I Survived Skatopia – Adam Amengual and Dylan Vitone

Interviews with Photographers February 27, 2013 8:37 am

When Adam emailed me a few months back telling me that he and his friend, the photographer Dylan Vitone, had photographed Skatopia together, I couldn’t wait to hear more about it and share their work on this site. I’m sure most of us have seen a lot of coverage of Skatopia, but I love the way Adam and Dylan captured the people and the scene, worked together and made such different imagery.

How did you two decide to photograph Skatopia? What first led you there and had you been there before?

DV: I think Adam and I were still in college when we saw this insane video of skatetopia on youtube. It seemed like a magical place that was somewhere between freedom and anarchy.  It must have been 10 years ago. we where both like we need to shoot that. I think one of Adam’s friends turned him on to it. It took 10 years for Adam to get his act together enough to head out there with me. in the meantime I photographed it 6 or 7 times since, but none of the trips where as great as the one I took with Adam. 
The two of us know each others work so well that we would be pointing out pictures to one another. “Hey Adam check out the girl with the dog.” We know what each other likes to shoot and we wanted each other to get the most out of the experience. 
I had never photographed any of the events at night. That was something I was really missing from my pictures. Adam is so amazing with lights he helped me out with that a lot. There was one night I was shooting and Adam literally had my back. I was shooting this moss pit where folks where hanging from the ceiling with hooks in their backs and there was another set of people having tug-a-war with fetish hooks in their butts in the middle of the mush pit. It was just out of control wild and there was Adam right behind me with a flash pointing it in what ever direction I pointed my camera. He would block bottles being through at the crowd and keep us clued in to what ever out of hand stuff was happening that we should be aware of. “Hey Dylan they are about to throw those two TVs in to the crowd… watch out.” I could not have made the pictures I made without out Adam’s help. 


AA: It wasn’t that long ago, maybe around 2007 that I had been told about Skatopia through a skate/snow journalist friend of mind. At the time that I saw the pictures and videos of Skatopia and it looked like a place where I could experience what skateboard culture was like in the beginning. Where I could immerse myself and use my camera as my ticket to jump on that train. At some point I mentioned the place to Dylan and he had asked if I minded him going to shoot it and he came up with the idea to shoot it together. I moved away from NY in 2008 then to LA in 2009 which made it difficult to make it down to PA to meet Dylan to go to OH. During that time Dylan asked if I minded if he went and shot it on his own which of course I was. In 2011 when I moved back to Brooklyn, Dylan was like, “OK, you’re back, lets do this.”


Dylan had been several times before at this point and I had also seen the work of a few other photographers who had covered the place in the last few years so I was not initially as hyped on going as I was in 07/08 but after some thought I decided to go anyway and this past summer Dylan and I (and my summer intern Jake) drove to Rutland. 
As I mentioned before, I had seen the work of a few other photographers as well as Dylan’s previous pictures from Skatopia and it caused me to ask myself it I could have a different angle to show. I decided I did and now after shooting there this past summer a good lesson has come out of it.  That just because something has been shot before, you can still put your own spin on it. 
Which brings me to how it was shooting and making pictures side by side with Dylan. I think we were both unsure how that was going to work out. But it was awesome. We did split up a bit but we also approached subjects together or would walk up on one another while shooting and would photograph the same subject/seen back to back. I know photojournalist work like that a lot but this was new for Dylan and I. We were both able to work on a subject’s trust together, the patter you create and modify when shooting strangers is part of the creation of this kind of work and to have someone with you, an old friend to chat up a subject with, we found works very well.
What were your experiences with the people at Skatopia? It doesn’t doesn’t appear to be the most welcoming place to outsiders. Did you have your cameras with you all of the time or did you try to build trust with the subjects – or groups – first?
A: Overall it was a pretty pleasant experience, I saw somethings that I had never seen before and am sure I will not see again anywhere outside of that place, I mean, its not everyday you see what happens when someone puts a quarter stick of dynamite in the gas tank of a car. Almost every single person I had an interaction with was down to chat and have their picture taken. In my experience, when shooting strangers, especially in a spontaneous manner you need to come across honest and sincere.  Everyone was super excited to be there, including Dylan and myself. Everyone I had an interaction with wanted to share their experience by both verbally talking to us and having their picture taken. I wouldn’t say we blended in but we didn’t stick out either, Dylan and I both came up skating and have made pictures of a variety of people so I think we both know how to relate to a variety of people. Yes, we had our cameras on us from the moment we got there.  For me building trust with the subjects happens organically, sometimes you can just walk right up to someone and ask to take their picture, sometimes you get into a conversation first and then ask, you just have to roll with it.


D: The people there were absolutely great. Really generous with their time and conversation. I generally find that if you explain, to just about anyone, why you want to photograph they are OK with it. As Adam said we both came up skating and very much identify with the culture and still consider it still part of who we are as people. I think I do a pretty good job on a daily basis convincing myself that I am a lot closer to that time in my life than I actually am. Adam and I have spoken about the experience in some depth since we shot it and for me I realize the work becomes more and more about that time in your life that you are fully optimistic. You can do anything. You can not get hurt. You can do the most ridiculous things but when the sun comes up the next day you forget about it. You live in the present. It sounds trite but that is where I am at. So the work is about documenting and celebrating a subculture.  It is also a little about fashion photography (I will completely pretend I did not drop that with no explanation) but I think it is also, and I am only speaking for myself, is about a realization that I am a grown up now and looking back at that time in a honest but nostalgic way. I had just had my first child, Lena, a couple months before we went to skatopia. There was a time not so long ago where I was in a world that my friends fought over someone painting over someones graffiti or I was playing a show or I was skating searching for those perfect stairs to skate and now I am a college professor that has a mildly aggressive  investment plan for my retirement plan so I can have nice furniture for my beautiful daughter. I am not sure that I miss that time of reckless but I am grateful I had it. I hope the work celebrates that time in life.
A: I think within all Dylan’s ramblings : ) that what he is saying is very true about us capturing people at a certain time in their life and some of the people there have been able to continue living day by day and in the moment. I am not going to lie, I really enjoyed spending 4 days there with no cell service and being apart of the festivities that weekend gave a taste of that life. This is a huge part of why I make documentary work. I can never actually feel 100% what its like to walk in the shoes of my subjects but at least I can get a sense. 
D: you are just pissed off that I have retirement : )


(See more of Adam’s work here and more of Dylan’s work, here)

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