Worst photography experience:


I'm not really too into dwelling on the sour times these days, so I won't elaborate on this question too much. Let's just say though that watching something you've worked so hard on, for over five years, just completely fall apart, all because of greed and corporate ladder-climbing is pretty damn devastating. I'm totally over it now though thankfully.


Advice for taking a great photo:


Ummmm I dunno, there's no golden formula I'd say. Some of my personal favourite shots I've taken completely by accident or have just taken there in the moment. This continues to prove to me that you can't really pre-plan for the penultimate image-creation experience. If anything it usually happens when you least expect it. When it's unfolding there in front of you, the key thing is to see it and document it to your best ability. That's all you can do really.


I don't wanna sound like a know-it-all but I suppose some general run-of-the-mill “good advice” would be to just try and know your shit as best as you can. To know where every button on your camera is by touch sure helps. Invest in good glass because you either “buy nice or buy twice” (but try not to become too obsessed with gear). Pack and repack your bag until you can do it blindfolded. Always shoot in RAW (unless it's a stupidly long sequence). Learn about light and lighting, especially the sun (it's the greatest light source you'll ever use).


Never be afraid to ask a stranger if you can take their photo, the worst they'll ever say is “no”. Always shoot for fun but also know the value of what it is that you're creating, especially if someone is using your images to promote themselves or a brand they profit from. Timing is everything. Don't listen to anyone who thinks that the Nikon vs. Canon argument is worthy of a debate, it's not. Cameras are just tools, you are the craftsman.


Experiment as much as you can but don't get into a digital mess – always store work in date and project order. Making one folder on your desktop and labelling it “BMX” or “Summer” is a sure fire way to get into problems. Always back-up your best work and don't store everything all on one single hard drive (especially the one that's inside your computer, that's a disaster waiting to happen). Shooting film is pointless if you're not going to take the time to get it scanned well or clone the dust off. Cleaning a lens with a t-shirt is fine but remember to turn your DSLR off before you detach the lens. Remember to ride your goddam bike from time to time too. Not being a dick also helps.

  Nathan............   Beddows

Who is Nathan Beddows?


A Homo Sapien from the Planet Earth. I was born in the James Paget Hospital, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, United Kingdom on the 14th of June, 1984. I have been fortunate enough to travel to over 40 countries, have lived all over the UK as well as Australia for the whole of 2015 and New Zealand for a brief part of this year. I now reside in the wonderful city of Prague in the Czech Republic. From 2008 to 2013 I worked as a full time Editor/Photographer for Ride UK BMX Magazine. During this time I was involved in producing 13 magazines a year (12 monthly plus the annual BMX Basics Supplement Mag) printing 34,000 copies of the mag every single month distributed internationally, running Ride To Glory every year for 5 years running and also helping run the annual Ride UK Readers Awards Event, along with whatever else we did under the Ride UK umbrella at that time. I am now 32 Earth years old and have been riding BMX bikes since the age of 5. You can see more of my photographic work at www.nathanbeddows.com or on Instagram @nathanbeddows.


Why Prague and how do you keep busy these days?


Aside from the fact that it's just an amazing place to be, my girl decided to do her Masters degree here at Prague Uni so I decided to tag along with her. Earlier on this year I came back to the UK from over a year of travelling Aus/NZ. I spent the summer at my mums and although it was good to ride with all the lads again in Norfolk, I was honestly just so over being back in England. After you've lived abroad for a while it's hard to adjust back to the grim, expensive, TV-licensed reality of small-minded UK life. I got back literally right when the whole Brexit thing happened and I was just not interested in living there one bit after watching all the bigots vote their way into segregated stupidity. The window of time to go and live in Europe visa-free (hassle-free) was diminishing right in front of my eyes so I had to just up-sticks 'n leave. Honestly I still can't understand why so many people voted “Leave”, it's so dumb; why would you want to give up your right to free movement of people through the EU? That's such an amazing thing right there to want to give up. All the politicians who led the Brexit have now done one and now we have some old troll in charge of the country who didn't even get voted in! What kind of a fucking democracy is that? I don't wanna be a part of that. Anyway, enough said.

