Scott Starr Interview

** originally posted this interview a few months ago but there were issues with the formatting of the photos/text so I took it down. I also thought it was a good time to repost it as Scott has been quietly going through some health issues. If you would like to find out more information please go to the link below.

I recently had the chance to touch base with the man behind many iconic skateboarding images. Former Thrasher Magazine staff photographer, skate, snowboard, and freestyle frisbee enthusiast, and all around nice guy, Scott Starr. 

(All photos and captions by Scott)

Danny Way, not liking his run at a Powell Zone contest and taking it out on his board. Mid '90's I forget the year right now. 

How did you get into skate/action sports photography?

   Well I was always an artist and in High School designed the Yearbook covers and backdrops for plays and dances, I was always very creative. So when I started college I took mostly art classes and thought I wanted to get into graphic arts, but I just could never finish anything or sit still long enough. I was also very interested in everything. So I thought, what would be a job where I could work anywhere I wanted. I thought, be a photographer. I could work for Playboy magazine or for NASA, right? Photography was the one thing that almost everything uses. So after 2 years of college I dropped out and started working at a photo lab, the place where all film went to get developed after you dropped it off at the camera store or the drug store. I did this for a year and then realized it was time to go to photography school. So I looked into Brooks Photography School which was here in Santa Barbara. I moved from Louisiana to SB, CA in 1982. I didn't realize I was right in the middle of it all. I was a skateboarder since 1966 and even ran our local skateboard park, the Cajun Skateboard Park in 1979 before starting college that same year..and I loved all the action sports which at that time was called Alternative Sports, which is called Extreme Sports now that it's all mainstream. But I liked everything that was not mainstream, I never wanted to follow what everyone else was doing. As soon as I got here and started school, I started taking photos of all the sports I was into. Surfing, Skateboarding etc. I then met Chuck Barfoot, one of snowboarding's pioneers right when the sport was taking off, I actually got a job with him building snowboards and skateboards and I wanted to document the new sport of snowboarding too. This was before there was even a magazine for the sport. I ended up shooting the three photos that were used in the first snowboarding magazine in 1985. I had quit Brooks in 1984 and was shooting all the board sports but not really making a living yet. Then in 1989 I sent some photos to THRASHER magazine and they gave me the cover shot and then told me I was working for them full time. I was still shooting all the other sports and getting some photos published but once Thrasher started paying me, I really focused on skateboarding, by 1990 I had six covers out of the 12 that year and they offered me the job of photo editor and would have to move to San Francisco but I declined because I wanted to still shoot all the other sports and stay in SB. I didn't really try to be an action sports photographer, it's just what I did, I just sort of fell into it. 

Are you still taking skate photos? Or taking professional photos in general?

I rarely take photos now a days, I did start to shoot video in the mid 1990's and actually donated a lot of surfing footage to a local public access TV show called Waveline in 1995-96. At the same time I was working on a surfing video, but in '96 when going to Hawaii to film more, the airline employees stole my camera gear and that sort of changed everything I was working on since I had no insurance and right at that time the video format was changing from Hi-8 to MiniDV cameras. All my footage that I had filmed earlier was now obsolete and I was waiting for the new format to come out before buying a new video camera, which I did but I never finished the surf film. And now that everyone has a digital camera and it doesn't cost anything to take a photo, no one really wants to pay you anything anymore. Back in the day, you had to be very picky when you took photos, Every time you heard that click, it cost you 50 cents. That adds up. That would be over a dollar a photo now a days. You had to be really good back then and you had to have a little money before you made any money. Sometimes I would spend $100 in film, just to make $150 in the end after a photo was published three months later. So no, I don't take skate shots anymore. But what I do now is I am always researching and trying to find and save the lost movie films of the sports before they all fade or get tossed out. Most TV shows, commercials, short films that were made with surfing or skateboarding etc. are not on video or DVD and are being lost and thrown away every day. I decided to spend my time trying to save what was already shot, something another photographer put his time and money into that will just be forgotten about if I don't save it. I'm a film archivist now more than anything else.. Though you may have heard of my Taildevil Sparking device I invented a few years ago..  I have my finger in many skate, surf, snow, frisbee pies all the time.   

Being that you've been involved with skateboarding for so long do you have a favorite time in skateboarding? 

Well I would have to say the mid '80's right after skateboarding died the second time was my favorite period. There were not many parks left and the backyard ramp, pools, and ditches were the way to go. Skateboarding videos were just starting to be made, for me this was the best time. It was still young and outlawish and it was mostly about vert...sneaking into yards or places you should not be and getting out with a great photo that you wouldn't even be able to see until a few day later after you spent $20 to develop your rolls of film. Also, there were only a handful of skate photographers all learning from each other as the technology got better with cameras and skateboards. But right now my favorite decade of skateboarding is the 1960's. A lot of that history, photos, films are still lost and being found every day. So I search out more of the '60's stuff. I want those skaters to go down in history too.  I haven't even worried about organizing the photos I took, I guess that will come soon.

Also, I'm sure you have some great stories. Any that you would care to share?

