“I started with skating but I’m a basketball fan and a music fan. What I learned for my photography was that I could use my knowledge of different types of photography to make my own look. What I learned from shooting skaters I took into basketball. What I learned from basketball I would take into skating.”
I first heard the name Atiba Jefferson in relation to the skate scene in Los Angeles. Over the years, Jefferson has had access to a who’s who of not only skating, but music, sports, pop culture and more. Whether sitting in on a Henry Rollins photoshoot and quietly clicking the shutter through a long lens, or being commissioned to snap portraits of the Jumpman himself, Atiba has accumulated a wealth of experience during his tenure as a photographer and multi-creative. When speaking with Atiba, there was a lot to cover, as you can’t place his work into only one silo. In this sense, he seems to be a caricature of the modern creative; being well-versed in multiple creative mediums.
How did the HVW8 exhibition in Berlin come to fruition?
It came together at the last minute. I was in Berlin, working with Oakley on a new project, traveling with Sean Malto and Eric Koston, and they asked us to come over for a sales meeting. Tyler asked me to do it, and I was enthusiastic about the project, especially because I was already there.
So you knew him from LA?
Yeah, that’s the one gallery I show at in LA. So I’ve done a couple of shows at his gallery in LA and stuff like that.
Do you have other relationships with galleries like that in the States where you only want to show at one particular gallery?
I don’t regularly show my work but I do have a friend whose group show I’m always trying to be a part of. And then smaller stuff but I only started doing solo shows after I met Tyler.
What about the name of the exhibition? Could you explain that as well?
Titles are always a little bit tricky to come by. I’ve been listening to “So Long, Lonesome,” this Explosions in the Sky song. They’re an instrumental band – pretty big in the U.S. They’re one of my favorite bands actually. I saw them on their first tour in 2000 or 2001, and they were playing to some four people. Now they play huge festivals, in front of eight to ten thousand people at a time. The funny thing is, I was backstage at the Fuck Yeah festival in LA, and the dudes in the band were passing me. They called out to me because they knew who I was. I turned around and recognized them as well. After that we became really good friends.
That was a couple years back that you met those guys?
Yeah, it was a couple years back and since then we’ve become good friends. But I just like that song. I really like what it stands for. I think it sounds positive, and I just felt it worked.
Does that tie into the photos you chose in a way?
Being a photographer for so long, you kinda have the photos that you know people like, and after a while you have done a lot of shows that are all kind of similar. I didn’t want to do the same thing. I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing so I looked at this one as an opportunity to show some newer stuff. Newer skaters and newer musicians, like 2 Chainz, Archy from King Krule and Future Islands.
Are there any interesting stories behind those shoots? Big Sean looks like he was at a video shoot. Or Henry Rollins, how did you end up in the same room as him?
A lot of that stuff, believe it or not, is not set up on purpose. With Henry Rollins, a friend of mine was shooting a documentary and he invited me to the shoot. I brought my long lens and shot photos of him while they were filming. That was just one I really liked because you can see his Black Flag bars.
The Big Sean one was funny because I was actually there to shoot Derrick Rose. It was for a commercial spot they did last year and I was following Derrick. They had all these scenarios, like Derrick at a Big Sean video shoot. The director of the video had me play the director of a music video because it was supposed to simulate a behind the scenes of Derrick’s life.
So these aren’t always people that you have a personal connection to. Is it easier when you do actually have a friendship?
Yeah, you really have to work with someone a lot. You have to shoot them over and over, and there are certain ones in here that are harder than others. Of course I’m stoked on everyone that’s in the show. You know, I’ve shot Kevin Durant a ton and that always feels like seeing a really good friend. Kobe too.
Because you used to be the photographer for the Lakers?
Yeah, I assisted the Lakers photographer but we would also shoot the games. So I worked for the NBA for three seasons in 2000, 2001 and 2002. It’s been a long time but they’re still like family. I’m stoked to be able to say that and I still shoot games when I can.
Kobe’s getting into his twilight years. Did you see the game between him and LeBron?
No, I was over here but I saw it on social.
That seemed to be a big moment for a lot of people.
Yeah, it just goes to show though. That was the night he had all those big assists.
It’s crazy because he’s still breaking records.
I last talked to him a year ago. I told him that his game was great. And he said, “I just work so hard at doing it. It’s not coming easier, the older I get. I just work really hard at it.” For his age, he’s still doing a lot. He’s still a league leader in certain fields. That’s amazing. I think the Lakers will have a long way to go once he retires. Without Kobe I don’t know if they’ll still have what it takes to be a championship contender. Right now they still have a little time.
Almost everyone uses Instagram now. All the same, do you feel a need for caution about investing your time in it? For me personally, I’m always a little worried that it will have become obsolete in two years time.
I think that’s the messed up thing about it. The Internet has made it much tougher for photographers because print is now a very specific, specialized thing. There was a point where it looked like you would have to become a video director to stay in the visual field. In a way, Instagram saved a lot of photographers. It’s become its own photography medium and it’s amazing that you can reach such a wide audience with it. I do wish the photos could be bigger but that’s social media. I don’t think it’s going anywhere so we have to embrace it. It’s a very fine line between the professional and the personal. The only thing that really sucks is that people can attack others.
Is that a big issue for you? That people can see into your life and attack it?
Yeah, you know. People will say very mean things about anything you post. It’s kind of exposed an ugly side of humankind. There’s nothing like it in the past, and you have to look for a way to use it positively. I’m stuck because I’ll do shoots on a bigger scale for Instagram and that’s crazy.