Ben Lewis, Crankarm Grind, Simpel Session, Tallinn, Estonia, 2014


Sometimes you just get lucky with the composition and the colours. The light was fading fast on this one so I ended up shooting it at iso 4000 (1/1250 @ f3.5). It was seriously freezing cold outside though, like minus 10c or something like that, so there was no way we were gonna spend time setting-up flashes on a shot like this; it just had to get done before the sun dipped. Obviously I pushed it a lot in post too but the fact that you can do that these days with modern DSLRs and fast primes (Nikon 50mm F1.4) is just amazing, I seriously love how far the technology has come. This was shot on my old Nikon D800 but this summer I got ahold of a D810 which has an even better sensor with more latitude. Long gone are the days of trying to shoot everything at iso 100, there's just no need anymore, especially now we view everything on small screens.

Years shooting:


Since I was a young child, so that's probably well over 25 years now. Fuck I'm old, how did that happen?! Haha. So yeah, I was first published in Ride UK Mag back in 2004, issue 78, so as a professional photographer, that's over 16 years now.


What got you into taking photos?


No one specific thing but I definitely need to give a shout-out to my mum for originally furnishing me with a 35mm camera and film to put in it back in the day and you know, giving birth to me and single-handedly raising me. Mum's the word.


First photography related memory:


Again, I can't exactly remember one specific thing, however I definitely remember being enthralled as a young child by the ability to document the world around me with a camera. It's something that's totally taken for granted nowadays. As a child I remember that the 36 shots available on my small red plastic 35mm film camera were all very precious and needed to be used sparingly. Despite this fact, I could choose what I wanted to document and was aware of that fact. Like I said, it might not be a big deal these days but at the time I remember feeling that it was really empowering; that feeling of choice. Fast forward to 2016 and now a tatty leather-bound photo album serves as the portal to those ancient memories of mine; washed-out 6x4 prints of my family, birthdays, pets, old BMX bikes, school trips, snowmen, trips to the seaside etc. etc. These images are all very precious to me.


Best photography experience:


It's hard to select one specific one from all the time I've been doing this. I would probably say that the first time I had work printed in a magazine would definitely be up there, mainly because I had physically developed the shots myself and posted them off to Ride UK; so it was all a very tangible experience. Seeing the mag next month adorning the shelves of WH Smiths, opening up the issue for the first time, smelling the gloss of the fresh paper, seeing my name in black & white and then a month later getting a signed cheque back in the mail from Mr Mark Noble himself...holy shit...this was back in 2004 so magazines held a way more significant role back then. I was just 19 years old and studying Art at University, using the Dark Room on the side to develop my own BMX photos. I remember it was all just so epic, I bought a new lens with the money that I'd earned. I day-dreamed about a future where I could carry out this activity, that I loved so much, as a full time job. For a scruffy teenager into BMX and cameras I'd definitely say that this was way up there as a “Best Photography Experience”.

Nearly all of Nathan Beddows' printed works, including Ride UK BMX Magazine, issues 78 to 177, Soul BMX Mag, The Albion, Transworld Ride BMX Mag, Freedom BMX Mag, Red Bull illume 2013, Pens Are My Friends, Front Magazine etc. etc.

Selection of Nathan Beddows' Magazine Cover Shots.

Some people say BMX media is inferior to that of skateboarding; that skateboarding was and still is leading the way in photography and video while BMX is constantly playing catch up without its own identity. What are your thoughts on this?


This is a very expansive and very interesting question, so lemme just break it down a bit first with a few pointers before we get really dug in. Before I begin I really just gotta say however that the term “It is what it is” is really applicable here. We can go round the houses a million times talking about this topic but ultimately the truth is undeniable and inescapable. If at any time you get bored of reading the following ramble, please just refer back to that above statement because it truly is what it is.


Okay, so firstly, yes your statement essentially is true: Their media is superior; there's no denying that. It always has been. Think about the size and influence of a media outlet like Thrasher compared to say TCU or Ride or Vital. There's literally no contest there at all. Greater following, greater influence and way more staff.


