Although he may have grown up in the digital age, one of the many things I admire about Albuquerque’s Wesley McGrath is his appreciation and background with both shooting film and darkroom printing, and I think this quote from Wes sums up his views on the subject perfectly, “Learning the traditional values and processes of printing your own photographs is essential to a photographer’s understanding of what it takes to create images.” Although all of the images in this gallery are digital capture, I know for a fact that he has a bag full of shot film sitting in a refrigerator somewhere right now waiting to be processed, so who knows, maybe we’ll be seeing an all film gallery from Wes sometime soon. But for the time being, here are some of the latest goods from an upcoming BMX photographer who happens to kill it on both sides of the camera. —Jeff Z.
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Years shooting: 5
How did you get your start in photography?
I seemed to always remember enjoying photographs more so than any other medium of art ever since I was young. When I was 16 I received a Nikon N80 film camera from my parents for my birthday. The next two weeks after I traveled with my uncle (who is retired from the professional industry) through Arizona and California teaching me most of the concepts and techniques I stand by to this day. I bought a Nikon D80 when I graduated high school in 2007 and since then I have made photography my priority.
Quick Breakdown of your gear…
Nikon D300s, Nikon MB-10 body grip, Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8, two Paul C. Buff Einstein 640ws strobes with Paul C. Buff mini lithium battery packs, Sunpak 555 flash, Pocket Wizard Plus II, Manfrotto stands, Minolta IV light meter, Mamiya 645 MF medium format with a Mamiya 80mm MF f/2.8 lens, and a Tamrac Expedition 8x bag. And a Panasonic DVX-100A for video.
I know you just picked up two Einstein 640 lights recently, how much of a game changer has that been for you?
Before I had these Einstein lights I was using three Nikon speed lights, two SB-26s, and a Nikon SB-24, so on a technical level the Einstein lights blow the speed lights out of the water, but I’m still utilizing a three light outfit so the light concepts are similar. The few reasons why I invested in an Einstein setup was crucial to me moving forward with my photos—flash duration, overall power, and the ability to shoot sequences with strobes. I love the change up and I am looking forward to a long life with these guys.
What are some other items on your wish list?
In the near future I am going to upgrade to shooting on a full frame sensor, which I can’t wait to do. Yet, still the one thing that I’m going to add to my camera bag is a Zeiss 30mm fisheye lens that will mount to my Mamiya 645.
What is one piece of gear you own that you couldn’t live without?
Even though BMX has caused me to use my digital camera more often than not, I still have to say my medium format Mamiya 645 film camera would be the one thing that I will always keep around to create photos.
I know you’ve spent some time in the darkroom. What are your thoughts on the art of traditional darkroom printing of black and white photos?
I feel that learning the traditional values and processes of printing your own photographs is essential to a photographer’s understanding of what it takes to create images, from loading the film to drying your print. With this, you can truly know why photography is a true form of art.
I remember you having a rather large bag of shot film in your refrigerator. How many rolls are you up to now, and how long have they been collecting for?
On the same trip to California I paid a visit to a friend of my uncle’s and he gifted me with about 100 rolls of film—35mm, 120, 220, color reversal film, black and white, and infrared. At that point I only shot and developed B&W film at school, so all of these great color rolls just sat in my fridge up to about 2009 when I bought my Mamiya 645. After I bought that camera I took full advantage of my film bodies and all that free film!
The anticipation of seeing what’s on that film would drive me insane. What do you think you’ll do with the gems from those rolls once you get them processed?
Well, there are almost three years worth of road trips on those rolls, (I know, shame on me) including countless BMX photos, camping trips, time lapses, portraits, and the last three years of Interbike! Probably the most significant images I can’t wait for are the rolls from the flatland jam that went down after the 2010 rail jam inside interbike! I’m looking forward to seeing everything in front of me at last, then I’ll decide what I’m going to do with it all…
If processing costs and turnaround time weren’t an issue, do you think you’d shoot more film?
Well, to me the cost is all a part of shooting, so I am okay with that. Usually why I don’t use much film is because in Albuquerque there aren’t any decent labs with desirable film, and I stray away from sending my film in the mail. But now being in the LA area I will be visiting the labs frequently. I look forward to dialing in my film styles.
How do you split up your time between riding and shooting?
Everyday I wake up and plan on riding, not necessarily shooting a photo, so when a morning session warm up turns into a promising day of riding I start to get excited about a photo opportunity. So I’ll be riding alongside everyone else trying to get clips, but I never pass up a chance to shoot a photo.
