When I discovered Chris Session’s work, one photo stood out to me.. two dudes puking into a bike basket. That sold me. Then I looked further was hyped on his lifestyle shots of skaters. So we threw him up online, g’head, search for it on our website, and we interviewed him a bit more thoroughly. Let me introduce you to Chris Sessions.
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Current location: Boulder, CO
Profession: Photographer, director/videographer,
You mention in your other interview with us that you’ve been taking photos from a very young age. Tell us about your youth, home, and the first picture you were proud of.
Growing up with a mom who was an artist and a dad who took a lot of pictures, I was always drawn to creative pursuits. I got my first camera—a 35mm point and shoot–when I was young but didn’t shoot any pictures that counted until I took a journalism class in high school. Many of these images missed the mark but there two that still resonate with me. The first is a shot of some of my high school classmates posing in the hallway. Another is a shot of a tapir at the St. Louis zoo. Using natural light with the most simple setup—a 35mm film camera/50mm lens—I found that I was able to convey the sense of timelessness and classicism that I strive to capture today.
When I moved out to Colorado for college, my dad gave me a 35mm camera as a going away present. I used it as a way to document the experience–taking pictures of the usual stuff at first—where I lived, my friends, interesting things I saw, etc.
Skateboarding has been an important part of my life since I was 13 and it was a natural evolution to incorporate that into my photography.
It wasn’t until after college that I started to get good photos of skate culture though. In 2000, some friends and I from college, The Boulder Dicks, took a skate road trip up the west coast from California to Oregon. It was the ultimate trip—camping in beautiful spots, skateboarding, swimming holes and in general a non-stop laugh riot! With so much going on, there was always something to photograph. I got a lot of great images on that trip and it helped me understand the importance of spending time with people and how it can take things to a much deeper level creatively.
Another important event was seeing Glen E. Friedman’s images in Stacy Peralta’s film ‘Dogtown and Z-boys’. Those images really captured the essence of an era and showed me how important it is to take advantage of being an insider within a scene. Looking back I see how these events helped propel me forward as a photographer.
Also, rather than focus on the action of skate photography, I’ve always tried take more of a behind the scenes, lifestyle/portrait, expressive approach to capture the essence of the culture. I always try to incorporate this philosophy into whatever I’m doing—if it’s a travel picture, an ad job, a music video, etc.
You take quite a range of beautiful photos but our favorite one is the two guys puking in the basket. Can you tell us the back story on that one?
In those days (early to mid-2000’s), I was at a place in my life where I started to develop a sense of awareness about getting older and taking notice of the next generation of skateboarders coming up. Looking at them, I saw an opportunity to document moments throughout my life that I wished I had images of. I immersed myself in the scene, shooting photos at the park while taking a break from skating, on tour with teams, on skate missions with friends and at video premieres and at parties afterwards. I tried to capture a broad view of skateboard culture—the spots, fun times with friends, portraits, snapshots ranging from the normal everyday moments just hanging out as well as the darker side and recklessness of it all that happens late at night. I’ve never been much of a partier but would often go to house parties to take pictures. This was early on—before cameras had become so commonplace—and I was one of the few people taking pictures. Being friends with everyone, or at least having friends with me, gave me an ‘in’ to capture all these fascinating moments. That’s how I got the shot of the two guys throwing up. When I’m photographing, I work quite intuitively and jump between shooting without thinking to looking around and predicting what might happen. With regards to that image,
I don’t remember exactly how it went down but I think one of the guys was about to throw up, so his buddy decided to join in with him! It was taken at an after party at a ramp jam in Boulder. Not sure whose bike it was but ah, the crazy days of youth… Would have made for an interesting color picture the next morning come to think of it!
You went to college in Colorado but what made you want to stay there afterwards?
I moved to San Diego for a few years after college but never felt quite at home like I did in Colorado. Plus, I travel a lot for work. Colorado is the perfect place to serve as a home base and although we do have some snow and cold winters, the weather down here in the front range isn’t as bad as you’d expect. The sun shines most of the time and after some shoveling we’re good for a winter skate session. I love the people here—we’ve got such a great skate scene. The spots just keep getting better and better too. The guys from Team Pain and more recently, Evergreen Skate parks, have built us some incredible parks!
Let’s dream a little. Tell us who’d be your dream client, location, and crew. Why?
That’s a hard one. I feel very fortunate for many of the jobs I’ve done. Recently I’ve been directing and shooting a series of mini-documentaries for a bank client. We go to different communities around the region and put together a short video about some aspect of the community there—be it a business, a festival or another relevant aspect. These are an incredible opportunity because they get me out there on the road, shooting images along the way and producing interesting stories. Although the shoot for an Ad Agency, I try to approach it like a road trip with friends interjecting as much of my personal work into it as possible.