Secondly, there's this notion you've suggested that BMX is “without its own identity and is always playing catch-up”. Well that's also kinda true for a few reasons. I wouldn't say that BMX is completely without its own identity, that would technically be impossible. However its identity is highly highly fragmented, that much is undeniable - way more fragmented than skating's is. I'd personally say that BMX just wears many hats. Think of all the different styles and variations of BMX that exist today – street, park, racing, flatland, trails etc. Think about how different they all are from each other, it's quite a lot right? Especially when you consider that BMX is just one subset of the cycling industry in general (a very niche and small one at that). Skating is its own entire industry, it sits alone as a solo entity. Now let's think about how different all that BMX stuff going on in BMX looks to a total outsider? For a newcomer to BMX, all this “stuff” could probably appear quite difficult to get to grips with, especially compared to the simplicity of skating which has had its own identity formed and fortified for a long time now. In a nutshell, the more times you cut the cake up, the less people can have a bite of it.

Lindus Pass, New Zealand, 2016


This is just a crappy iPhone 4 photo of my Trek touring bike that carried me through New Zealand earlier-on this year. The Lindus Pass was particularly breathtaking, I have such fond memories of cycling along it. Sweating. Breathing. Camping. Living. Drinking water from streams, with mountains and nature 360 degrees all around me. Just purely existing and experiencing one of the most wonderful countries left in the world.

In this photo I've got all my worldly possessions attached to that bike. This is what I'm all about these days – keeping it lightweight and trying to enjoy the experience as much as I can. Back in the Ride UK monthly magazine days I was often found in airports or in a car toting an enormous Lowe Pro AW Rover 600 bag. I'd carry over 35kgs worth of flashes, lenses, spare shit, MF setups, spare DSLR body, 17” laptop, tools for the rider – Lock Stock the fucking lot. These days I just try and keep it simple. A single DSLR body and a few primes. It's honestly all you need to enjoy photography.

Bas Keep, Sadberge Reservoir, 2009


Like I mentioned earlier, having been able to witness some of the most unbelievable feats of bike riding and being tasked with documenting it has truly been an honour. This was definitely one day, back in 2009, that I will never forget; the day that Bas Keep hit a 25ft high cobbled-brick vert quarter from being towed in by a motorbike. The sheer height out of it that Bas was getting was just ridiculous. When you really break it down, thinking about all the amazing shit that modern bike riding has produced, you still really can't just beat the simplicity of watching someone blast the shit out of a quarter; it's seriously just timeless.

The Hasselblad 501cm and Carl Zeiss CF 30mm Fisheye used to shoot the medium format shot of Bas Keep. The Ride UK cover shot was captured on a Nikon D3 and a Nikon 80-200mm F2.8.

Kriss Kyle, Ride UK Warehouse Project, 2012


I've always just really liked this shot. Everything about it is just sweet and crispy; it all worked out well I think. Kriss was always a great rider to shoot with and he's taken his abilities so very far; the Kaleidoscope edit that he was involved with reaches out to people who don't normally interact with BMX, something that very few riders ever do. Shooting with any of the BSD team in general or going on trips with them was always really fun and that week at the warehouse just went particularly well with them winning best edit.


As I mentioned earlier and as you can see in these other shots here, I used to love all my camera gear. The bells and whistles of still photography. All paid for with high-interest bank-loaned money. I was certainly unrelenting in my pursuit of quality gear ownership. At times I felt it defined my position and status as a photographer, my gear I mean. I was so silly to think that. Ultimately it's fruitless and foolish to go down that path. I realised this eventually.


Selling most of my gear back in 2014 was very hard, I felt at times like I was losing my entire identity. At age 30 I went through this crazy phase of wanting to sell everything that I had ever acquired and that I no longer had a use for. I wanted to go to Australia for a year and just live out of a back-pack. That life purge ended up being one of the best things I have ever done. If you ever get the chance to read the book, “Stuffocation” please do it, it will change your entire outlook on life.

Left: A small selection of my photography gear goodies.

Right: Elinchrom Quadra Rangers complete with a couple of years worth of BMX stickers.

Mike Hoder, Texas Toast 2013


There are certain golden moments in life that you just can't explain. Moments when pure magic just happens in front of your very eyes.


