Sam Cooper is a 35-year-old inline skater and photographer living in Bristol’s bohemian paradise in the South West of England.
How long have you been skating?
I’ve been skating for twenty-four years now but have had substantial dips in activity over the last 7-8 years due to work and a long-term injury.
How did you get into photography?
I had a strong drawing and painting background as a young person that eventually led me momentarily to photography. But it was blading and the need to document both the crew and my progression that took me back to still cameras. That’s where it all started for me, something that was purely for the purpose of documentation, to begin with, soon developed into another creative outlet.
What gear are you currently using?
Primarily I shoot with a Nikon D800, with a vast array of glass from Nikkor and Sigma. My lighting setup consists of three Canon 540ez strobes and pocket wizards to link them all up. I also have a growing collection of analog cameras that I use intermittently and usually for more lifestyle stuff. I would say my Canon AE1 and Lubitel 2 get the most use from that collection.
How long have you been shooting skate photography?
I’ve been shooting photos of skating pretty much since the day I began skating, but I would say it became more of a consistent venture around fifteen years ago.
What was your first published skating photo?
So my first online published image was of Richard Manning doing a mute hand plant over a hip. That was for Kingdom mag online, an essential milestone for sure. Now my first physical publication came in the very unexpected shape of a full profile and cover. It was a profile on my good friend Matt Alway for Wheel Scene. Despite it being early on for me as a blade photographer, I think Dave McNamara saw a bit of himself in me. We both were sick of seeing the same faces and places featured in the UK’s blade media. He was starting a print publication, and I was highly motivated to shoot. It was a match made in heaven, and I can’t thank Dave enough for how much he has backed me over the years.
Matt Woods poster for SlapTap
What other magazines have published your photos?
It feels like a fairly short list but then I have grown as a photographer during the birth of digital and the death of print. Still, my images have been seen in ONE, Be-Mag, Wheel Scene, Clac Magazine, Haitian Magazine, The Radvocate, and Bleach Mag. I’m well aware of the anti-print environment I’ve grown into so I feel utterly blessed when anyone wants to trust in my work enough to accept the costs of print.
Have you worked together with any skating brands?
Plenty of companies have used my work post-shooting, but funnily enough, not many have wanted to work directly with me on something. It’s a sign of the times and of where blading is, so I’m not bitter about how it is, just maybe a little gutted that I wasn’t born a few years earlier. I have worked closely with companies like SlapTap, Dirt Box, to name a few, on promo material, but those instants have been more of a passion project than work. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to work with more blade companies in the future. I love doing what I do but to earn at the same time is an incredible feeling.
Connaire Skerritt for Be-Mag
When did you start shooting people skating on bigger wheels?
Shooting people on bigger wheels is quite a recent thing, and it’s been an enormous learning curve that I have enjoyed massively. It’s all been thanks to Si Coburn and Niko Salaman. Those guys were and continue to both do such cool stuff on skates that I can’t help but want to capture their movements no matter what mm wheels they have under their feet.
Si Coburn roll in
Have you tried big wheel blading yourself?
Yes! Big wheel blading has saved me from the rollerblading scrap heap. I have a slowly developing issue with my left knee that at one point had me skating about three times a year at best. I had pretty much given up on being a skater and settled into being happy to be still involved through photography, then lockdown happened! I got on my Seba FR1’s and discovered that if I wasn’t jumping and taking impacts all the time, then my knee was fine. By the time lockdown was over, I was smashing out Thirty miles plus skates, and the late-night cruises through the city had become a regular fixture. I now consider myself an active skater again and couldn’t be happier about it.
Out of all the projects that you have worked on, which was your favorite?
I think shooting Eugen Enin’s profile for ONE was just very cool. I loved the intensity of it all, Four days in Germany with Eugen and his brother Daniel and that was it. It all felt very proper and like there was somehow a lot on the line with the flight being paid for me by Justin Eisinger, the magazine’s editor. I make it sound like it wasn’t fun and just a lot of pressure, but it was fun, honestly! Having the bonus of shooting a pre-planned and very conceptual cover made it just that little more special. To create something that is to honor a person and image that are both firmly cemented in the history of blading is very cool.
Eugin Enin on the Cover of One Magazine
Who do you enjoy collaborating with the most?
Anyone who has a passion for blading and is motivated really, it’s pointless me working with lazy bladers. It will quickly lead to me becoming frustrated with the process. Alex Burston and Ollie Jones definitely are those kinds of guys, and I love shooting with Dan Loveless because he lives such a reckless life. I love hearing about what dumb shit he’s done or said most recently. It’s always great to shoot with people who think a little on the creative side when skating. Chris Leaver and Scott Blackmore are good examples of people who believe and skate like that; those types of people challenge me to adapt how I shoot, as the tricks can be anything but conventional.
Chris Leaver toe poke
Is there anyone who you’ve wanted to shoot with but never had the opportunity?
