It’s not too often you get the chance to interview someone who usually does the interviews, or shoots the photos. I approached Chris with a unique idea for this interview. There were a number of questions I had for him, knowing how long he has been involved with skateboarding I knew it would be an interesting read. I asked Chris to submit photos from his personal collection. Chris has been shooting photos of skateboarding and snowboarding for over 25 years. The idea being that this is an interview of a photographer, why not include his favorite shots throughout the years. Given the stipulation that the photos can be of anything. Skateboarding, snowboarding, landscape, or portrait were all open game. We are proud to bring you the latest Wheel Bite interview with the photography of Chris Carnel. Enjoy. -ERL
1. Chris, what was the thing that got you onto your first board?
I met Joe Bansuelo (later played in 7 Seconds) a childhood friend who lived up
the street and a skateboard was laying around the neighborhood that I tried. Grew
up on a early BMX type bike. Moved from the valley, the outskirts to town to the
heart of Reno. There was now cement everywhere; it was 1977.
2. Was your first skate scene here in Reno?
Not so much a crew to speak but started with the first pool I ever skated called Oppio in sparks. Olympic size and huge.. lots of vert. I got a metal type board not wood with Sims Snakes and Tracker Full Tracks I believe from Bob Ferrin who was just opening Flow Motion park. My dad was supportive, bought me that board. Took me to the ditch. Where I saw Robbie Chadwick skate who was from another planet. Did like ollie to laybacks off the lip into the dirt… Insane for that time period. The true meaning of style. One of the Reno Outlaws. I thought his board said marijuana on it.. I was just so like shocked! He had a Maheraja deck actually.. Haha. Rode the park that was just opening at that time period too. Next to the airport landing strip. It was loud. Jump years later to the early 80’s see I would go back and forth between bmx and skating, Allen Benchoff would always call it staying on one side of the fence, or the other. So I’m all bmx’d out sick of racing every weekend. And I meet Clancy Gigguere, Mike Snellbaker and Hugh Shamberger (RIP) at the downtown plaza doing street skating shit.. Mullen style. Hugh had the Powell board with the bombs on the bottom. They were super cool, I was stoked and I was back into skating again. Somewhere I acquired a Powell Beamer, maybe from Hugh or Mike. Skating was dead, it was 83 maybe. John Franklin and I skated his quarter pipe at the end of his parents driveway we all built. He was way out in Golden Valley. World of Toys and those dudes were the people you could count on one hand who were the only reminant of skating in Reno at that time. Next phase was meeting Edgar, skating Lemon Valley ramp and the rebirth of skating here. The Outlaws were insane and appeared at Lemon Valley with cigs and beers in hand, without notice, dropping in on each other, destroy then leave. They were late 70’s era. It was like the meeting of 2 era’s. World of Toys was 95% toys and the rest a cabinet with hard goods, a shirt or 2, Thrasher Mag in newsprint and a ice rink next door.. this was at Meadowood Mall. Previous to their Park Lane store. The crew factor in stuff today is crazy.. Mostly like a film crew if you are a snowboarder. Getting your pics and footage done. Serious job. Sponsors. Crazyness. Skating is more of a buddy thing, skating with friends. Pretty much it was 100% diy. Built a ramp in the yard. Bailed and skated pools. Nothing much else around in a hick town which was what Reno pretty much was circa 1980.
3. What a time that must have been, the ground floor of Reno skating. What was the scene like here in Reno? What spots did you skate and who were you rolling around with?
A scene might have begun in the slump of my bmx racing turned retirement, sick of racing every weekend. Wanted a change. I didn’t totally fit into any scene, an outsider in High School. Kevin Cox was the one dude I could relate to who wore Vans and skated. I met Edgar around that period too; only dudes in Reno wearing Vans actually. Kevin Cox gave me my first HC Punk tape in the early 80’s too. Eye opening. A scene and skating flourishing for me around 1988 between Roman deSalvo, Jeff Kunze, Willie Toles, John Deaton, Stan Craigo, Augie, Brian and John Fralick, Schalberg Brothers, Dave Baker and his Sparks ramp and people like Edgar, Bob Lichty, Terry Patterson, etc. A lot of those dudes lived in sparks. The center of attention was always the terrain at hand. Be it the McSully ditch with Rob Noxious, Sparks High, and 7-11 lunch break curbage. Downtown Reno where the movie theatre is now, the plaza in the 80’s was a semi bust but, I was a kooky awkward 80’s metal guitar freak non-drinker wannabe photo addict kid so that helped my future. I drove a 1970 Monte Carlo all over the place..Haha!