I remember that the seconds in time leading up to this shot were all in super slow-motion for me. I could see the orange beam of Texan sun streaming in through the rafters overhead. I could see Hoder lifting his beer up, about to obviously pour it all over himself in a crescendo of frothy celebration. I could see the drips forming in the air and quickly exposed the camera for the shadow. I shot from the hip...and prayed that I had got it. When I saw the shot appear on the back of the camera for the first time I knew I had captured something very special; something that I could never ever recreate again.

Denise Baca, Sydney, Australia 2015


So with my recent life-plan of getting back to basics, I lived in Australia for the entire year of 2015. Living out of a back-pack and a bike bike, I no longer even owned a proper camera bag. Aus was just such a trip, I managed to drive from the East coast to West coast with Nick Steben; I literally had the best time ever in the land down under and met some amazing people. For the most part I hung out and lived with Denise Baca, we'd get up to all sorts of antics together; riding, spot-hunting, going to the skatepark, drinking and messing about like kids. It was basically a laugh riot and about as far away from the BMX industry and magazine publishing as you could imagine. These two photos just make me smile a lot and remember those good times. Just really simple photos, no flashes or anything fancy, just the DSLR and a few primes – it's honestly all you need.

Broken Flash Stands


Sometimes I miss shooting BMX full-time for a living. It was so much fun for so many different reasons and all the free travel was obviously amazing. However, everything in life eventually evolves and invariably you can't keep doing the same thing for your entire existence...nor would you want to. A quick glance at these broken Flash Stands reminds me that it wasn't all fun and games though, especially as you'd always have to foot the bill for all the breakages and losses. Riders would just assume you were rich because you had a big bag of expensive camera toys to tote about and that because you were earning money out of them. It was obviously never that black & white though, life never is. Still, I wouldn't have changed this adventure I've been on for the world; I am grateful for it all. After I took this photo, I chucked the Flash Stands into the recycle bin and moved the fuck on with my life.

‘Seeing the mag next month adorning the shelves of WHSmiths, opening up the issue for the first time, smelling the gloss of the fresh paper, seeing my name in black and white and then a month later getting a signed cheque back in the mail from Mr Mark Noble himself... Holy shit!’

Saturday Snaps are intended to be short, mainly visual, interviews with photographers and videographers that provide a glimpse into the unique way that individual views BMX and the wider world around them. As such they don’t require intros. However this is a little different; more in tune with a full-length interview.


Nathan Beddows has much to say and I’m totally cool with that, giving his prominence in the industry and extensive experience having worked full-time in BMX media. He provides a window into a world many have dreamt of but few have lived. If you have a little time you’ll find it worth reading the article about running a BMX website alongside this to gain a greater perspective of some of the topics covered here.

‘Don't listen to anyone who thinks that the Nikon vs. Canon argument is worthy of a debate, it's not. Cameras are just tools, you are the craftsman.’

‘To be told by someone else that you've created an image which has moved them just means the world to you, it really does.’

Photography highlight/achievement:


Being printed in the Red Bull illume 2013 Book was pretty deece. I guess any Cover Shot on a magazine was always a good buzz. Creating a coffee-table book with Jon Burgerman was cool too. Anything printed is generally awesome.


Also, any time that anybody has told me that a shot I took was their favourite photo is always a personal stand-out. Some people have told me to my face that the Bas Keep Air image at the Sadberge Reservoir was their favourite ever BMX magazine cover shot, whilst others have told me that the Mike Hoder beer spray image was their favourite ever BMX photo they've seen. Being told these things from different individuals just makes you glow inside so much. Touching people's lives through your own work is what drives any artist. To be told by someone else that you've created an image which has moved them just means the world to you, it really does.


I gotta say though, whilst I'm having my five minutes, that I honestly didn't realise it at the time but the period that I was working in BMX was seriously a golden era for BMX Photography as a discipline - The mid-noughties up until a few years ago – all of it was just so damn epic. The transition into digital but continuation of analogue styles in BMX photography, as everyone started cutting their teeth and getting really good at their craft, it was just so sick to watch unfold. The actual level of riding was beginning to go absolutely nuts too, getting to shoot it at that particular time was incredible – I have seen some riders first hand do such mad feats on their bikes – what an absolute honour to be entrusted with documenting it. Getting paid to create the images in a full time capacity and most importantly, see them end up in physical publications was just amazing. At the time it just felt like business as usual, but now upon reflection I can see just how good it was back then.