I have many stories I can not share. But how about a story on my first Thrasher cover which was also my first real photo published in the magazine. I sent about 100 photos to Transworld Skateboarding in 1989 and they sent them all back saying, none were good enough. I then sent the same photos to Thrasher magazine and they picked a photo of Robbie Olheiser I shot at the Tea Bowl in Montecito and used it for the cover in March 1989.. So one magazine tells me that none are good enough and the next magazine says that one of them is the best photo they have that month and use it for the cover. That shows you how subjective it all is.. just depends on who is picking the photos that day. Plus I am sure there is no other photographer out there that got a cover on his very first try since the mags are a business and a family. Nothing is fair with how it all works, its politics and all about money or who the skater or photographer is. They will usually give the cover, center spread or any full page to the photographers who have been with the magazine for a long time. They need to take care of their family first before paying an unknown photographer; you usually have to pay your dues. I just lucked out..

Do you have a favorite photo you've taken (skate or other)?

I never really like my own photos because I can look at them and pick out what I would like to have done to make it better. You won't see any photos of mine on my walls. But I do like a few of them. I like my most famous one of Roger Muller in the Smurf Pool in Los Angeles. It won a Maggie Award for THRASHER and it has since become the most published skate photo ever. I'm not saying it's the best, but it has been used for everything from the cover of books, on a Jones Soda bottle, cover of a calendar, on a billboard in Italy for a motorscooter company, in a Patagonia Magazine ad and so much more. It's been kind of a game to see how many places I can get it published. 


What are your thoughts on the transition to Digital photography?

Well time marches on and things change, I never saw it coming since photography has been the same for over 100 years until digital. It's great now because everything can be documented and everyone can see the images right away no matter where they are as long as they are on line, not counting what is published in magazines. It's helped photographers that don't have a lot of money or the skill or luck to get published, it helps their work get seen. But it's over-saturated and I don't think images are worth what they used to. It's all throw away now. Photos now are just like air, they are everywhere. There are more photographers now but there are fewer professional photographers making a living with their photography. And I see photos that I know if I was using film, could never have been published or look as good, since now they can over saturate the color and Photoshop everything. You can be an ok photographer but be a master with Photoshop and have some amazing images. In the future our memories of right now will be a lot more colorful in our mind than they actually were. Most photos I see online did not look like that in real life. One thing I have to say is, I have a lot of images that were never quite good enough to be published in a magazine, they were too dark or slightly out of focus or the color was faded but with digital, I can now make them look better than they actually are and no one can tell. Something all digital photographers can do, with film, we weren't able to change things like that, what you got was what you got.

Eric Ricks, 1991

What advice do you  have any advice for any aspiring future skate photographers?

Advise for future skate photographers, hummm I would say if you plan on being in the business for a long time, then have something else to fall back on and also learn to morph into something else as times change. Even if you become a great photographer and start working for a magazine, chances are, you will only be on top for about five years, then you have to either become the photo editor or start your own magazine or skate company because it will all change down the road. As for your photography; always try shooting angles that no one else is shooting so that you can stand out. When I would go to a contest, I would find a high point to get an overall view and would always get that shot published. Also try getting the crowds in the shots. Turn around and shoot what is behind you when you have time. The people the styles, the cars etc will all change. In the future the cool shot will not be just the shot of the skater in the air flipping his board but it will be the shot that shows the whole area with the store that is no longer there and the people that are dead and gone etc. Those are the shots that you can sell in the future. The future wants to see how things looked back then, not that you got the same old kickflip that everyone took a photo of.  Also, think about what you are shooting. Plan it out, wait those 10 minutes for the sun to move out from behind the tree or the sky to turn a little more orange. You also need to have the skaters work with you. My best shots are of skaters that knew they had to call me when they found a great skate spot. I know plenty of great skaters that thought if they just skated good they would get great photos but some of those skaters were sort of dicks and I didn't want to deal with them. But the subjects have to work with the photographer, do what they ask of you. Direct the skaters to get what you want. I have skaters that tell me I didn't take many photos of them and I tell them, well you didn't call me and let me know you found a spot or wanted to work on getting a good shot of a certain trick etc.  I would even make a skater change his shirt to match something in the background or make them stand out. Of course you can now do all of this in Photoshop. So just shoot and learn from each photo, look at it and see what you could do better next time.  

For more great skate photos, check out Scott's Facebook page. Here are a few gems he's got posted there.. 

Rodney Mullen San Fran Dec '91 

Frankie Hill and Frank Hirata in Isla Vista Jan 1991

Eric Dressen San Francisco 1989 

Chris Senn Venice Beach, Ca Sept 1992


MIKE SANTAROSSA Powell Demo at the Santa Barabara Skateboard shop on De La Vina St. This Day the band PORN STAR played too. June 1995.

TONY HAWK at his Fallbrook home, Shot during the same session where i took the shot of him on the 10th Ann Issue of THRASHER, Shot Oct 8,1990 I remember it was my birthday when i drove down to shoot him.. Photo: Scott Starr

Johnny Oliver, last photo taken at the Powell Zone before they closed it down.  Not sure of the year. 

Frankie Hill somewhere in Ventura Nov 1991.I think this was a full page in Thrasher Mag at the time.

Dylan Gardner up the street from the Church of Skatan


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