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The Eyes of Jason Dill: The Skate Legend's Photographic World

  • Words: Anthony Pappalardo

  • Photography: Courtesy of Jason Dill

As a professional skater (among many other pursuits), Jason Dill has certainly seen his fair share of incredible sights from all walks of life. With a searing new monograph of his photography titled Prince Street, we too can get a glimpse of some of these sights. In this FRONTPAGE interview, Dill takes us through the creation of his intimate new project.

To the outside world, Jason Dill makes a lot of things. Collages, photographs, clothes, graphics, paintings, inverted hanging cop cars, the list goes on. And as a professional skateboarder, he’s been a part of several video projects, including his iconic part in Alien Workshop’s Photosynthesis (2000). You could label him prolific, but as he tells me himself, 60% of his time is darting from medium to medium, thinking about what to do next.

Now, “next” for Dill is a hardcover photography monograph titled Prince Street (Photos from Africa, People Remembered, Places Forgotten), releasing online and in-store April 20. At 250 pages, Prince Street is a massive visual archive documenting decades of his personal photography. Interestingly, skateboarding is purposefully omitted, making the book more of a visual diary of his travels and experiences, showcasing his knack for illuminating the sliver of intrigue found in the mundane. Alternating between black-and-white, color, point-and-shoot, and standard 35MM cameras, Prince Street’s narrative isn’t linear or even chronological, but rather a thoughtful juxtaposition of moments that remain connected no matter how subtle or striking the images are.

We spoke to Dill about his process and bringing Prince Street to life:

Growing up watching skateboarders like yourself doing new things in videos and photos… seeing how you all stay creative gives me that same feeling, you know what I mean?

Thanks. Honestly, I feel so lazy and lethargic and silly and immature and stupid, but as far as stuff that I do, 60% of it is just me staring at the wall trying to think of what to do next.

You work in so many different mediums, what was the spark to get you to make a book with your photography?

In the early 1990s I started traveling for skateboarding. I turned professional in ’94, and I went to New York, Tokyo, London, Paris and all over America. And I started taking pictures, as you do, just to take pictures. It’s as easy as that. And I just kept doing it, never with the intention of making a book – and most certainly not making one this size. It's a big, big book – but I did it. I just went to a lot of places and kept taking photos, and I never took it seriously.

I had made some zines and other smaller books, so I had done a few things before. When I’ve had people look at my photos whose opinions I respect, they told me the stuff was good, and maybe I should actually make them into a book. My negatives were a mess, just in shoe boxes. I’m really surprised they survived with all the moving I’ve done over the years. I did lose some negatives from Africa and some other ones though, but the ones I have were in really good condition.

How far back do the photos span?

From 1997 to 2015.

And it's shot on different cameras or did you have a primary medium you're using?

All different cameras, but all film. There’s no digital in it. Not to take anything away from digital, I just didn't do it that way. I’m very un-tech – the most tech thing I know how to do with a computer is operating a scanner. That’s it. I can barely do Zoom meetings and shit.

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JASON DILL

Tell me about going out in the late ‘90s and early-2000s New York. It felt like everyone had those disposable cameras you’d grip at a bodega. Were you into that?

Yeah, I started with disposable stuff around ’93 or ’94… I think they were new then. I didn’t use any of those in the book, but I love those. In ‘97 I borrowed a friend's camera – there are a few images in the book with that camera. I don’t even remember what fuckin’ film I used, just black-and-white. It was a Nikon… the one you’d use in a high school photography class, the super manual one. I actually took a photography class in high school before I dropped out when I was 17… and I passed it. I’ve never taken an art class and I think it shows in my art. [laughs]

In the late '90s I got into the Olympus with the slide shield in the front. I got one of those and it became a priority for me to bring it with me. And by priorities, I mean, my priorities were to go out every night, blackout, and take photos. I did that for about ten years in New York. I’m not necessarily proud of it. I wasted a lot of fucking time, but we got a lot of funny photos out of it.

I picked five images that I thought could be interesting to talk about if you’re down. The first image I saw was really striking to me. It reminded me of a William Eggleston photo. It's the second view of the ocean from a hotel with the two chairs and just the table and the cigarette.

Yeah, and the wine. Yeah, that is such a fuckin’ William Eggleston imitation. [laughs] I liked that room that I was in. That’s in Durban, South Africa, which is a really wild place. That was blatantly my, imitation of Eggleston's airplane photo with the drink and the window. You know, as you do.