I feel very blessed for all of the hugely talented guys I’ve had the opportunity to capture over the years. The fact they have trusted me so implicitly still blows my mind. So I don’t spend too much time thinking about missed opportunities. I would love to have the chance to shoot more with Jo Zenk, as that guy is perfect. But if I could pick anyone then to get the chance shoot with then, I think Dominic Sagona would be a pretty incredible subject. I love how he moves, the shapes he makes, and his impeccable spot selection.
Jo Zenk savanna
What’s the most challenging photo you’ve ever taken?
I can’t think of one image, in particular, that was hard to shoot; there have been so many times when I’ve struggled with either lighting or finding the right angle, but there is not one photo that stands out as being the biggest struggle. I feel that I struggle with portraiture overall, but I think that comes from being somewhat uncomfortable with having my photo taken.
Do you have an all-time favorite photo you’ve shot?
That is a tough question to give a straight answer. It is one that I have given a lot of thought to before. There is a collection of images that I consider my all-time favorite photos. These images made the cut because of how well I feel the picture turned out or the story behind it. There is a currently unreleased image I shot of Blake Bird only months ago of the ender from his latest edit. That image is one of my all-time favorites because of how well I executed it and because it was such a massive moment during my time in London. To pick one image of all time always and uncomfortably leads me back to the X Grind I shot of Dan Ives nearly nine years ago. I love the iconic look of the image, the trick was insane, and it also was the first image that I got in print with ONE and a post for Dirt Box, of which both were huge milestones for me.
Dan Ives Dirt Box Poster
How does skating compare to how it was when you first began?
When I first began, skating was massive, the boom was in full flow, and blading was far from being the subculture it had become. A crew of ten plus was just how it went down. As a young person who dealt with substantial social anxieties, this caused me some trouble but was also part of my experiences growing up that helped me understand and control those anxieties. Now I find many of my shoots and skates are on a one-on-one basis, which I will admit I prefer as a photographer as it allows me to focus on the job at hand. Still, a lot can be said for the crew creating a hype that helps your subject to get across the line with a hard trick. As a skater, I love to be out in a bigger group; it’s great having so many different personalities and energies adding to the pot. It’s always a treat when we get a few people out for a skate.
Where do you want to take your photography into the future?
Right now, I’m happy where it is a passion of mine that I occasionally make a little money doing. As I get older, though, and my body begins to struggle with the physicality of working in the building industry, I will look to make a business from taking photos. Hopefully, when that happens, I can still maintain photography as a passion, and it doesn’t just become my job.
Are there any photographers who influenced your approach to shooting photos?
Before I began shooting, I had a strong art background, which means my inspirations have come from areas both within and outside of skating. Phillip Lorca diCorsia is my favorite photographer, without any doubt. His lighting approach and the scenes he captured massively inspired my photography and was a huge influence when I was developing my style.
Photo by Phillip Lorca diCorsia
Who is your favorite photographer?
Within skating, I would have to say that I’ve always been inspired by Adam Kola, Hayden Golder, and Ryan Schude. Still, if I had to pick one photographer within blading, I would choose the Polish genius, Kuba Urbanczyk. His work is just always so on point with a strong and consistent identity.
Do you do any other photography outside of skating?
Outside of skating, I’ve done a little family and corporate portraiture, some product photography. These avenues have never stuck, as I get no kicks out of it. It’s purely been for pay when I’ve needed the quick income. Photography, like skating, is something I’m passionate about doing. Therefore I’m always happier and more positively productive when capturing something I’m also passionate about doing. During the summer, I do a bit of music/event photography at festivals. Because I love music and festivals, it’s easy to work that I actively search for every year no matter if I need the income or not. Closer to home than that is the four years I spent employed as both the lead photographer and team manager for a sports distribution company. It had me dealing primarily but not exclusively with freestyle scootering. It was a fantastic opportunity to work within a new sport, much like our own, and see development and growth through their boom. I treasure my time at Greenover sports and within the scooter industry.
Gentlemen’s Dub Club at Yonder Festival
Has COVID-19 changed how you guys go out skating and shooting?
Not really! It sounds odd or maybe complacent, but at first, there was a lot of thought about the things we should be doing. In reality, we were already doing things like keeping group numbers down because, simply put, not many people skate, so getting a big crew out is almost impossible. At first, people wore masks, but that came to an end fairly quickly when people realized that transmission was much lower outside. Keeping a fair distance is a thing, and now hugs are not a thing; fist bumps have been replaced with elbow bonks. It’s just a case of being sensible within the situation. The one thing that did change because of COVID-19 was my motivation. Three months off work with nothing to do gives you a lot of time to think about what you want to do. So as soon as they reduced restrictions, I jumped at the chance to be out shooting all the time. My productivity seriously leveled up, and that fire for shooting blading has been maintained since I’ve gone back to work. So COVID-19 gave me a much-needed kick up the ass.
Thank you Marat Subkhankulov for proof reading the article.
- Follow Sam Cooper on Instagram
- Visit www.samcooperphoto.co.uk and to see more of his photography.
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