Beyond The Lens: Interview with Jenna Selby
A Hemel Hempstead native, Jenna Selby started skating in 1998, around the same time that her interest in photography was developing. She spent many years shooting photos of female skaters for Cooler Magazine, alongside running Rogue Skateboards, now in their 10th year, and organising the annual Girl Skate Jam at Pioneer Skatepark since 2002! We caught up with Jenna as her film ‘Days Like These’, which will feature a selection of the industry’s top female riders from around the UK and Ireland, is being edited together ahead of the 5th December 2015 screening.
Always good to start at the beginning so tell us about the time you first wanted a board and how it came to be that you got hold of your first deck…
I met a girl called Dee Sansom through London clubs I used to go to in the late 90’s. We became good friends; she’d been riding for 10 years previous and persuaded me that I needed to buy a board. I found a Zorlak ‘H20’ deck for sale in an American zine and as I really liked the band and the price (it was only $20) I thought what a bargain. That was until I got hit with the import duty of £20. I got the rest of the set up, including wheels that resembled bearing coverings from Clarkes Skates in St Albans and had my first roll down the hill from the cathedral. I was hooked from there on in and went on to spend many evenings riding outside C&A in Watford. As Dee was from Slough I would meet her down at Southbank at the weekends.
And when did photography come into the equation… when did you first start picking up a camera and did you think that was the path you would follow professionally?
It was just one of those things that happened by chance. I was originally planning to study Geography at uni and had just started my second year of A-Levels. One day a friend asked if I wanted to come along with him to his photography evening class. I was given someone else’s negatives to work with – a shot of a cornfield – but from the moment I saw my first print appearing on the paper I knew that I wanted to become a photographer. I went into college the next day and signed up to A-level photography, crammed two years of work into one, it then went on to become my degree.
Your future literally appeared before your eyes! And now that it has become your vocation, how do you strike a balance between skateboarding photography, filming and paying bills?
My work is split between working as a photographer for companies and local councils and as a Photoshop Trainer. As I am a freelancer I can organise my time to work around photographing/filming skateboarding as well.
Sorted. What are your preferred camera equipment and lenses you work with, especially when you’re out shooting skateboarding?
I use the Canon 5D Mark 2; it’s a sturdy workhorse for both filming and photography. I’ve always loved Canon cameras, the way they feel and operate – I never got along with Nikons. It’s a bit like the PC/Mac thing – although they both do the same job one just works better with my brain. The two lenses I use on a regular basis are the 50mm f1.4 and the 15mm f2.8 fisheye. I also have a 300m lens as well as a couple of zoom lenses. I’m not sure I can say I have a particular favourite lens but I do tend to stick with the primes when shooting skating. I think it is more important for me as to which lens will give me the result I am envisaging with the skater and the environment that they are in, a bit like how you see something in the street as a skater and imagine what you could do on it – it’s the same for photography – if that makes sense? I used to shoot a lot of my skate images on film using the Canon T-90, my favourite lens then being the 85mm fd f1.2 lens (mainly because it was so beautiful to look through!) but in recent years with the turn around of images having to be a lot quicker for what we are doing and also the price of film/scanning going up – the balance has tipped more in favour of digital.
Yeah, that all makes perfect sense! Good tips. Along with the photography you also set up Rogue. When did you first start thinking about setting up a board company and and what were your hopes for it?
Towards the end of my degree in 2002 I was taken on as a rider for the newly formed UK Gallaz team (sister company to Globe) along with Lucy Adams, Julie Bevis, Ro Brannon, the Hesketh Twins and Laura Crane. The initial idea for promoting female riders around the world by Gallaz was brilliant and their main team of riders comprised of names like Vanessa Torres, Amy Caron and Jaime Reyes. They put out the first ever all female skate film: AKA Girl Skater and suddenly women were being invited to skate at all of the major comps.