I think collectively all the BMX photographers working at that time subconsciously fed off of each other's work. No one's ever wrote down the actual rules of the craft, but yet somehow we all knew what they were. You'd never see too much copying but you could definitely see conventions and styles beginning to develop and grow in certain ways collectively. I mean just think about how different BMX photography from the 70s, 80s and 90s looks compared to how it does now, it's definitely blossomed in its own right alongside the actual riding. The importance and significance that the images held in the realm of the BMX media over those years and also in the minds of the riders who wanted to participate in shooting them was just immense. The cover-shots, the print ads, the editorial, the posters, the DVD/VHS covers; all of it. It truly was a golden era, we just didn't realise it at the time.

‘I think collectively all the BMX photographers working at that time subconsciously fed off of each other's work. No one ever wrote down the actual rules of the craft, but yet somehow we all knew what they were. You'd never see too much copying but you could definitely see conventions and styles beginning to develop and grow in certain ways.’

Why do you take photos?

To document.

To preserve.

To capture.

To cherish.

To make others happy.

To savour the moment.

To celebrate what you live for and to celebrate life.


Selected photos:

‘I feel like the story-telling element has begun to disappear from the BMX media too. It's all just basic descriptions of edits, status updates or boring news-bites. Whilst that might not seem like a big deal, it definitely aids in losing a big part of the mystique and magic that goes hand-in-hand with the ever-evolving story of BMX.

‘When the BMX industry was arguing about what size to actually make a bottom-bracket, the skate industry was just steaming on ahead selling boards and apparel by the truck load. BMX seriously lagged behind on this front, all to its detriment.’

In terms of keeping busy, well let me just say first that Prague is insanely cheap. A 0.5ltr bottle of beer is like just 40p here, the public transport is super cheap (about 80p for a ticket into the centre) and my rent is less than £200 a month, with bills included. There's cool spots and a few sweet parks, just watch that recent Federal Loose Change edit to see whats up. In terms of work I still try to make a little bit of money from photography where I can - like shooting weddings, submitting editorial to photography magazines (Like Practical Photography Mag) and selling little bits of stock photography online here and there. Obviously these days it's incredibly hard to make the same kind of money I used to from photography, it's just not as lucrative as it used to be at all; you just can't get around that fact...but then again I also spend a lot less money on it these days too. From time to time I'll do other odd jobs to top up the funds pot, like over in the summer in England and in Aus I did a lot of labouring work on building sites. It kinda sucks getting up early and having to work alongside morons every day, but the monies good and it's always paid regularly – which ironically used to be my biggest gripe about being a photographer full-time in the BMX industry – having to wait months chasing-up unpaid invoices. I seriously don't miss shit that at all! Haha. I once waited 9 months to finally get paid from a certain American BMX mag. What a ball-ache. It's the same common gripe about the BMX industry you hear from literally every single media guy involved: delayed-payment for services already rendered. It honestly puts people off working in it after a while. Anyway, that's enough of that.

‘Honestly I still can't understand why so many people voted “Leave”, it's so dumb; why would you want to give up your right to free movement of people through the EU? That's such an amazing thing right there.’

Three favourite photographers:


Rutger Pauw – Super professional Red Bull photographer. Always admired the way he shoots and his post-production style. I have been honoured to work alongside him periodically over the years. He's always got some fancy tricks up his sleeve or something interesting to discuss regarding photography. I almost feel like he doesn't quite get the recognition that he deserves as his name isn't too familiar with a lot of riders. Just check him out though, his work speaks volumes and he's a really interesting guy. He can do a mean hang 5 too.

www.rutgerpauw.com


Vince Perraud – Cool, beer-drinking French guy with a laid-back style and super good eye for natural light. Has created some amazingly iconic BMX photos over the years. I used to always enjoy receiving his submissions in for Ride UK editorial and hanging out with him at all the Euro contests back in the day. Vince is the man.

www.vincentperraud.com Saturday Snaps interview with Vince


Rob Dolecki – Rob's Medium Format work in the mid-noughties used to inspire me so fucking much. Always superbly executed, he's managed to paint this amazing, evolving story of raw East Coast US riding for a long time now, particularly of the Animal Bikes crew around NYC/New Jersey and of the trail scene in PA. I had the pleasure of meeting Rob a few years ago; he's a real nice down to earth chap.

www.doleckivisuals.com


Sorry Milan, I know you said just three dudes, but I gotta throw George Marshall, Walter Pieringer, Ricky Adam, Gutstains, Fred Murray, Devin Feil and Benson into the mix too. They're all so talented and inspiring, it's a shame that some of them no longer shoot BMX at all. 