If you show up at a new spot and the session is going of, which gets neglected, your bike or the camera?
Usually when I’m riding a spot I have certain things I want to do and have fun with, but I love watching riders get crazy so I get really excited to be a part of that. So I seem to find myself going for my cameras more so then my bike, shooting a photo keeps me just as stoked on riding as I would be riding with everyone else!
What inspires you?
Ever since I’ve had a camera BMX has been my main focus, but it didn’t become real to me until I saw my friend Sam Adams shoot photos in Albuquerque when I was growing up riding the local skatepark. I saw how big and heavy his camera bags were and I was daunted by his lighting, so when I got the rare chance of seeing the photo on the camera back I knew this is what I wanted to do.
What riders do you enjoy shooting with?
Over the years I have been fortunate to be able to have shot with a variety of riders and each rider has a unique style, which makes every photo a different beast. But I would have to say my hometown crew from Albuquerque is my favorite bunch to shoot with, of course we blend best because we grew up riding together. Since I know their styles and techniques so well, we can come up on a spot and already I start to get a feel for what could be done based on who is riding.
What form of BMX do you enjoy shooting the most?
I love to shoot street riding more than anything else because while I’m out riding in a city I’m intrigued by all the sights and sounds of the hustle and bustle, I want to capture all the elements of the streets in my photographs—such as the unique qualities of each setup combined with the individuality of each rider makes something worth documenting.
Beyond BMX, what else do you shoot?
When I get that chance to get out and use my camera off my bike I find myself in the city shooting people and abstracts, but I have this itch for abandoned structures and street art, you can stumble upon some of the craziest things in the refuse of American society.
You spend a good amount of time filming, as well. Which do you prefer, shooting photos or video?
I began to get into filming a whole lot around 2010 because there was so much stuff happening in Albuquerque at that time and no one was filming. I was always shooting photos so I figured I would pick up a DVX-100a and I started filming for my first 30 minute DVD, Hate Bikes’ Cheated. I had a great time with all my friends traveling and clocking footy for that project. Still, after all that money spent and tapes captured it was still nothing like shooting a picture, photography just drives me so much more than any other media aspect of bike riding.
Do you think that shooting both photo and video helps you become more proficient in both aspects—like maybe you can apply things you learn while filming and apply them to photos, and vice versa…
I think the most predominant aspect that I apply to filming from photography is composition, for example keeping the rider proportionate in the clip. Also, I take my knowledge of exposure and color to make a video clip that much better. On the flip side now that I think of it I don’t really apply video technique to photography…
How do you think growing up in Albuquerque helped shape/influence you as a photographer?
Albuquerque gave me the people, the scenery, and the competition to push me in the right direction. I watched Sam Adams shoot for years and saw how dialed he was—which made me strive to be that way, I also watched a handful of kids who tried to take over the scene and fill Sam’s shoes when he moved to Denver—which has still yet to happen. In short, all these elements that Albuquerque gave me seemed to mix perfectly to give me the knowledge and advantages I needed to have benefitted me so much.
So you made the “indefinite” move to Los Angeles, what brought about the change?
Oh man, how do I start… I have been in Albuquerque my whole life and it has been good, bad, and ugly—that’s for sure. So after you came through Albuquerque in October to shoot the scene report for Ride I started to shift gears toward California. So a few months later, here I am in Long Beach—riding, shooting, filming and making friends and that’s a beautiful thing. For now I’m playing it by ear looking forward to holding down a house here for the summer and start making some big moves—in and outside of BMX.
Do you want to give any shout outs to your homeys and people who have helped you get to where you are today?
I can type for so long giving the rhyme to each reason for everyone, so I’m just going to name names and all of you beautiful people know why… I thank you all for everything you have done for me by keeping me motivated and feeling good about my work. First and foremost my family, mom, dad, sister, uncle and my lady Tracy, also Jeff Z., Fat Tony, and all the people over at Ride for helping me get my images out there! All my best friends back In Albuquerque for always putting in work so I can get a pretty picture and keep progressing. Clay Johnson, Jeremy Hacker, Robbie Owens, Phoenix and Denver crews, and most importantly all those haters who have put obstacles in my way only so I can grow and learn from their mistakes. I am always looking forward…
And finally, where can we see more of your work?
I just launched my first website irisimagery.com—I wanted an organized location to show some of my best work. You can see my BMX, portrait, and live music photography along with some other genres. Also find some of my unofficial images on Tumblr at southwestlove.tumblr.com