Unfortunately though it seemed the only coverage we were given in the UK centred on health and fitness. Any interview we did, the answers would be twisted so much that in one interview for ES Magazine I was quoted as saying doing 10 ollies means that I can burn x amount of calories per session. I did wonder why they even bothered to ask us questions!
I became more and more frustrated with the way that female skaters were being portrayed and by the fact that the skate mags at the time were giving only very limited coverage if any. I started chatting to the other girls who I’d met around the comp circuit and I started to think perhaps if we could put our own team together, a: we would have more control over the coverage we received and b: if as a team we went to spots and parks on a regular basis, skate mags might be more likely to take notice of what was going on and give these girls and women proper coverage. It was also hoped that the team could act as a platform for female riders to become recognised for their talents and act as a stepping-stone to help them move onto other things.
In 2005 Rogue came about, the original team included Lucy Adams, Maria Falbo, Laura Crane, myself and Sadie Hollins.
And its been great to see how Rogue has continued to be around while things have evolved with regard to women and girls in skateboarding. It’s changing again now with more and more females being recognised for more than just health and fitness! There are some sick riders continuing to push the benchmark and challenge perceptions. How does being a female skater in the UK compare to how it did a decade ago?
I guess it has changed a lot in that time, mainly due to social media. 10 years ago there was a core group of faces on the female skate scene, there weren’t a huge amount of new riders coming through at the time. Then over the last few years, women started using Instagram and Facebook more to their advantage – setting up groups, letting people know what was going on in their local areas, hooking them up with other female riders etc and suddenly there seems to have been an explosion in numbers – especially with a load of groms coming through.
I have heard from some American friends that with the talks going on to include skating in the Olympics, the organisers of Street League will start having to include female riders in what they are doing as the committee have to present the ‘sport’ on an equal footing. Although I am in two minds as to whether it is a good thing, at the very least if it does present skating as something anyone can do (female or male) to the younger generation, that isn’t a bad thing.
The more it is out there the more it becomes the norm and social media has definitely helped push it out to a wider audience but yeah, preferably legit core means rather than the Olympics. Talking about coverage, you recently released a trailer for ‘Days Like These’. To what extent is it a Rogue Skateboards film, or a scene video highlighting female skating in the UK?
The last film we made started out as a Rogue film but ended up being a bit of a free for all – so I thought, that one worked so we should run this one along the same lines. DLT will be a UK and Irish female skate film, plus friends – the free for all has extended slightly further to Austria this time, with Julia Brueckler on board. It will include sections from all of the current Rogue riders as well as from seasoned favourites like Lucy Adams, Camilla Mullins, Stef Nurding and the new younger rippers Josie Millard and Ireland’s finest, a definite one to watch for the future Sabine Haller.
How much have you travelled and where did you head out to for the video, and what was the gnarliest situation you ran into while filming and travelling around?
I’ve recently been over to Seattle to film with Julia who killed every spot she went to! We’ve also been out to Budapest, down to Brighton, over to Wales, the Midlands and a fair bit in London. Over the summer there are trips planned to film with the northern ladies, up to Scotland and also over to Ireland.
For this video I have to admit it’s been pretty tame so far. I think the worst we’ve had really was the day out filming with Camilla Mullins and just getting kicked off every spot we went to within 2 minutes of arriving by very polite security guards – it makes it very difficult to refuse when they are being so nice and apologising for having to chuck us off!
Once you have all the content of films and photos to get out to the world, to what extent do you think that skateboarding media, videos and photos in magazines are important in furthering female skating?
It’s the same as it is for the guys – the more coverage there is can only be a good thing. The more coverage riders get the more the readership or audience can relate and take interest. You also create role models for the younger generation to take interest in – you only need look at the video parts out there: Elissa Steamer in Welcome to Hell, Alexis Sablone/Wonderful Horrible Life and Marissa Dal Santo’s section in Strange World to see how these have helped change views already.
