A Talk with "Party in the Back" Photographer Tino Razo
Tino Razo’s been a renowned staple within skate culture for years, having first cut his teeth in New York before moving to LA. Now, almost haphazardly, the seasoned pro is digging those same teeth into the art world after photographing a series and book called Party in the Back, which Milk Gallery revealed to a private audience just last night. Open today to the public, the exhibit showcases three years’ worth of photos depicting the world’s top skaters shredding their way through empty, kidney-shaped pools in various LA hoods, giving onlookers access into an otherwise private world. As a whole, the photos seem to comment on the emptiness sometimes associated with suburban landscapes, which feel especially ominous when abandoned or uninhabited. Juxtapose that vacuity with a crew as lively as SoCal’s top skaters, and Razo’s found an interesting middle ground that’s as edgy and cool as it is beautifully melancholic. The book is a love letter to the skate community, Los Angeles, and more explicitly, his ex-wife Desiree, who passed away from an injury while surfing in Malibu.
One day before the private opening, Milk.xyz sat down with the skater-turned-artist to discuss moving to LA, getting started with photography, and how he developed an eye for finding makeshift skateparks.You got your start in New York and then moved to LA. Why did you move?
It wasn’t even a want, really…like I was working at Max Fish, and I’d been there for years, and we were getting shut down so I thought I had two weeks left at the job. Then randomly, I just got a last minute job at Supreme in LA. I just upped and moved out there.
How did that job come about? Did you know anyone there?
Yeah, just kind of old friends from skateboarding events. And being a younger skater in NY for so long–that was kind of a meeting place for us. We’d meet and then skate down the banks down to the Financial District. That was always kind of the meeting ground.
It’s almost like networking a little bit. Was the skate community in LA welcoming? Or the one in New York?
New York was funny because it definitely wasn’t when I first moved here. And yeah, it took them a long time to open up to me. But when [the community] did, it really fucking did, big time. But just having Max Fish be a kind of skate bar or whatever…there were always traveling skateboarders stopping there. Because it had a community already based off of just being at the bar.
So is that when you really got started with skating?
Well kind of. Cause I was a sponsored skater through a lot of my time here, so I was traveling a lot. And a lot of those people were on teams with them, or traveling with them or whatever. We were all out and about together.
Are there a lot of other artists in the community? Like photographers, for example?
Yeah, tons…just tons. Like even younger, like Mark Gonzales was maybe the first notable one. But it kind of opened it up to everybody I think. I don’t know. It kind of seems like it goes hand in hand a little bit.
I was going to ask…why do photography and skate culture go so well together?
As a kid, you’re attracted to the graphics and things like that. So skateboard graphics would be the first thing, and plus, we’re looking at skateboard magazines. So every photo is a beautiful photo. Every which way you go, there’s something creative pumping out of it.
You just got your driver’s license a couple of years ago, right? Like you were just using skateboards to get around until…
‘Till like 37. I moved here when I was like 18, from Vermont, and then all I wanted to do was skate…and it’s all I did: skate and work enough to pay rent. But going out [to LA], it became a necessity. I moved there, and I lived near my work, but then I realized I’m stuck in my neighborhood, you know?
Yeah, everything’s more spread out.
And then doing this project, I was like firing up my homies and getting them to drive me to these things.
Can you tell me about the locations that are in the book? How did you find places to skate?
I was always trying to look for stuff that was as close to me as possible, cause I’m lazy. And it’s the best because you don’t have to like, go on an hour-long mission to find a place. But it started as close to my apartment as possible. And then The Valley–a lot of this shit was in the valley.
Where do you live in LA?
Now I live in Silver Lake, but for most of this, I was living in West Hollywood, like near my work. It spans from like The Valley to LA proper, all around LA, into the desert…and then the furthest out I got out for this project was in Baja.
How did you find houses that had pools?
A lot of Google Maps, and then Google Maps at times ended up being just a starting point. Sometimes it would be spot on like, “Yeah, that’s it.” But they don’t update all the time, so a lot of times you could find the empty pool but by the time you get there, someone’s like actually living there now. But usually once you find one, you could see there a bunch of others. So it starts with you driving around looking, and seeing what houses have the yellow grass out in front, what houses are boarded up or have a porta potty out front. Or something like that.
So you have to be kind of clever with it. There’s no exact formula.
I mean, as a skater, you’re always just skating around the city. Like you’ll see a new building and you’re like looking…is there a new ledge there? Are there stairs? What’s the option? Is there something here? What could we do with this thing? Because it’s cool, coming from [NYC], I’ve always had that trained skateboarder eye. Moving there and working, and skating like this and everything, it opened up a whole new thing for me to keep my eye on. Ok, there’s a house there. Is there a fence? Does it look like there’s a lot of space back there in the back? Those types of questions. And like certain neighborhoods.
I read a quote about your book talking about how the architecture of a city really affects the way you skate.
Well like, here [in NYC] it’s just like, fucking leave your house. Here, there’s more spontaneity and just fucking going. There for me, it’s kind of more of a thought: we’re doing this, and we’re gonna go here, or we’re gonna plan it out and go there.
Not to say anything incriminating, but how do you deal with cops and trespassing? I’m sure people get pissed.
You do what you think, you know what I mean? If dogs are barking and people are looking at you walk behind the house, you don’t go back there. Or you to try kind of be easy about the whole situation. Really take in the environment. And just be like real conscious about what the fuck’s happening and where you are and what you’re doing.
So you have to play it by ear each time.
Yeah, it’s different every single time.
Were you skating before you were taking photographs?
This is the first fucking go at photography, really.
And this was just the last three years that you’ve been shooting?
Yeah, now it’s been about four, but the last year, maybe one or two pools, and the rest of the time it’s been the editing process and laying things out.
How did you even start shooting?
I’ve had a camera, and like really just from my fucking phone. Like shoot a photo, and like, Jesus that looks fucking cool. And then it was just like, I have a camera that fits in my pocket. Let’s use that.
What’s your goal with the photos?
There’s no goal, really. Like the goal would be, like, this is our time [pointing around the gallery]; this is it. You know, this is for us. These are our times.Are you planning on doing more photography?
Yeah, actually, it opened me up because doing it and like shooting and seeing it and getting the film, and like getting it back and seeing it…it was so gratifying and shit. Like yeah, I’ve definitely started working on a new project that I’m excited about.
Was there anything else you wanted to make sure was mentioned?
Just that this is a present for my ex-wife.
Images courtesy of Mike Sikora
Stay tuned to Milk for more from the West Coast skate scene.