Curtis Rothney has been expressing his own unique perspective of skateboarding ever since he first picked up a camera as a young kid in Halifax. Now based in Toronto, his ambition to put his city on the map has helped him make a name for himself across Canada. His body of work fluctuates between skateboarding, portraits of friends, and whatever else he comes across while exploring life. Every one of his photographs reeks of authenticity and tells a powerful story on its own. After you've seen one of Curtis' photos, you'll quickly realize his work is everywhere, with photo features in almost every Canadian skate mag — but you can check up on him regularly in Toronto's King Shit Magazine. Curtis is doing an amazing job portraying the skate culture out here, and we're happy to have had the chance to talk to him about his creative process, his views on life and skateboarding, and his new website http://www.curtisrothney.com.
What city are you based out of? Does your location play any influence on your photography or creative process?
I’m from Halifax originally but I moved to Toronto about a year ago. I would say my creative process has stayed the same but the major difference between the two is the sheer amount of opportunity and things/people to shoot. You can literally do anything you want out here if you really try for it; however, there’s no room to be lazy or someone is going to beat you to whatever you’re trying to do. This is the first big city I’ve ever lived in and I’m blessed to be out here.
When did you first pick up a camera? What were some of the first things you started shooting?
I think I was about 13 or 14 when I first picked up a camera. One of my friends lent me an old Canon SLR with a roll of film already loaded in it. That roll of film inevitably turned out to be completely black and underexposed when I got it developed but I slowly started to figure it out after that. I mostly shot skating, portraits of whoever I was hanging out with back then, and a lot of photos of my Dad probably. I carried that thing everywhere so whatever I was doing with my life at the time ended up being what I shot.
What kind of camera do you usually use?
I only own two cameras and they’ve done me pretty well for quite a while now. A Nikon Fm2n for any film I decide I want to shoot and a Nikon D700 for anything digital. Everything I own is pretty beat up but I like it that way.
What is the most memorable shot you have ever taken and why is it important to you?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one. Every photo reminds me of a very specific time, place, person, etc. and that’s an amazing thing to hold on to and be able to have an archive of. There is one that does come to mind. It’s a photograph of my Dad smoking a cigarette on the couch in our house back in Dartmouth. It was one of the first things I shot with my first camera that I remember thinking to myself “I’ll be happy with this photo for a long time.” Here we are 8 years later.
What kind of theme do you aim to portray through your photography? Could you describe your creative style to our readers?
I don’t know if I consciously have a theme throughout my work, but I definitely have a process that I follow for anything I shoot whether it be before, during or after. I’m not going to get entirely specific, but one thing I really like to do in any situation is to put my camera down and observe everything going on before I start shooting. Visualize how you want it shot in your head before you start walking around with a camera to your eye. That’s number one for me always. I’m also a bit crazy when it comes to dissecting my own work. I’ll stare at something for a long time, contemplate whether to use it or not and in the end probably never end up sharing it with anybody because I’m not happy with one small thing about it. There’s a lot of skate photos on my hard drive that have never seen the light of day because of this. That being said, I really think curating yourself is a super important quality to have as a photographer.
When shooting with skateboarders, what are some challenges you get faced with when trying to get a perfect action shot?
Security, flashes that don’t work, midday sunlight, my eyes not focusing my lens properly, “let’s just go get beers”, the photo looks great but the trick never got landed, rain, and the list goes on and on. It’s all worth it though.
Do you ever feel like you have the ability to view skateboarding subjectively through your lens? If so, how has photography altered the way you view skateboarding?
Often times, while shooting skateboarding, I’ll try and compose from an outsider’s perspective. Almost like I was walking by and decided to stop and watch and happened to take a photo. I’ve never been a big fan of really tight compositions so I like to step back and shoot from a far and observe the whole scene vs just a handrail and a staircase. There’s obvious times when you’re forced to default to that but it’s a last resort for me. As far as your second question goes, I guess I have more appreciation now for how skateboarding can look. Some people make it look really great and it’s easy for me to take a photograph when that’s the case.
Who is someone that has always inspired you and why?
There’s too many great photographers to name that have been an inspiration in one way or another but on a more personal level, I would say my good friend Riley Smith. He’s shown me the ins and outs of the industry and the kind of work ethic it takes to make it happen for yourself. He’s been a big support system for me and he’s one of the best guys out there. Thank you Riley!
Have you had any work used recently or coming out? What are some of the publications you work has been featured in?
I’ve been lucky to have my work featured in a lot of the Canadian skateboarding mags. I’m pretty loyal to my boys at Kingshit so if I have anything, it’s going to them first. Back in Halifax, I did a lot of work for The Coast which is a weekly independent news publication. It was always something new and kept things interesting. I had a lot of fun working for them before I moved here to Toronto.
Anything exciting going on for the future that we should be looking out for?
I just finished my new website, and other than that, I’m just hoping to shoot as much as I can now and see what this city has in store for me.
For more photos please refer to the gallery below or visit http://www.curtisrothney.com