What effect, if any, have your early surroundings had on your picture taking and style? Did you shoot certain things since they were readily available?
Northern Ireland is a very strange place to grow up. The terrorist threat that has been present in N.I. for many years does have an effect on you after time and I’ve tried to stay away from photographing the more obvious negative aspects of N.I. This is the reason why BMX & the punk scene were & still are so appealing to me. It was a break from the norm & was something positive that I could channel my energy into. I was never interested in getting drunk and spending weekends at the bar. I’m not criticizing people who do, it just isn’t for me.
For some time now I have been working on a series of photographs titled ‘Urbanite’, the images are quite dark, bleak, brooding somewhat apocalyptic even. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to photograph this sort of thing? It seems I can’t help myself. If I see something that fits the above description I feel compelled to photograph it. Maybe I’m just a product of my environment without even realizing it?
At what point did BMX become a main focus for you?
I wouldn’t say that BMX photography is or ever has been my main focus. It’s just one aspect of things that I’m interested in and enjoy photographing. I guess I pretty much answered this in the first question.
I often get strange reactions/blank stares from people when I tell them that I take photos/Co. edit a BMX magazine. Getting off the subject, I don’t ride that much these days due to my knees being destroyed but it always amazes me that some people who have been into something for a long time can simply walk away from it and retain zero interest in it. I’d like to think that I’ll always be interested enough to pick up a BMX mag (or whatever format it may be) now and again.
Most people know you shoot and work for DIG magazine, but fill us in on how you got to where you are and ultimately what your title is there.
My official title is Co. Editor. Basically I shoot photos. I also edit, adjust & color correct all the photos in the mag, bits & pieces of editorial, the odd bit of design, bug people for words, send out magazines, clean the office, do the odd coffee run, etc, etc. It’s very much a co-operative type of affair where everyone chips in, although I have to say Will (Smyth) bears the brunt of the mayhem. I grew up riding & going to shows with Will years before the magazine came about and have met lots of great folk as a direct result of the mag.
Around issue three I started submitting photos, some of them were used and I continued to submit photos. This went on for about 10+ years until one day I eventually got paid some money. I must say however that money has never been a driving force for making DIG, pretty much everyone who works or has worked at DIG has to make their pay packet up by doing other work. I worked for 10 years as an electrician then took a civil service job as a file clerk, a cleaner in a hospital, a mailroom employee in a call centre, etc. all the while doing bits & pieces for DIG. Part time jobs enabled me more flexibility to take photos which is all I wanted to do.
I look forward to every issue of DIG that comes out, I think it’s a great magazine. In your opinion, what do you think sets DIG apart from other BMX magazines?
Thanks! I’d like to think that DIG has a certain integrity about it.
Most of us who work or have worked at DIG have had some involvement in the punk scene at one point or another so there’s always been a strong D.I.Y. ethic in the way we approach things. What sets DIG apart is that it’s always blazed its own path and has never followed what other magazines were doing. We’ve always had very strong opinions, convictions & ideals about how BMX should be portrayed, with an emphasis on creativity and positivity. Also, unlike a lot of other media within bmx we don’t (or at least try our best not to) glamorize drug use or tolerate homophobia or sexism on our pages. I’m certain these are key points in DIG’s longevity and the willingness of people wanting to be a part of it.
A lot of people probably don’t know this but DIG was born out of an attic bedroom in Belfast, Northern Ireland and has been going for over 18 years with the same editor (Will Smyth) who, by the way still stays up until the early hours putting the thing together in his house, whilst listening to Drive Like Jehu. The only other BMX magazine that has been going this long with the same editor is the German BMX mag Freedom with Kay Clauberg at the helm.
There’s really no other way to describe the way the magazine comes together other than a group of like minded people from all over the world creating something that they are passionate about. Like I mentioned, it was never a money making venture more of a community. Will & Co. started DIG to represent the sort of riding & attitude that other magazines at the time weren’t able to deliver. It’s never been a 9-5 operation. Some people say they preferred the way DIG ‘used to be’. Thinking about it, if you did like it then, but don’t like it now, then you never really liked it. It’s had it’s fair share of ups and downs but the heartbeat remains true, which is something that hasn’t changed over the course of it’s 18 years existence.
It’s apparent that over the years, some other BMX publications have copied or imitated certain aspects of DIG. It’s not like DIG reinvented the wheel or anything, and I don’t want to talk shit about other magazines (most of which are now really good) but I’d like to at least think DIG has made some sort of positive impact in the BMX world.
I always take notice of the covers you guys put out. DIG has had some interesting ones in the past, some of which feature no riding but still stand out (the Van Homan helmet cover comes to mind). How do you guys go about selecting each months cover shot? Are there any rules, or do you just run with what feels right?
Yeah, exactly if it feels right we go with it. There are a few cover ideas that we’d like to run but the DIG office would probably be burnt down. If we ever do a final issue we could unleash one of them then, haha.