Also, watching Bakos, Joe Bailey, Robin P and Fooman all come up and progress into sick BMX photographers over the years was awesome to see too. I get inspired by a lot of different people and being able to see all the new submissions coming into Ride UK every month would always keep my eyes filled with fresh goodness. Some of the BMX filmers out there are also awesome photographers too, I would definitely throw Matty Lambert, Rich Forne, Navaz and Will Evans into that bracket; they all have the eye to shoot a mean still.

‘These days it's incredibly hard to make the same kind of money I used to from photography, it's just not as lucrative as it used to be at all.’

It's sad to say that it's trailed off a bit in the last few years but the significance of the “BMX photo” has undeniably lessened. Adam22 once said to me a few years ago that he felt like “BMX doesn't need glossy, well-executed photos anymore” and as much as I hated him for saying it at the time, I had to admit that he was right; it really doesn't anymore. Whilst they're still nice to see, they're just not paramount to conveying the message these days.


Personally, my own life has gone off in other directions now and I don't follow BMX media as much as I used to. In all honesty, it just looks a little bit weak from where I'm sitting sometimes. The mags have all pretty much gone now. The overall aesthetic level in photos has gone way down. Media outlets and riders are just happy to use screengrabs as photos now; it's pretty sad really. Very few brands are really willing to fund BMX photography anymore.


Also, I feel like the story-telling element has begun to disappear from the BMX media too. It's all just basic descriptions of edits, status updates or boring news-bites. Whilst that might not seem like a big deal, it definitely aids in losing a big part of the mystique and magic that goes hand-in-hand with the ever-evolving story of BMX. To me it just seems like Jean Baudrillard's Hyperreality Theory has now finally come true. We're stuck in a media loop. Everything has been done and now nothing seems new, shocking or different anymore. Rodeo Peanut's efforts to call out trick-biting at certain spots I can totally relate to Baudrillard's book Simulacra and Simulation. Authorship and ownership has been lost, abandoned or forgotten. Everything is just a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, with no original source point. Through this cycle we will eventually lose authenticity.


“The media represents a world that is more real than the reality that we can experience. People lose the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. They also begin to engage with fantasy without realizing what it really is.

They seek happiness and fulfilment through the simulacra of reality, e.g. media and avoid the contact/interaction with the real world.”

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, published in 1981.


If you're wondering why you've heard of that book title but don't perhaps remember where from, well, it's the hollowed-out book where Neo keeps his secret stash of discs in his bedroom from the movie, The Matrix.

‘I honestly didn't realise it at the time but the period I was working in BMX was seriously a golden era for BMX Photography as a discipline.’

This point above now leads us nicely onto the actual manufacture of BMX bikes compared to skateboards, something which I believe has been key to skatings overall success in the last 40 years. Something which helped propel it far further than BMX in terms of industry success and also in the size and progression of its media infrastructure, because remember that everything in an industry feeds off of each other; it's all interlinked. So if manufacturers and brands are successful, selling a lot of product to end-consumers (regardless of if they're “skaters” or not) then there's obviously gonna be way more money in the pot to pay the athletes, to put on trips, to fund the media and basically just do more cool shit. It's cyclical, it all feeds each other.


So anyway, if we rewind the clocks back to the late 70s/early 80s, the skate industry made divisive steps towards standardising the actual design of the skateboard and the way it was going to be manufactured. They actually all sat down and figured it out. Meetings of industry minds helped pave the way back in the day. Skateboard deck widths would be measured in inches, you'd have four wheels, measured in millimetres, eight bearings, two trucks, same size nuts, a piece of grip-tape etc. etc. It was very simple and most importantly, standardised across the industry from the early days. Everyone was on the same page and anyone wanting to get involved would also need to be on that same page. Sure there was a few variations here and there on what could be done, but essentially the end product was basically the same. Nothing was in beta mode, it was standardised and finalised pretty much from the get-go. The biggest selling points for new parts were based on company image and the actual branding/graphics/pro-affiliation used to market the product.


