John Haynes is a 37-year-old inline skater and photographer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He started aggressive skating in 1996 and began shooting photos of his friends soon after. In 2016, John stepped back from shooting skate photography to dedicate more time focusing on his professional career. After discovering big wheel blading, he is back on skates and has been hooked ever since.
Portrait by Mike Lufholm
How long have you been skating?
I don’t remember learning to skate; I just remember always doing it. I grew up in a really small town and would jump over stairs and stuff from a really young age.
How did you get into photography?
My older sister had an SLR that someone let her use, or maybe she used it for school; she showed me the camera and a little bit of how it worked. I remember clicking the shutter and winding the film through the camera and was immediately hooked. Looking back at it, my first love was the machine, the camera. I was super into inline skating by that time, so shooting pictures of skating was where my mind went from the beginning.
Michael Garlinghouse fakie 360 (left) Kenji Yee acid soul (right)
What gear do you shoot with?
I have a Nikon D850 at the moment, which I use 95% of the time. For lenses, I have an old Sigma 15mm fisheye, Nikon 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105 macro. I also have a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR, but I rarely use that.
I also shoot a little on my Hasselblad, a Pentax 6×7, my view camera, and anything else I can get my hands on through either friends or work.
How long have you been shooting skate photography?
Since I started photography, I began shooting skating more seriously when I was probably 16 or 17. I was honestly not very good; at the time, there weren’t really resources like we have now to teach ourselves. Even if those resources were there, I probably wouldn’t have taken advantage of them because at that age, I just wanted to skate, and I viewed most things that weren’t skating as a distraction, including photography.
Old photos by John of his Minneapolis crew.
Have you had any of your photos published, skating or otherwise?
I took a pretty significant and intentional break from shooting skating in 2014. I had been assisting commercial photographers full time for a few years at that point and was learning a ton from them, as well as financially supporting myself. I was pretty interested in shooting my own advertising and editorial projects. I felt like a portfolio full of dudes grinding down rails was not particularly likely to get me the kind of work I wanted.
Shooting skating was starting to burn me out quite a bit; I felt like I was just taking the same picture over and over again. I was shooting with some of the best skaters in the world and felt like I owed it to them to be at least as good at photography as they were at skating. I still think that’s a great way to approach things, but I was missing so much of what I actually loved about skating. I loved the camaraderie, the loitering, the spot searches, the jokes in the car, but for some reason, I was always focused on shooting these pristine photos of skate tricks. I just couldn’t bring myself to screw around when the camera was out; when it wasn’t out I had to pack up all these lights and stuff and wasn’t shooting as much as I should or in a way that would get me pictures I was interested in making. For whatever reason, I felt I had to distance myself from skating to grow as a photographer.
Michael Garlinghouse gap to pilar in downtown Minneapolis (left) Montre Livingston with a parallel 360 in Charlotte, North Carolina (right)
Have you worked together with any skating brands?
The most significant collaboration I had with skate brands was going on tours with ConArtist, Vibralux, and anyone else who was driving somewhere with good skaters in the car. It was fun but also really draining; we would be gone for weeks in pretty spartan conditions. After a while, the trips were not fun; I had a career, I was married, I was gone, and I was not getting paid for being gone.
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on?
For personal work, I shot this project I called “Riverside,” portraits of folks in the Somali community in Minneapolis who live in a vast, colorful building downtown. I had seen that building my whole life but never knew anyone who lived there. I was always interested in the building rather than the folks who lived there, but that changed as I spent more time photographing the buildings themselves. I didn’t set out to learn so much about the Somali community or spend so much time working on making the portraits, but once the work started, I didn’t feel like I could stop.
I have been extremely fortunate to shoot some fantastic projects as commissions, too. An easy favorite is an image library I was commissioned to shoot for Belize Tourism. I shot for 13 days straight in Belize. The client gave me a considerable amount of room to do my thing and pursue anything I thought was interesting, which was a lot of things.
Before COVID-19, I shot this super cool project for the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin that was portraits of 27 Master Cheese Makers all across Wisconsin. That was cool because I had the same crew the whole time, and we got to be close.
I feel like choosing my favorite projects is tough because I have gotten to do a lot of super fun stuff with a camera. The best part about any project is the people, both in front of and behind the camera.
Who are your favorite people to collaborate with?
Within skating, I love my Minnesota crew. I grew up shooting Jeph Howard, Chris Farmer, Grant Kjos, Shane McClay, Kenji Yee, Aaron Peterson, Nic Brenden, Michael Garlinghouse, Brett Dasovic, Dan Fabiano, Ryan Googins, Kevin Meland, and so many other extremely talented skaters. I literally learned photography from those experiences. I can’t express in words how special those relationships have been to me. I owe them my career and a giant portion of my life experiences.
Is there anyone who you’ve wanted to shoot with but never had the opportunity?
Honestly, I would love to live the rest of my blade/photo life without shooting anyone but my friends, as I am not motivated to dive deeper into skate photography. If someone commissioned me to shoot new stuff, I am sure I would love whoever they wanted me to shoot with, but I am semi-retired from skate photography and am now more into blading long distances and at small skate parks.
Do you have an all-time favorite photo you’ve shot?
I don’t have a favorite. I have never really been interested in looking at my work once I shoot it. My favorite thing is taking pictures, and in taking pictures, I tend to look forward only. That’s a shitty answer, so I will say my favorite ongoing project is with my wife; every year since we were dating, the first picture I take is a portrait of her.