When Cooler was taken out of circulation last year, it was a big loss. Although some of the lifestyle articles were sometimes a little questionable (I appreciate they had a market to hit though) it was the first magazine to have regular interviews and articles on female skaters from the UK and around the world. Double paged photographs of riders doing tricks and not just carrying their boards and interviews centred actually around their skating. The magazine did a lot to raise awareness of the profiles of riders out there and there has been a big hole left since it went.
Hopefully something will come along to fill the void and get things pushing onwards and upwards. What about female skaters in countries outside the US and UK.. how are they kicking it right now?
There are so many individual skaters like Julia Brueckler (Austria), Candi Jacobs (Netherlands), Evelien Bouilliart and (Belgium) who have all competed at the X-Games at one time or another and have been killing it for some years. There are strong scenes in Australia, other countries in Europe, Japan and South America especially Argentina with Girls Assault. Brazil seems to be churning out the main stage talent at the moment with the likes of Leticia Buffoni, Pamela Rosa and Gabi Mazetto who all placed in the top 10 at this years X-Games.
Yeah there’s some interesting things happening in the Brazil and Japan scenes. Elissa Steamer recently got inducted into the Skateboarding Hall Of Fame and joins the likes of Wendy Bearer Bull, Peggy Oki, Laura Thornhill Caswell, Patti McGee and Ellen O’Neal. Do you hope for a day where its just ‘skateboarder’ and not ‘female skateboarder’ or do you think being gender specific has value, benefits and importance?
Ideally it would be like how they approach it with Skateistan – skaters are just skaters. And I believe that most of the time this is true in skateboarding at a grass roots level. Unfortunately though with things like the lack of coverage, lack of female riders represented on teams you do come to realise that the only way we can change this is by making it gender specific. It’s not a right or wrong thing but just the way it is at the moment.
Coverage creates change. Back in 2009 you released ‘As If, And What?’. What advice would you give to someone embarking on making a full-length video?
Have a plan and system in mind. I made the first film with no real idea of what I was doing (I should say absolutely no idea) and after a year of filming, I spent 3 months trawling through tapes and tapes of footage. This time around I am downloading and cataloguing the footage within a day of filming. Also decide who the main riders are going to be – try and work with riders who understand what it involves to make a video (time and patience!) and give yourself a timeframe to work to. It is also useful to think early on about where you would like to show it when it is finished, if it is a well used space make sure you get in early to book it.
Rad advice for the budding next gen of filmmers! Let’s travel even further back in time… You’ve been taking photos at Southbank since the 90s. What are your memories from that time and how has the space changed since then?
I guess it felt more of a place for us rather than being a show for the public. It was a lot quieter around the river front back then compared to how it is now. You could use all of the space under the Festival Hall and we used to stay there well into the evening messing about on the different banks and chatting to other friends who we only saw at weekends when everyone could travel. No one was interested in skaters back then so we really were left to our own devices – looking back I do realise it really was a good time to experience the space.
Yeah it was a different experience. Each generation has their Southbank stories. What’s your favourite photo that you’ve taken at SB?
Probably the one of Caroline Dynibil sitting on the block – it was just one of those moments you capture when nothing has been set up, she was relaxed and the summer evening light was at its best and it just showed the enjoyment of just being out with your board for me.
And what about your favourite Southbank photo by someone else and why?
There was one shot by Richie Hopson, I can’t remember who the skater was but it was taken at night, back in the early 00’s. I remember it being one of those photos that made me think ‘I want to take images like that’. He was kind enough to give me some tips back when I was first starting out and that picture has always stuck in my mind.
Passing on and sharing the knowledge, a Southbank tradition! Finally, when can we expect to see the full edit of Days Like These come out? We’re hyped about it!
It’s earmarked for showing at the House of Vans on the 5th December with an accompanying photo exhibition.
Sick. We’ll be in attendance for sure! Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Jenna and hopefully soon we’ll just be talking about skateboarding instead of having to differentiate between genders. Skateboarding has the capacity to bring unity and equality!
All images by Jenna Selby. Check out these links for more Selby associated radness.