When I think about your work, I want to use the phrase “worlds collide.” You’re a photographer. You work heavily with skaters, you skateboard yourself. You’ve worked with hip-hop artists and in sports…
Absolutely. That’s a big part of my photography. I started with skating but I’m a basketball fan and a music fan. What I learned for my photography was that I could use my knowledge of different types of photography to make my own look. What I learned from shooting skaters I took into basketball. What I learned from basketball I would take into skating.
So, do you feel like these fields are merging now?
Yeah, it’s amazing to see skatings influence in other fields. For example, Kyrie Irving skates and we talk about that. The same way Lil Wayne skates and we talk about that. I shot Logic. He came over to my house, and started skating my mini ramp. Same with Explosions in the Sky, they skate. Or Mogwai. All these people. The keyboard player for Future Islands skates and he knows all about skating. When they see me, that’s this common bond that we all have. It’s cool to see that through skating now.
That variety translates into my photography. In that regard, Glen E. Friedman was a big influence on me. He’s a great photographer who just recently put out another book. He shot a lot of original punk rock stuff. He shot Rollins, and Black Flag, and Fugazi, and all these greats. But he also shot Public Enemy and Ice-T. He shot everyone and at a really special time.
Didn’t he shoot that straight-edge guy, Ian MacKaye?
Yeah, definitely. He’s one of the guys who coined that term but also doesn’t like that label because of how violent some straight edgers were. He’s just a great person. You know, his history with Fugazi, doing five-dollar shows. I was just reading about them. At their peak they were offered a 10 million dollar recording deal.
Sounds like the Nirvana issue – created this movement and ended up hating it.
At the end of the day, when you see interviews with him, he says that it isn’t a lifestyle, it’s just a personal choice. Other people turned it into a lifestyle.
On a different note, you are involved in a brewery of some type?
I’m part of a beer company called Saint Archer. We’re based out of San Diego. I was approached by Mikey Taylor to be a part of it. We – Mikey, P-Rod, Koston, Herman, Slash, and some other surfers and snowboarders – are ambassadors for this beer. It’s a great thing to be a part of. I like to drink beer, clearly.
Are you a big craft beer fan?
I’m not a craft beer dude. I’m more of a pilsener or blonde dude. The brewery is a cool lifestyle brand. Being a part of that is really fun, to see it grow, and have it be something I can use and profit from.
It’s nice to have something bolster your income. Was there ever a time when you had difficulties freelancing?
I’ve always worked for a magazine and I still do. I work for this skateboarding mag now so that’s a steady check. But freelancing is hard. I might have a steady income but I just want other jobs. I want to do other things beside skating. If I don’t have something to do for a while, I start struggling creatively, even though I won’t be hurting financially. I’m very lucky that I don’t need an agent. To get the work that I have is mind-blowing. It’s flattering to know that people are looking for me, without someone selling me to them. I always go through these phases where I think about getting an agent, and then something will pop up. I like to shoot skating stuff so I don’t want to take that for granted either.
Nice. So, what kind of brands could you see popping off in 2015?
I’m a Supreme dude. I just love what they do and I really like them as a company. I like James, the owner. Everyone they have working, from the actual company to the shops. I worked at a shop for three years when I was very young. I like hanging out at Supreme. That’s a shop I’ll hang out in. Besides being a brand, it’s a skate shop so it’s a family thing, and they’re great at embracing that connection. Creatively they’re one of the best brands out there, from great collabos with artists to bands. I’m always excited to get that stuff. Without a doubt, that’s one company I’m always excited about.
What about music for 2015; what are you looking forward to?
The new Panda Bear record. I’m excited to see what people say about it. His albums are always really different and I think that’s a risk you take, as an artist. Once you have a record that did really well, and you know the formula for doing that but you choose to keep pushing your art in a different direction. That’s why I’m a really big fan of Animal Collective, and what they do.
I know Battles is going to have a record coming out. That’s fun; I know they haven’t had one in a while. I guess there’s another Aphex Twin record coming out. I’m always excited, being a DJ, to see underground stuff. Run the Jewels III is high on my list as well.
Talk about your backpack company Bravo.
Bravo is a backpack company that I started with two friends. I needed a camera bag and a friend of mine suggested that I start a company, like “you have the right resources, you know the right people, just start a company.” So we formed Bravo to make things for ourselves and for our friends. We have a great manufacturer that is down to work with us on specialized things, so we have a lot of cool projects and collaborations with people coming up. Everything is produced in small runs, and we’re keeping it really tight so we can focus on details and make the best bags we can. It’s something I’ve been very excited about and it’s been really fun to work on something without being the owner of it, without the pressures of having to make big numbers, and keeping it contained and really making products that will last. We’re very military inspired, and the military clearly uses bags, so we look at the functional aspect rather than the fashion side of things.
Some of the best ideas are born from necessity.
Yeah, that’s why I’m working with Saint Archer. People told me to always invest in things you use. I’m always using bags, and I’m always using beer. It’s the same with the bar I’m an investor in called Black in Los Angeles. There are a lot of skaters that are partners in it, and it’s really cool to use social media to let people know that when they support Saint Archer, or Black, or Bravo that they’re supporting someone, and not just a random corporation.
I’m going to take a wild guess and say that they serve Saint Archer at Black.
We do. Lots of Saint Archer and Jager.