to take a picture, couldn’t get one with the pigeons, so I asked Trent really timidly ‘do you mind waiting for a second, I’m gonna go to the polish shop and buy a loaf of bread, get the pigeons in the shot and then like, we can shoot a front blunt. And he was all a bit like ‘I guess?’ and he was a bit like not sure about it as well. And I wasn’t really sure about to, but was doing it, did it, shot the photo and it came out quite nice with the pigeons n shit, he was super stoked on it. Everyone on the trip was like ‘Wooaah, that’s amazing.’ And then for me I was like ‘Woah, maybe I can do this.’ Maybe this is okay and maybe i’m not super shit. I think maybe that was one of the best photos I’ve ever shot and quite liked so, ye – that’s probably always going to be one of my favourite photos ‘cus of the kinda like time and place. And I still don’t really like a lot of my photos. I always like highly critique them. You’re your worst enemy. Your harshest critic. But I’ve always liked that photo, I’ll pick that one for now.
Can you think of any ways your work has evolved in style since you started?
Yeah, hugely. I like to think hugely anyway. I dunno, the whole.. Being your own worst critic, has.. It’s like the self deprecating artist or whatever, you’re always judging yourself highly. Some people say “go easy on yourself or go easier” but, I think being harsh on yourself is the only way to progress. I guess because I am quite harsh on myself, all the time, i’m always shooting stuff and being like ‘Nah I hate this’ and I look towards other people and what they’re doing and I always feel like I’m constantly changing a lot, like.. Yeah there’s technical ways I guess i’ve changed. The technical way I shoot a photo, the settings and things I use. Stuff like that. And post production as well. The way I used to edit photos compared to the way I do now, I feel as though it’s matured to become a bit more refined, in a way. I’m still not really happy with it. It’s always going to be a work in progress. Another thing is, before I use to just focus on the skateboarding. Nowadays, I like shooting the behind the scenes. What’s going around it, the whole environment and stuff. I think I’m a lot more aware of the environment and shooting everything as a whole and not just the main. Even these days, some of my favourite photos from trips won’t be a skate photo, it’ll be something like a spur of the moment shot of behind the scenes or something like that. I’m getting way more into that side of stuff. So focussing less on skating and more on just the environment and people.
What’s your biggest client or project you’ve worked on / with?
Biggest client is probably Monster Energy, they were like my first client, first proper one. They’ve treated me really well. I’m in a really fortunate situation with them, with the fact that they actually pay – which is rad. They send me on lots of trips and I’m really thankful for them sending me all over, even though they’re like the worst company in the world, because they sell toxic drinks to kids. It’s a bit like a kind of sell your soul kind of thing. I dunno, they’ve been pretty good. Biggest project is probably the one I’m just about to go on. To Seoul, It’s called.. It’s a series of videos called ‘not turn up’ and it’s done in Asian cities during the night. Super busy Asian cities during the day are so hectic, you’ll never be able to skate ‘cus there’s too many people. So you go out there, sleep during the day and then you wake up at like ⅞ o’clock in the evening and we stay awake all night, skate throughout the city when it’s like dead, 3am sort of thing. It’s like super cutty, super fast. My Nick started the project, it was a personal project. I saw him and asked If I could go on one of the trips as a photographer. So I went to Taiwan last year, uh.. He kinda shoots it with really slow shutter speed, kinda like really hectic and I felt I could bring a kind of photo to compliment that. And then my photos and his flip, just went together really well. We then went to Thrasher and sold the idea to them, so now they’re sponsoring the project, so it’s pretty sick that like Thrasher are getting behind it, so they’re giving us a load of money. So that’s kind of cool, because it came from like grass roots, it was our thing or like mainly Nick’s thing and then we’ve built it up and now it’s this big.. Thrasher want it to be a series and want to send us out there a few times a year. Yeah.. and then they’re sending big US pros to us, so.. That’s kind of cool for me. That’s probably like the better ones because it came from nothing and now it’s a thing. It’s nice and just organically grown.
Have you any advice for upcoming photographers?
Um.. shoot loads of pictures. Don’t be too harsh on yourself but definitely be harsh on yourself. Depending on what you wanna get out of it. If you wanna just shoot photos and progress and stuff; this is like the wrong answer. But.. if you kind of like wanna work in it or get anywhere with it, then the main thing that helped me was being around people, talking to people, being social – being fun. It’s about the connections. I even get jobs for things like Mike’s skating trip in London, they assigned him a photographer but he turned around and said, no I want Griff. He likes partying and he’s fun. So I got a job just for being around and being nice to people and being like social and fun and stuff. For just advice about taking pictures, I dunno just go have fun, I know it’s been said loads of times and it’s so cliche, but just go have fun, mess around with your friends. It’s not about the camera, it’s not about the kit – just go have fun.
What came first the chicken or the egg?
It’s gotta be the chicken, there must have been some kind of weird mutation inside of it and it’s womb turned into an egg and solidified and it shat it out and then that’s where eggs came from. It has to be the chicken, otherwise where did the egg come from? 100%.
James Griffiths, also known as Griff, is a professional photographer from Worcestershire. He has been working and living in Bristol now for the last 7 years. Griff is firmly rooted in the UK skateboarding scene and has photos published Internationally. Griff has worked with big companies such as Thrasher and Sidewalk, along with some smaller magazines; Free Mag, Grey, Vague and North, just to name a few. Alongside skateboarding photography, Griff is an all-round freelancer who takes commissioned photography work in most fields. He has a keen eye for architecture and shapes which you can find evidently present in his portfolio.