4. I liked it better when you could identify another skater by his clothes or shoes, it was like minded guys doing their own thing. What shop opened first, World of Toys or Excell? Did they sponsor the local contests or did you guys do it on your own?
World of Toys in 82’ I believe. Excell was a few years later. Excell was doing the demo/contest things all the time in the parking lot. In the early to mid-80’s Reno wasn’t a hotspot for skating and it was a era when skating was in the absolute low point of it’s ups and downs. WOT kept a dead scene alive. Demo’s and skate contests came much later.
5. I bought my first complete from WOT, they have so much history in Reno. Who were the Pros at the time that inspired you to buy their boards? Who’s style did you look up to or emulate? I always ask, what was you first real board?
I had these early weird scary metal boards, one was a Banzai, a metal freestyle board. The Sims Taperkick was the first real board that was laminated wood. Inspiration, 70’s era- Tony Alva, Peralta, and the Skateboarder Mag. 80’s- Gonz, Neil Blender and his street antics, Tony “Hospital” Howard, Bob Lichty, Mike Chantry and his video library, and the Mile High Ramp. Also Christian Hosoi, Shaun Palmer, Terry Kidwell, Rick Windsor, and Eddie Van Halen.
6. Jesus, metal skateboards are sketchy! Yeah Eddie rules, I used to do his wardrobe back in 81′. During the skate movement when did you start taking photos?
My first idea to try and take pics was at the first Mile High contest in 84’ prior to the Massacre. The Mile High ramp was an epic ramp and a unique time. We skated up there a lot. It’s funny though, my skate senses took over and I got a few still nice pics even though I was fumbling with tech things like loading and advancing color neg film correctly. My inspiration and drive overshadowed my knowledge of photography. Learn as you go, shooting film of course; lots of mistakes along the way.
7. I can’t imagine the shots you must have gotten. The creativity level was off the charts. Who did you like shooting then? There was more camaraderie then since there were so few skaters. Were you in a crew?
Sort of a crew, but these were friendships based on meet-ups at a spot or ramp. The building of and skating of these ramps were a running thread through the survival or skating in Reno back in the 80’s. We built Augie’s ramp off of Valley Road (Augie Cordero) and that was really cool, circa 88’. It was totally create your own scene, try and learn tricks, etc.. Became tight knit but not pretentious in any way. People would randomly show up, an unknown Chris Senn would occasionally come up from Grass Valley. There were vert ramps that popped up around those years in Reno, lasted a year or mini-ramps that you only got to skate maybe once cause someone’s folks got pissed at all the skaters showing up all hours of the day. They chained it up and just let it rot into the ground. Crazy.
8. It was rad hearing about a ramp and just traveling to find it. Knocking on the door and asking, “can we skate your ramp?”. That was skating though. Were you able to hang and take photos when Mark Gonzales and John Lucero came to Reno?
WOT demo- not really hanging out but skating as much as possible, tripping on the Gonz then grabbing my camera. Pretty green to photography so technically my shit was kinda winging it somewhere around that time period. That was some of the first B/W film I had ever shot and was developed in my college photo class I believe. Gonz was hanging out at Richard Barrs sometimes years after. He had the only boyscout post an insurance loophole to be able to have ramps at that time. It was almost cult like out there. Ramps buried halfway underground, bizarre but cool. So I remember this one day not having a camera or time to pull it out but Gonzales was up at Rancho. He was cruising down the sidewalk, ollied onto a picnic table at Rancho. Maybe it was after the demo … (Note: Damian in background of demo pic).. Blown away. Gonz was just inventing the future landscape of skating before our own eyes at that demo. Windsor was killing it as well I remember in that demo.
9. I heard a lot of Gonz stories from Reno heads. He literally was inventing street skating right then and there. How did the transition into a photographer take place. Who published your first skate photo?