Of course it’s always a great opportunity to work with any of the skate teams I’ve photographed too—Brixton, Vans, Converse, Toy Machine, etc. It’s fun to just hang out to see and document the magic that happens along the way. Those are the ultimate jobs for me.
Another one is exploring beautiful places with my better half Meggin O’Morrow. We love taking the opportunity to go explore beautiful destinations together and have spent many fun times in Arizona and throughout the Southwest, out in Hawaii and are planning a trip to Mexico this fall. These are always fun trips. It’s supposed to be a vacation but I have a hard time keeping my camera far from my side!
When it comes to your body of work, you have a range of subject matter. You’ve got beautiful landscape shots, travel imagery, skate crew madness, and stolen moments between people. If there was one shot amongst any of these, an image that you’d want to be known for for life, would you say you have it already or you’re still waiting to take it?
I’ve taken so many images, and continue doing so daily, and although it’s tough to single out one image, there is one image that I do think about quite often. It’s just a simple snapshot of two girls walking along the seawall in La Jolla (San Diego, CA) but it’s one of those images that always sticks out for me. For me, it has this sense of timelessness that I always try to capture—something I find quite challenging too—in our world so style, logos, design and modernity.
Thinking about my body of work, my best stuff has been the pictures I’ve shot with the various skate crew—people who have welcomed me into their lives and allowed me to photograph them time and time again. I am forever indebted to my friends from these crews—The Boulder Dicks (especially Michael Burnett from Thrasher Magazine), SWAB, The Wet Boys, 1086, The Trick Factory, The Arvada Army, The Team Pain crew, The Ft. Collins Crew, The Skate Colorado crew, the guys I grew up skating with in St. Louis and all the local shops here in Colorado, the skate teams passing through town, etc. All these people have been so supportive of my work over the years and I greatly appreciate the relationships I’ve created with them. Much of this work remains unseen. I plan to put together something comprehensive one of these days.
What inspires you about photography and how do you feel about the direction it’s headed in with today’s world of immediate gratification?
It’s a good challenge to come up with a unique photograph. Quite often I feel like I take the same pictures over and over—it’s almost an annual thing for me changing with the seasons. It’s inspiring to come up with a nice surprise—to get a unique image that I haven’t shot or seen before. That’s the magic. It’s hard to say where photography is headed. Things just continue to evolve. I hope that people re-learn the importance of slowing down and smelling the roses—which is another thing photography does for me. It gives me a chance to focus deeply—quite often compulsively—on something. Throughout life, everything seems to be moving faster and faster. The amount of information we need to process everyday often seems quite overbearing making it tough for individual things to appear relevant, but it is my hope that way of thinking might change and to make a difference as an individual. I try to take advantage of all the amazing things that this life offers and to show gratitude whenever possible. Life is an incredible ride. You just have to jump on board and see what happens.
You’ve mentioned before that creativity has become a necessity these days, on that note, is there a certain piece of equipment that you feel makes you more creative? Or is it more about the situation?
It’s hard to say what will instill creativity. That’s the challenge. You never know when it will show up. You can try for it and never see it or give up and find something amazing! I think it’s important to challenge yourself—to try out a new piece of equipment, to take the wrong way home, to spend a day hanging out with someone or a group of people. You never know what you might come up with and often, that’s the beauty of it.
On that note, do you have a favorite toy/camera/piece of equipment? If so what is it?
Most of my favorite pictures over the years have been taken with my Canon AE-1 program with a 50mm lens. Lately I’ve been using a similar setup but with a Canon 5d Mark iii and a manual focus lens. The manual focus slows me down but feels sort of like shooting film and I don’t shoot as much, which is great. I always love to break out my vintage and large format cameras for special occasions. There’s something special about the process of shooting film and those old lenses that is missing from the process of shooting digitally. Plus, I don’t have to spend as much time in front of the computer which is always a good thing.
Tell us about your connection with Willis Kimbel. And your perspective on him?
Because of all the great spots, Colorado is a destination stop for skateboarders. We tend to get a lot of skate crews / teams rolling through to check out all the great parks, backyard, street spots, often year after year. I first met Willis while he was in town with Darren Navarette filming for the Creature video. Instead of filming at the typical Southern California spots, they came out to skate the vert ramp with the scenic mountain backdrop down in Colorado Springs. We recently reconnected on another during another skate mission with Peter Hewitt, Stu Graham and Joe Hammeke. Willis is always exciting to skate and shoot with—he’s a great all terrain ripper with style and some very unique tricks. Recently, he’s been living his life on the road—cruising from town to town—mainly up and down the west coast—skateboarding and living the life. His dad, Curt Kimbel, a famous 1970’s ‘badlands’ skateboarder, lives nearby though so I’m hoping to see him more involved in the Colorado skate community over the years.