Aside from being one of the most legendary street skaters of the last decade, Arto Saari has carved out his own niche as a professional photographer and has been silently honing his skills with the lens since the early 2000s. With humble beginnings, picking up tips from some of skateboarding's best photogs, Arto has quickly made a name for himself and now gets tapped by skaters and brands alike to shoot high level projects—including CCS, who's tapped Arto for its last four Magalog covers - Theotis, Guy, Biebel, and Mo, Silas and the top secret cover that's shipping out next week. CCS caught up with Arto this month for a quick interview about his time behind the camera.
You can see more of Arto's photography on his site right HERE.
Seems like you've been spotted out with a camera for a while now. How long would you say you've been seriously shooting?
I’ve been interested in shooting photos for about twelve years. In the early 2000s I picked up a FM2 I bought from Skin and a sheet of black and white film that I carried around with me and started shooting. I bought my first camera during the time we were filming for the Sorry video. Being around filmers and photographers that influenced me, I could always pick their brains and ask them questions. I was still using film so the learning curve was much slower than it is with digital. With Digital you can learn a lot quicker. You can see your product straight away. You don’t have to go to the lab to see if it’s going to come out or not.
You've certainly had the chance to work with some of the best photographers in skateboarding. Who have been influential in your career as a lensman?
Early on Skin was definitely one of my early mentors. My friend Anton from Finland taught me how to use medium format Hasselblad and taught me a bit about slave flashes. But I have a lot of influences—Joe Brook, Sturt, Atiba, Grant, Ryan Allan, Humphries and Oliver Barton. There's so many.
When you’re out skating with these dudes are you thinking about what they’re doing with their cameras as much as you're thinking about your skating?
I’m always fanning out on them [laughs]. It always turns to some kind of camera nerd talk. I’m usually always fanning out of the photographers and asking them what they’re shooting with or about new cameras and products.
Having been the subject of so many skate photos, does that give you an advantage as a photographer in terms of what you like to see and what you think looks good?
Yea, but I still mess up a lot. It’s definitely interesting though. I think every skater kid does it. You want to film your friends and capture what goes on. Some people simply point the camera and others pay more attention.
Was there a point where you felt you were good enough to start calling guys to go shoot?
I’ve been trying to shoot with everyone ever since I picked up a camera. But you can get put off which is totally normal. I wouldn’t want to shoot with someone who just started, especially if I’m doing something super gnarly. I totally get that. But now I think people are a little more confident after having seen some of my work. I’ve got a few calls asking if I wanted to go shoot a few proper skate shots. It feels rad to be able to be called in to do somthing like that. It’s a huge honor especially when it's a few of your fellow pro skaters.
Who are some of your favorite people to shoot with?
Tom K is definitely one of my favorite people to shoot. It’s always pinnacle vibrations. He’s alway so hyped, happy and stoked on life. I love shooting with Rune too. Rune, Curren, Lance, Rowley and a lot of the Flip guys. Those guys are always down since day one. They’re my friends and it’s always cool to shoot them.
What about stuff outside of skating?
My passion is shooting landscapes. It’s kind of the opposite of what skate photography is. In skateboarding you’re dependent on what the other person is going to do. In landscape photography, you’re more on god’s time than anyone else’s time. You’ve really got to figure out how to go about it. Take your time, study the light and figure it out. I get a lot of enjoyment out of that. I really like making giant landscape prints.
What about young kids coming up as photographers? What advice would you give them when it comes to perfecting their craft?
I don’t think the medium really matters at the end of the day—whether it’s digital or film or whatever. If you want to go the film route and learn that way you’ll probably get a better set of rules and you’ll be way more prepared to shoot a photo. With film you don’t want to waste shots, but with digital I’ll just keep snapping. I’ll end up with a thousand photos and just get that one. Editing can be a bitch though. You get better at that though too. You throw nine hundred ninety nine in the trash and keep that one that you need. I think kids should learn both. It doesn’t really matter how you get into it as long as you get into—even if its your iphone or your instagram.
What’s the dynamic between the photographer and the skater when crazy **** is going down?
As a skater, when you go to do something gnarly and you're shooting with Sturt or Atiba or Burnett or Ryan Allen or whoever it’s a really interesting dynamic between the skater, photographer and the filmer. You want to have a good relationship. Sometimes I’ll be over it and ready to give up and sometimes the photographer and filmer can push you on. Sometimes you need that extra push. That’s why a lot of skaters, when they do something gnarly, they like to stick with certain guys. There’s a bond there and the dynamic works. That’s a really important piece of the puzzle. It’s about making people comfortable and confident when you’re doing gnarly ****. If you miss something gnarly a couple of times, you’re not going to get the call back. Especially if you’re a new guy. If you **** up once you’re out.
You’ve shot four CCS Magalog covers now. What’s that been like for you?
The Theotis cover was a really rad to shoot. We used a little trickery there. Setting up Christmas presents wasn’t exactly a normal skate shot but it was super fun working with someone like Theotis cause he didn’t care. We agreed on the noseblunt. Within a couple tries we got it. He’s super down and professional. I think it came out rad. As for the Guy, Biebel and Mo cover that was super fun too. We spent an afternoon in downtown LA shooting a bunch of random stuff. Those guys were on a schedule and had to go after two hours, but we ended up staying four and a half. They were all super good sports. You’re always a little bit winging it on the streets. You never know what the environmental factors are going to be. The Silas shoot was fast and quick. We got that done in a couple of hours. We went to the Venice park and shot a few in there as well as a few portraits and lifestyle shots down the road from the park. He’s another rad person to work with. We have an amazing team of people on CCS cause everyone is super down to do stuff. It makes the photographers job a lot easier.