What’s the most challenging photo you’ve ever taken?
Skating-wise, probably the most challenging series I worked on was a bunch of skate tricks shot on a 4×5 view camera. I was using a Sinar P2, a pretty big camera that needs to be assembled and broken down every time. I didn’t have a car at the time and had to rely on friends for rides. The camera itself takes a while to set up, and just getting enough light to make a proper exposure with the strobes I had at the time was hard. Convincing already impatient and nervous skaters to wait even longer while I shot Polaroids of the spot and fumbled with this colossal camera was a challenge. At the time, you could still buy Polaroids, but they were like $3-4 each, and the film was $2-3 per frame, including processing. It was an expensive project for a person with limited resources!
Clockwise from top left: Birtzer wallride; Matt Ledewski mute in Chicago; Brett Dasovic ao topsoul; Peter sweatstance on the kink.
How does skating today compare to how it was when you first began?
It seems way more diverse in every sense. Visually, there are just many more people doing a lot of different stuff that is so interesting. When I was shooting, it was “get as sharp/clear of a photo of as big of a trick as possible.” Now it seems like more people are just trying shit, and the internet allows way more channels than just “here are the big print magazines, it’s that or nothing.”
Also, the people skating are way more diverse, from different backgrounds, different parts of the globe, different aesthetics, more women, more non-white folks, more age diversity, and just in general a way bigger tent. I am thinking in particular of the Bladies, folks skating in Lagos, Nigeria, and so much more stuff I see on social media. That is absolutely thrilling to me.
Clockwise from top left: Aaron Peterson backslide; Kenji Yee mistrial; Brett Dasovic backslide; Brad Magnuson ao soul; Michael Garlinghouse bs torque; Brett Dasovic topporn 540 out; Kevin Meland mute; Ryan Googins bs royale to true soul up the rail; Kevin Yee tree bonk; Blake O’Brien fs nugen; Chris Farmer bs royale; Jeph Howard ao top soul
Describe your transition from aggressive skating to Big Wheel Blading.
I had quit skating for a few years; I would skate maybe a handful of times per year at small skate parks or chill spots with friends. I frankly didn’t enjoy it much because I wasn’t as good as I was when I was younger, and I found myself focusing on not getting hurt. A few of my friends got into Big Wheel Blading, and I was intrigued because I was into cycling and running, and skating on big wheel skates seemed like good middle ground. Then the pandemic hit, and work virtually stopped for me. I got a pair of FR 3x110s, and was instantly hooked.
Stills from a short film of Haley Friesen rollerblading
Have you shot any non-aggressive skate photography?
I shot this still/video project of my friend doing some distance skating. It was fun and just so much easier than shooting aggressive skating. The possibility of injury for the skater was very low, and it was just about ripping and racing the light.
Where do you want to take your photography into the future?
I have always looked up to photographers who seem just to see differently and then show the rest of us. Since COVID-19, I have been shooting fewer photos of people, and I feel like I don’t always get how to make the things I see as so interesting seem interesting to other people. I want to keep working on closing that gap.
Is there any photographer who influenced your approach to shooting photos?
I was fortunate to assist a bunch of really cool photographers. Namely, Tom Connors, Paul Nelson, Erwan Frotin, Curtis Johnson, and many others. They were some of the most insanely talented photographers I have ever met, and they helped me move past just trying to take cool pictures of kids grinding railings. Early on, when I was ripping photos out of magazines and dreaming, I always loved Dan Busta and Ryan Schude.
Who is your favorite photographer?
Henri Cartier-Bresson is probably my favorite in terms of historic photographers who have really influenced me. Folks that are currently working that I love include Dana Scruggs, Tim Franco, Jake Stangel, Anastasia Samoylova, Elliot Ross, and a bunch of others.
shipping containers (left) boarded up liquor store (right)
Do you do any other kinds of photography not mentioned above?
Most of what I do is photos of people doing what they love. I suppose that started with skating, but it’s led me into this whole world of portraits, documentary, and lifestyle photography that I really love.
Has COVID-19 changed how you guys go out skating and shooting?
COVID-19 has changed everything about my life. As it relates to skating, being outside is one of the only safe things to do. It led to a renaissance in terms of me personally going out and skating. Part of that has meant leaving lights and gear at home and just bringing my camera with a 50mm lens around my neck. This has allowed me to get the spontaneous and beautiful moments I felt like I was always missing when my focus was shooting someone grinding down a rail. In that way, it’s been fruitful.
Friday Night Skate (top left) Chris Farmer hopping the kink (botton left) Jeph Howard ao fish (right)
At the same time, I am a people person and am taking all the public health precautions seriously. We all feel that other people are something to be avoided, and at first, the net effect of that on my photography is that I wasn’t shooting. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t get the subjects to relax, and I didn’t feel compelled to try. That has changed since we have all grown more used to all of this, but it’s still not easy. I am not sure if it will get easier before there is a vaccine. It’s all been really weird, but it also means I am a heck of a lot more available to go out and rip!
Jeph Howard rocket back backslide (left) Shane McClay topacid (center) Shan McClay stub soul (right)
Header image – Michael Garlinghouse wallride in St. Cloud
- Visit johnhaynesphoto.com to see more of John’s work.
- Make sure to follow him on Instagram to keep up with all his skating and photography adventures.
- Contact Big Wheel Blading for any questions, suggestions, story ideas or to contribute content.
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