Now let's think about the manufacture of BMX bikes. So although BMX may seem fairly standardised nowadays with specs and appearances at a fairly plateaued point in the evolution of its design, you could argue that it's manufacturing processes and designs are still being revised and tweaked annually. Companies are still trying to reinvent the wheel here and there. And although the end concept of a BMX bike has finally left the beta stage of development, it's definitely been a very rocky road up until this point. Anyone who's been riding for more than 15 years will have dealt with a few different variations of headsets, bottom-brackets, frame geometries etc. etc. I know I have.


I mean just think about how crap BMX bikes used to be and how much junk filled the industry from bullshit companies back in the day? Think about how long it took everyone just to realise that bars should be taller than 7 inches high and for frames to weigh less than 8lb? You had a period in time when everything was way too flimsy and broke all the time in BMX followed by a period when everything was monstrously overbuilt and weighed a ton. It's been a very slow and tedious evolution really. 


Speaking of which, you can still buy a brand new complete BMX bike and have the front axles sized differently to the back ones (which are in turn different sized from the now standard industry size of 17mm), what the fuck is that about? These same shitty complete Walmart bikes that get pumped out still come with tyres you can't inflate more than 45psi and frames made of Hi-ten steel. Pretty embarrassing and pretty crap right? Definitely no good for a kid starting out. Well folks it's 2016 and this shit is still happening. Someone somewhere is making money off of it though.


It's been a long process getting all the companies involved in BMX to get on the same page and for the gimmicky ones with more money than sense to finally fizzle out. The list of differences in terms of the manufacture of the products has been really wide ranging over the years too – everything from how your seat connects to your seatpost to what size a stembolt is has been argued over, revised and manufactured in numerous different ways. For an outsider getting into BMX this must have been really annoying and very confusing.


Compare this story to skatings story and now can you see the picture I'm trying to paint? When the BMX industry was arguing about what size to actually make a bottom-bracket, the skate industry was just steaming on ahead selling boards and apparel by the truck load. BMX seriously lagged behind on this front, all to its detriment. For example, you could go and find a 15yr old skateboard in someone's shed, take it up the skatepark, skate it and no one would know any fucking different. Imagine doing that with a BMX?

‘They (the skate industry) just did it all before the BMX industry; they ensured their dudes got paid well, were held onto and appreciated. All the old school Skate Media are all still around working today. Compare this to BMX and it's pretty rare for any BMX filmer or photographer to be around for longer than 10 years.’

In terms of cost a BMX bike typically costs anywhere from 7 to 10 times more than a skateboard. With way more physical components on a BMX the potential of breakages/replacements is also a lot higher too. It requires a lot more maintenance and more specialist tools. It's just overall a lot more difficult and expensive for a new consumer to get to grips with. With skating you pretty much just buy one multi-tool and you're good to go.


For the average skater, simply having loads more of your disposable income available to spend on other skate-related stuff, such as apparel and consumable media, really helped the industry to grow exponentially quicker than the BMX industry. Especially back in the mid to late 90s and then into the 2000s when both industries were really beginning to blossom. It's all about having more money to put back into the pot. BMX dragged its heels throughout its early years because of this complicated and un-standardised product it was trying to flog.


With skating also having a much larger focus on the design aspect of their commercial appeal (because ultimately what really makes skateboards all different from each other, the deck design underneath the board), this “image first” approach became paramount in the skate industry and elemental to its success. Skate brands were out there hiring designers and artists to help come up with graphics concepts and board designs. For the skate industry the design aspect was the crucial sales element, it had to be good! For the BMX industry it was often just an afterthought. BMX companies often just opted for the classic stencil font and some skulls to complete the final decal design. This has always been the case and still is today. I mean, not to call anyone out, but one of the most successful and popular park-guy frame companies out there still promotes itself with a disgusting tribal tattoo logo as its main logo. It's the kind of design that if you actually saw tattooed on someone you would gather your friends around to point and laugh at because it looks so archaic. Meanwhile the skate industry makes coffee-table books about the history and diversity of deck graphics over the years...you see where I'm coming from?


