The Unique Worldview of a Skateboarding Photographer

Dennis Scholz on capturing the interplay of architecture and skating

Words By Jonny Tiernan

There are some things that, once experienced, have the potential to change the way you see the world, permanently. Skateboarding is one such thing. As soon as you have understood that ledges, handrails, steps and more can be repurposed for grinding, sliding and flipping off or over, you never look at your surroundings in the same way again. Photographer and experienced skater Dennis Scholz understands this keenly.

Starting out as a skateboarder before making the transition to skateboard photographer, Dennis interprets the world around him in a unique way. His images encompass way more than just what trick is being performed; they reveal the beauty of the interplay between urban architecture and skateboarding. Ahead of his photographic exhibition Facades of Skateboarding, he took the time out to let us know more about his journey from a skater filled with passion and enthusiasm to a respected professional photographer.

Below: Dennis Scholz, backside lipslide // portrait

You were a skateboarder before you were a photographer, what was it that made you start taking pictures? Skateboarding is so beautiful and complicated at the same time, so there’s this one point in every skateboarder’s life that brings up the question: ‘How the hell does the trick look when I do it?’ Then you and your friends usually start filming each other trying to do stuff that looks sick on video.

I enjoyed that a lot. Besides that, skateboard magazines always fascinated me like nothing else. It was like Christmas every month when I got the new Monster Skateboard Magazine in my hands; flipping the pages, seeing epic photos and reading about skateboarding always got me so hyped to go out. So yeah, I wanted to try taking photos too. I got my hands on my parents’ digital camera and started experimenting. In 11th grade my art teacher started a photography project in school, she was so passionate about it and really got me interested in photography – still love her for that, best teacher ever!

Do you think being a skateboarder is important to being a good skate photographer? Most definitely, yes. I think it’s important that the skater I’m shooting with trusts me and he’s sure I know what I’m doing, that I know skateboarding. You really have to have a feeling for how things work in skateboarding, and if the skater doesn’t feel that you know that, there’s rarely going to be a good photo. Personally, I will keep skating as long as I’m shooting skateboarding; one aspect doesn’t work without the other for me.

Is there a particular process that you follow each time you are out on a shoot? When it comes to shooting skateboarding, I would say not really. It totally depends on the situation, spot and the skater you are shooting. The circumstances can be so different from spot to spot, which makes it impossible to follow a particular process every time. But in general, I’d try to skate the spot a little bit with everybody, have fun and when there’s a trick I see coming up, I’d check my surrounding areas for the best angle. Sometimes the most awkward perspective is the best!
When shooting anything other than skateboarding, especially being booked for a job, I always stick to a particular process of getting the shoot going. Communication with clients, making everybody involved feel comfortable, showing the client you’re not a dumbass, all that carries the same importance as the final image. I also see myself extending techniques that skateboarding taught me to other fields of shooting, which I find quite exciting. Photography is so complex and challenging in every way, the diversity makes it such a great job.

Below: Vladik Scholz, nollie heelflip // Flo Westers, frontside flip

Do you mainly pre-plan the shots you are going to take, or is it more spontaneous? That also depends. In skateboarding, it can go either way. At a certain point, especially working on features for magazines, you really start planning and selecting spots that fit the skater and the image of the feature. But then there’s those days you just cycle around the city with your friends, exploring places you haven’t seen before, skating no matter what pops up, not knowing what to expect from the day. Sometimes those days make the best pictures.

In other shootings apart from skateboarding, pre-planning is everything. You mostly have to deliver a specific image; the client booked you and you better plan how to get there. On larger productions, with a lot of people involved, you really got to stick to time tables and preplanning, but as long as there’s room for that I’m always the guy to get a little spontaneous twist in a shooting. That’s what makes you stand out.

Skateboarding makes you see the world in a very special way.

Has being a skateboarder and skateboard photographer changed the way you see architecture? Skateboarding makes you see the world in a very special way. Places and things that are totally irrelevant for the mass of people in society can mean everything to you. Being a skateboarder, you have a very specific approach to architecture, which gets even more specific when you are a skateboarding photographer. It’s a lot about aesthetics and showing places in a way that regular people wouldn’t appreciate.

What do you think makes for a great skateboarding photograph? Is it the trick, the setting, a combination of both? I feel like a great skateboarding photograph is a synthesis of the arts – choosing the right trick on the right spot and having a photographer find the right angle to make this piece of art turn out the best way, acknowledging the skater and his movements.

Below: Flo Westers, backside flip // Patrick Rogalski, frontside noseslide

How did you go about selecting the images for this exhibition? Was it a hard process? It was a really intensive process. I wanted to create an outstanding concept that contains a series of photographs that on the one hand speak for themselves, and on the other hand form a matching series. I noticed I was preferring a specific style in shooting skate photos lately, so I thought about how to use that impulse to form a series of pictures.
The concept Facades of skateboarding includes two topics: facades in this specific case is a synonym for the aesthetic combination of architecture and skateboarding, as well as for the different emotional phases one experiences through skateboarding. It’s my approach to show the world what skateboarding can make you feel, and how it uses architecture in a certain beautiful way.

How does it feel to be presenting your work in this gallery setting; is it different to it appearing in skate magazines and websites? It’s a wonderful feeling. You can create a concept that tells a story and that has a message, rather than just showing single pictures. For me it’s important to show something new that people haven’t seen presented as a whole that way. I’m really happy with the concept we made for this exhibition and I’m really excited how people will see it.

The gallery setting just amazes me. For me as a photographer it’s one of the best feelings seeing my piece of art printed in a magazine, on good paper that brings the opportunity to touch and feel the picture, that just makes it alive for me. Contributing photos for websites is great, but it’s nothing compared to that feeling of holding a print in your hands. That’s what photography is for, the ability to see and feel the printed medium. The whole gallery setting kind of extends the joy of seeing photos printed. Large formats, fine professional prints, and the company of friends and family (and beers of course) makes the photography even more enjoyable for me. Hosting an exhibition is unique and a huge honour. It’s probably the best feeling being a photographer and seeing people come to a place to enjoy your work and talk about it, or even wanting it to be on their living room wall.

Skateboarding photography has lead you to much more photographic work, what learnings did you take from skate photography into other fields? I’m quite happy I started photography through skateboarding, as it’s quite difficult to shoot skating. It taught me a lot about technique, composition, lighting and that not giving a shit about rules is important from time to time. Also I was lucky to make some good contacts that opened new doors for my photography and let me take it to the next level. But in general, shooting skateboarding is quite special and hard to compare with other kinds of photography. Nevertheless i feel like it’s important being skilled in other ranges of photography, too.

After this exhibition, are there any other projects that you are currently working on or that we can look forward to? Never not working! I’m working on a feature for SOLO Skateboard Magazine right now, next week, right after my vernissage, I’ll be off to a Copenhagen with team Titus, plus I’m working on a book project that’s going to be released quite soon.

See more of Dennis’ incredible work on his website.

Below: Kim Conti, backside smith grind