I pretty much became interested in photography during the first year I got into snowboarding about 86. Granted renting Wintersticks with my bmx and junior high school friend Andrew Merlo from College Cyclery was a experiment to try snowboarding next to Tahoe-Donner. We road around all these Manzanita bushes and it was really fun. Well that was winter of 82-83’ I think. Trippy. I waited years to get a hand me down board through the Chantry Village. Bob Lichty finally sold me a demo or a one-off Avalanche board with fins called a Aero. Rode it on the hardpack at Slide Mountain and it ripped off my fins, yikes. I transitioned into wanting to shoot by just lugging my camera with me in the mountains. Met Bud Fawcett shooting Palmer at Mt Rose back then. I was in Awe. He worked with a mag for snowboarding. Then I soon had my first pic published in ISM (International Snowboard Magazine) of Mike Johnston, 1987 Mt. Rose backcountry. Thrasher became interested in snowboarding shots for Cold Snap and I sent them skating shots as well. I believe Rob Noxious at the Mercedes curbs was one of if not my first skate pic ever published. But around the same time period Fralick at Skinnies ramp got printed. The pic of him frontside rocking the tv set on the deck.
10. That Rob shot is still one of my favorites. Was it a natural progression to start working with snowboarders?
Natural progression? Yes. I was very inspired and whatnot by photographers Bud Fawcett, Grant Brittain, and just seeing pics of beautiful powder and landscapes via Hank deVre’ out of copies of Powder mag. The inspiration at the time. I just wanted to ride and shoot powder. A few skaters crossed over as well. Beau Boozer Daly and Brian Fralick to name just a few. Rode and took photos of them and Corey Kopahee, the Schalbergs, and Pineapple. Donner Ski Ranch was the place. Met up with Basich’s, and the Roach brothers there. Not many resorts allowed it then. There were a few winters like we are having now- drought-like back then for sure.
11. Obviously you traveled to some exotic places as a photographer. What’s a memorable trip you went on? Any danger, excitement,or gun fire involved?
Spain was awesome in 1998. Winging it on trains with our huge snowboard bags and driving a rental van up into the Pyrenees Mountains was amazing. Myself, Temple, Goulet, and Sonny. Raf got us the van with his fluent Spanish, he was from Belgium. Such a rad time. Only snowboarded for actually 2 days. Skated around different parts of the country for 2 weeks. Tim Brauch was on that trip only months prior to this death. So crazy! Sad. Most snow trips for a mag would be staying at a resort never leaving for the whole time. On that Heckler trip we were all over the place, eating exotic foods, skating through the streets at night in Barcelona. Getting lost on trains in Bilbao from skating the park near the Guggenheim. It was Rad! Went to China in 99’ skated on the Great Wall and did skate demos over the different parts of the country, we got to go on behalf of the Government there and also in conjunction with K2 as they were setting up there initial oversees hard-goods production in China, I think in secrecy. I was a photographer in secrecy and skating these demos on the rain soaked ramps with Sonny, Antonius Toad Ditcho, Jessie Van Roechoudt, and Steve Bailey . Getting stuck in the airport in Beijing dealing with language barriers. We sat for 3 days basically. Our return tickets didn’t work. Long story but made it home eventually. These were Heckler Mag trips. Life experience nutty shit. Gunfire? Well I can tell you why the now sadly missed Uzi bowls here got their name. We pulled up to the fence and a guy pulled a gun on us telling us to, “Get the Fuck Out!” I was with Jim Merritt and maybe Roman.. I kinda blocked that incident out a bit. Trespassing and pool skating has always kinda been like that anyway.
12. I’m stoked to hear the Uzi story! We heard random tales about that place. We used to jump on the trains headed out west at that spot, so fun. Heckler was a great magazine, it felt like it was a local mag for sure. How did that start up?
It was basically started for fun and a way to get free resort tickets. Met one of the founders Matt Kennedy at Donner one day and told me he was working on a magazine, it was Newsprint, local and cool. Later that winter I was in Sacto at a ski tradeshow and Matt borrowed my board to head over to where the mag was produced. He left it there. I called over and it was this recording studio called Enharmonic that was in a shaky part of town near the train tracks. This dude John “Botch” Baccigaluppi who I had conversed with gave me a tour and thanked me for contributing pics for the first issue. Oddly enough I attended a skate party there years prior and it had ramps and such on the second story. Anyway, they used a lot of what I had sent them. A lot of the South Shore dudes, and pics from Kirkwood. At that time the founders were John, Matt Kennedy and Dave Sher. It was built off the studios computer which was a early Mac and worth about 15 grand I think, this was early desktop publishing. After issue one when everyone dropped the ball so to speak I became involved over the phone as John Botch asked me if I wanted to be part of the mag. Sonny Mayugba was working for John’s Bike Messenger company and selling some ads for new issues of the mag. He became the third partner at that point as well. Heckler was sort of a feat created by basically 3 people and functioned like a tripod, so to speak. Some amazing chemistry.
