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Matinee: 'Mike Blabac -- Family Portraits' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

9 November 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 227th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Mike Blabac -- Family Portraits.

This 7:06 video is a portrait of, well, a portrait photographer. Mike Blabac says right at the beginning that skating was like nothing he'd ever seen. But he's not about preserving skateboarding.

What's important to him is capturing "the characters that are in it."

As one of them himself, he has spent some time getting to know them. And he's such an easy-going guy they all seem to enjoy hanging out with him. They become friends, family even.

Instead of discussing a lighting diagram for a killer portrait lighting setup, this portrait photographer focuses on his subjects and lets everything else fall into place. Not perfectly, he says, but appropriately, reflecting the subject not the craft.

Otherwise what you have isn't a portrait. It's a still life.

He has been interested in photography since kindergarten and had a darkroom in his parents' house before he discovered skating. Skateboarding, though, was what drove his interest in photography as a way to make a living. It was also his ticket into the sport.

In the 1990s he lived in San Francisco where he skated, bringing his camera along for the ride. His fellow skaters started asking him to shoot them. So he did.

He's pretty casual about his process, as he calls it. He's just trying to get comfortable. By making his subjects feel at home.

He's not the only voice in the video. We hear from Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, J. Grant Brittain, Rick Howard, Mike Carroll, Jason Dill, Chico Brenes, Wes Kramer, Karl Watson, Jim Thiebaud and Frank Gerwer, too.

And we see a good deal of his work. Enough to be mesmerized. The noise of skating is missing and the speed and the acrobatics. But the stills are impossible poses you could look at for hours.

"Skateboarding has taught me about life," he says, "more than anything."

He uses a Nikon D850 with an old 80-200mm f2.8, a 24-70mm f2.8 and a fisheye. He packs a few flashes with some radio slaves, too. And you'll notice a digital Leica M at the end of the video.

In addition to his Web site and Instagram account, he's published Blabac Photo: The Art of Skateboarding Photography. And in December he'll ship the 192-page Family Portraits with 25 years of his skateboarding portraits.

With all the friends he's made in skating, it should be a best seller.


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