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JASON DILL

Can you tell me about this one shot in New York City where there are people pushing this box truck and there's a big crowd around outside watching?

That’s Broadway and Canal. We lived on Canal for a long time, above the Burger King. I loved what I saw outside my fire escape every day. Canal Street was so wild looking back then. It was just another afternoon, I guess. What I like about that image is all the people helping and then the old cop cars. I love those old cop cars, they remind me of that time period so much. But one thing I really liked about that photo is every single person there in the moment of it. There weren't really even cell phones at the time. I took that in ’99 or ’98, and the only cell phone that anyone had was the Nokia brick. No one is taking photos, it’s just human beings helping out – human beings observing a New York moment.

What about this subway photo with the two people hunched over?

I think that's my favorite photo I've ever taken. Not to sound corny, but to me, it really sums up New York at that time period. I would say that photo was taken in 2001. It’s young people in New York going for it —getting it. New York is so made for young people. It’s good for one when they’re young to live there for a time period. I think it just encapsulates a feeling. There are two sides to that – they obviously did whatever they did that night to get there. They look so desolate, they just look so upset.

I used to take photos in a manner that I would never do ever again. I was young. It’s an intrusion – I'll admit to it completely. There’s a photo in the book of a man on his knees with his head on the ground, and a woman standing over him in Miami. I just saw her kick him in the face. I ran up and shot three photos of them real quick and ran away. I would never take photos like that again. I do talk about that in my introduction to the book, I would feel so weird walking up and taking a photo of somebody but obviously, the two young people in the photo you're speaking of had no idea. I'm not sorry about it, but being older and reflecting back, I think, “Wow! You were really going for it.” I never thought I’d display these photos. They just sat in shoeboxes. But you know? I really love that one though. There’s a lot to get out of those two kids.

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JASON DILL
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JASON DILL

I like this self-portrait in the hotel. Can you talk about that one?

Yeah, it's a motel in Los Angeles called the Beverly Laurel. When I would visit from New York I'd stay there. I took that photo in the mirror, and that's Miles Davis on the TV. My father went to jail when I was eight years old — that was kind of like the last I'd seen of him. In 2005 I was going to California on a trip, and my girlfriend at the time thought it'd be a good idea for me to get a hold of him. So I ended up calling him at that motel on the telephone. I used to like to stay at that motel a lot. It's still there.

The last one I wanted to talk about was this shot of someone holding a mirror up to the sky over their face. It’s very surreal.

That's my friend Shawn in Brooklyn… probably 2005 or 2006. Yeah, just fuckin’ around with a mirror and hanging out. I like how the clouds look. That was the space in between these two buildings in Greenpoint, back then. I always thought that it was kind of whatever, but over the years people have told me it’s great.

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JASON DILL

Are there any other images you want to discuss or anything about the book, in general, we can touch on?

Not really specific images. We edited down from thousands to what’s in the book. It goes all over, there’s no chronological order. There's color, there's black-and-white, there's disposable. I’ve never had a driver's license, so a lot of the photos I've taken are out the window of the car from the passenger seat.

I said something in the book’s introduction — I was really insecure writing it — but I wasn’t trying to come off as some serious photographer. I’ve done one photo job, which was shooting the cover and inside of Earl Sweatshirt’s album Doris, and I’m very proud of that. At the end of the intro I say, “The photos in this book are some regrets, some nudity, some sadness, and some sheer happiness.”

How did you choose the title?

I shot the cover in Johannesburg, it’s this young kid and I liked the way he was standing. He was in this really regal stance. The store behind him says “Prince Street,” and I lived on Prince Street in New York for a long time — 199 Prince. I had that apartment when I traveled to Africa. I stayed in Africa for three months, and that was a very life-affirming evolution of my eyeballs, mind, spirit. Africa is an insanely beautiful place and the people are tremendously alive. So, Prince Street above his head… shit, I’ll call the book Prince Street. I thought it summed up what the book is about really well.

“Prince Street (Photos from Africa, People Remembered, Places Forgotten)” will release Wednesday, April 20 at Fucking Awesome stores in New York and Los Angeles, and online. Limited copies will be available at select international specialty bookshops: Arcana Books on the Arts, Culver City; Printed Matter, New York; Tres Bien.

  • Words:Anthony Pappalardo
  • Photography:Courtesy of Jason Dill

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