13. Heckler was ahead of it’s time as far as it’s content and mix of skating and snowboarding together. Was there any industry snubbing at first?
Being more or less a regional publication like we were in the beginning, this is not so much a issue. We were well received for sure and had a cult following I would say but, this changes once you become worldly distributed through a publisher that has a competing magazine. Case in point Transworld, and the mag they produced called WARP (skating, surfing, snowboarding). Although we were totally different, internally this was odd at times.
14. I always thought WARP was real stiff, kind of no character to it. How did Transworld come into the picture?
We had ambition and ideas that outweighed money, resources, etc. it skyrocketed from 16 pages in newsprint to 128 pages within a very short time and became this huge beast, so to speak. It was rad but needed more of a staff and resources to support it’s growth. TW was interested in partnering with us. Them having experience that built Tracker Trucks and their TWS titles (this being prior to them being part of corporate publishing entity Times-Mirror) from the ground up, independently. They could relate to us wanting to become a 4-color worldly distributed mag. Even though we were way more uncensored, you know. Running early interviews where Palmer talked about freebasing with a siren set up in his house.. haha.
15. That must have been a weird transition, TWS is well known for censorship. You were involved with the snow scene so early in the game, you had to have seen so much progression. Do you prefer the early scene as opposed to now?
My one belief is that these were and on some level are individual sports opposed to having a team and leaders. This has changed for sure in skating some but especially today in snowboarding. It was the golden age of snowboarding for sure comprised of a lot of individuals with unique attributes. At that time in the 80’s and early 90’s a cottage industry. Everything now is practically in the Nascar realm of sponsorship marriage it seems. The skaters and snowboarders themselves are athletically on such a progressive realm it’s crazy. But some things feel like cloning on the media side for sure.
16. Nascar is a great description, with all of the big corporate sponsors these days. Who did you enjoy shooting back in the day both skating and snowboarding wise?
Quite a lot of riders. Tough question to answer. Would have to say looking back getting to shoot with Craig Kelly and making a trip to meet him in Fernie, B.C. Canada for a Heckler interview I wanted to do was a lifetime experience. This was in 1997. Shooting over the years at different points with Keith Kimmel, Tucker Fransen, T.B., Jim Zellers, Palmer, Kidwell, Cardiel, Travis Yamada, and Chris Senn to name a few were always insane. Those who were under the radar were more my scene I guess. A lot of Reno skaters had something unique to hold for sure. Kevin McGuire and North, Denny Franchini, Willie Toles, Fralick brothers, etc. this is a topic that could go on and on….
17. On the other side of the coin, how about any nightmare guys you dealt with without saying names?
I try not to focus on shit like that too much especially these days, as those things drain your positive energy to some extent. I avoided those situations if possible. But one funny thing looking back that bothered me for years was a shoot I did with one of the first commercial shoots. It was for O’Neil in Europe of this racer they had here in the states. Probably one of my very first company type shoots. I photographed this dude and it was oddly enough with his team-mate who turned out to be his girlfriend. They were training at Donner with the Cross-M team at the time. We shot all carving cheese shots on race type boards, this was the early 90’s. Anyhow I send off the slides to some obscure address in the Netherlands and shipping was pricey! I’m waiting to see via snail mail how much they like all the what I felt were sharp, well exposed pics. 3 months go by and I get this rude letter from some Corporate Euro a-hole saying “What are these images!? Of Primo (name change) and his girlfriend!? They’re not on vacation! They are there to train. This is ridiculous!” Rejected. I was so crushed! Otherwise some riders will tell you where to stand and what to do. A bit of ego. Take it with a grain of salt. Others for example like Palmer would just rip and you had to be on it and ready or you missed the shot! He would ride away and down the mountain. He was always amazing to shoot with. Spontaneous, dynamic, such an individual, over the top, to say the least.