Having all this creative talent in one industry helped prop up its entire media machine in general, both monetarily and in terms of the size of the talent pool. By the entire machine I mean the magazines, the brands, the filmers, photographers, designers, artists...the whole damn lot. I mean just think about how ground-breaking and visually amazing some skate videos have been over the years? You could seriously play Lakai Fully Flared to anyone who didn't know about skating right now, today, and they would be blown the fuck away by how cool it is. That video is now nearly 10 years old. Try and find a BMX video from 2007 that holds that kind of longevity or mass-appeal.


In terms of the nitty-gritty details of skate photography, they were the early adopters of on-location lighting, of using Medium Format photography, using square fisheyes and they also made the transition into digital photography quicker back in the early days – the list of shit they did first is endless really. They just did it all before the BMX industry; they ensured their dudes got paid well, were held onto and appreciated. Atiba, Ty Evans, Arto, Blabac and all the old school Skate Media are all still around working today. Compare this to BMX and it's pretty rare for any BMX filmer or photographer to be around for longer than 10 years...or even most pro riders for that matter. In skating, “Going Pro” is a seriously big deal. Most brands will make an Ad just about that fact. In BMX you can be a teenager riding for just a couple of years before you land a signature frame off of the back of a few well-viewed web edits. If a company owner thinks your name will sell a few frames that's all that matters. Again, do you see this picture I'm trying to paint here?

What's even sadder now is that BMX is beginning to further eat itself alive by cutting-out the BMX shops and distros as certain brands think that they can sell their own product direct.

Skateboard apparel and clothing completely reached out into the masses. It reached mainstream culture in a big BIG way, I mean bloody Justin Bieber, Rihanna and a whole host of other non-skating celebrities wear Thasher T-shirts. When you have that kind of mass-appeal in selling clothing, you are only going to have that kind of mass-appeal money that comes along with it.


Now lets think about BMX apparel... Well, aside from a very select handful of companies, there is very little appeal in BMX clothing for anyone. Even BMXers don't wear or buy it often. In fact, clothing aside, the BMX industry very rarely ever sells anything to anyone outside of its own core demographic.


Can you see the picture in its entirety now? It's been a hard picture to paint because there are so many layers to it, but that's honestly the way it is. It's one big mathematical equation really. On one hand you've had an industry, the skate industry, that has been very profitable and has in turn fed that money back into its media thus making it more creative and visually appealing. Paying its media/graphics guys more, putting more emphasis on design and appearance, using image to sell product and just attracting so much more creative talent. Its had a much simpler end product for a longer amount of time, all standardised years ago. With this wider appeal you reach out to the masses, you sell more, you profit more, you create more; it's a no-brainer really.


And then on the other hand you've got a complicated industry, dogged by bad design, slow evolution and lagging standardisation. Underfunded, short-shelf-life media guys. A niche audience with products that don't sell outside of its own demographic. This all adds up to that overall picture of a struggling, slowly developing BMX industry. Skate led their way and we just played catch-up, that's the sad truth really. What's even sadder now is that BMX is beginning to further eat itself alive by cutting-out the BMX shops and distributors as certain brands think that they can sell their own product direct. Whether you agree or disagree with that business model, only time will tell on how that one plays out.


Despite what you've read above, I personally don't think one industry is better than the other. True, from a media perspective a bit more longevity and a more reliable source of income would have been a bit nicer. However on the other hand I really appreciated BMX's tatty DIY appeal and diversity in riding styles, because as a photographer it's made it a really interesting and fascinating subject to document over the years. Being able to physically access a much wider range of terrains was what got me into riding to begin with. I wanted to explore all of the world around me, not just be confined to finding smooth tarmac in my city to skate on. I preferred riding bikes and the BMX scene in my hometown just looked cooler to me as a teenager. I feel like this is probably the case for a lot of other riders as well, however in terms of what has been a more profitable industry with more advanced media and what hasn't, well there's only one clear winner (and I'm afraid it's not BMX).


It just is what is.

‘Being able to physically access a much wider range of terrains was what got me into riding to begin with. I wanted to explore all of the world around me, not just be confined to finding smooth tarmac in my city to skate on.’