18. Damn, you got the Euro back hand? Wow, I’m sure he had a pony tail so that’s even worse! How do you feel about all of this online media? I mean back in the day you could pull out an ad or poster of someone shredding, put it on your wall and be inspired. Does all of these online shots seem forgettable?
I’m just not sure on the longevity of it. I think both are different and good. Posters and album covers are solid. Online media and access is a great tool but given way to a sea of people pumping their shit up all the time. Everyone has or wants their deserved(?) 15 hours of fame.. be it Facebook or Youtube. Posers galore! But there are amazing forums, friends to be in contact with, and good deals to be found on used bike shit, camera garb and whatever else is to your liking. Like what you guys have going here is very cool. Roots.
19. Thanks man, we dig it. If you’re not supporting your local scene, what are you supporting right? What is a perfect day skating to you?
Oh man, it’s ripping my shirt off in the heat, flexing with tons of sunscreen of course and just ripping anything in front of me with my POV camera attached to my headband…all day. haha. Well for me it’s usually on some trip through a random town and you have a few hours to skate a place you have never been. It’s uncrowded and a non-stop session of fun just cruising around. You get back in the car and keep driving. That’s pretty rad. The act of skating the unskateable has always been something to behold. Pools are obvious but also remnants of development via the concrete jungle. Then there’s always been – “Hey that’s not meant for skateboards.. get out of here!”.
20. You’ve ripped off your shirt a lot this winter. It’s cool skating but, while we are at Star Bucks it’s a bit much! You have done so much in both industries and kept a Reno residence. I’ve personally found it very refreshing that you have always been so grounded. A lot of people who accomplish a lot less let it get to their head. Was it a conscience effort to stay local or just a love for the Biggest Little City in the World?
I spent a lot of time on the road. Never home in Reno but, couch living a lot in Sacramento or searching for good snow somewhere to the north or east possibly. My hometown was always gurned for a while as I had snowboard friends being like, “What, why you live in Reno!?’. Now it’s modern day coolness to live here, I guess, now California-ized and accepted? Haha . Different friends of mine moved out of snowville truckee-tahoe to move to the place where the desert meets the Sierra’s; sold off their snowblowers, etc. Now Midtown’s even cooler. Classic Skates, and Midtown Reno. But Reno is a easy place to fly in and out of if travling is your stick. Turbulent though.. Shit man!
21. It’s nice to be this close to the mountains, Sac, and SF. It’s good to get out of Reno and road trip to Sparks sometimes. What has 2012 have lined up for Chris Carnel? Do you have some new projects in the works? I mean besides more skating with the Shred Sunday crew!
Great skating with Sunday crew and just skating around lately in the balmy winter of 2012. I made a temporary gallery in part of a space I rent next to Classic/Neverender. I call it Pequeño. Want to show more images in this tiny pop-up gallery setting there. Want to bike more, shoot more images, landscape and travel. Plans to print more via darkroom and self-publish projects in print media. Print media is important, I think regardless of what the internet world says or blogs. It’s permanent and physical. Having a weird winter here. Been busy with a lot of other work and things. It’s a mental melter on the brain.. no snow really in the mountains. Looks like October for months and months. I feel bad for the chain monkeys and snowplow drivers, yikes. The poles are shifting. Reset your iPhones kids!
22. Thank you Chris, it means quite a lot that you agreed to an interview. You’ve seen so much in both cultures, I’m glad you shared some with us. I’m sorry we didn’t have the right coffee at the right temperature for you. There are several people that appreciate everything you have done and continue to do for skateboarding here in Reno. Who would you like to thank or mention anyone in a “I just won the Super Bowl!” manner?
I’ve been very lucky to shoot with and meet all these people through the wonderful activity of skating, snowboarding, even music- especially having opportunities to travel the globe in a counterclockwise rotation, at Mach speed times 3! Tons to thank. Wow. My parents obviously. Bud Fawcett, Tom Hsieh and ISM Mag, Frequency -TSJ, and the Galbraiths. Palladini and early Snowboarder Mag. Heckler OG with Botch, Sonny, Oates and Jessie Locks. Paul Laca and his true AK vision. There’s a lot of people here and you for sure probably know who you are. The riders and such for taking time to work it out and spend the efforts to get great pictures. We’ll have to get your coffee dialed, dial in your bean roast, perfect the tamp and grind.