Converse Cons welcomes Javier Mendizabal
Txabolo was – and still is – Fernando Elvira’s nickname for new Converse Cons Ambassador, Javier Mendizabal. Fernando was a mentor to Javier, the first street skater in Spain and later a respected photographer and editor of 360 magazine. He gave his young protégé his first free skateboards and published Javier’s first skate photos. The two travelled together extensively, usually on a budget, often sleeping rough. That’s where the nickname originated – Txabolo is Spanish slang for a shack built from junk found in the street. Javier and Fernando spent time living in one, while homeless in Hawaii many years ago. Fernando wasn’t involved in Txabolism, Fred Mortagne’s film welcoming Javier to the Converse Cons family, but Javier chose the name as a way of saying thank you to his old friend for the inspiration to do what he does today: skateboarding, travelling and shooting photos.
If you ask either Fred or Javier when they first met, they will tell you the same story. It was Fred’s first trip filming for Cliché, back in 2002. Things got off to a good start and four days in, Javier landed a backside 360 melon transfer at Odivelas skatepark in Lisbon, Portugal. The session moved on to another spot and carried on into the night. Back at the hostel Fred got a bad feeling, checked his bag and realised a tape was missing – the one with the transfer. He couldn’t face telling Javier that night, so waited until morning. “He couldn’t look at me and took me outside,” recalls Javier. “When he told me about the lost tape my first reaction was, ‘Fred man, you scared me. I thought someone had died. It’s just a skate trick’.” Fred had returned to the last spot the night before, but the tape was gone. They left notices offering a reward, but no one answered. A few days later, after re-filming the other lost tricks, Javier and Fred returned to Odivelas. This time around it was dark and wet and no matter how many times he tried, Javier couldn’t land the transfer. The two cut their losses and gave up. Fred worried about first impressions on his inaugural Cliché trip. 11 years later Fred and Javier were working together on Thomas Campbell’s film, Cuatro Sueños Pequeños. Knowing he would soon be working on a film welcoming his friend to Converse Cons, Fred suggested revisiting the transfer at Odivelas as a starting point. “There is no way in the world I can make that trick again, not with this body,” was Javier’s reply. But he went back anyway and gave the transfer a few tries, this time with a nosegrab. It felt good, so he and Fred returned to capture the trick for Txabolism. Javier didn’t land it on the first visit that trip, but they returned on the last day for one last chance. Javier made the first attempt he committed to, perfectly. Fred backed up the files in triplicate.
How did you end up riding for Converse Cons? My friend Pali (NegrÍn), who works for Cons in Spain asked if I was interested. I wasn’t looking for a new shoe sponsor, but since I have known Pontus (Alv) for a long time and am a big fan of his skateboarding and all the stuff he has been doing with his videos and now Polar, I spoke to him about Cons. It was natural and easy – they gave me some sneakers, I skated them and liked them and that was it. Had you skated in Cons before joining the team? Yes, I remember skating some of the first skate models they made back in the ’90s. Do you remember first meeting Fred? I met Fred on a Cliché trip to Lisbon, Portugal around 2002. We were filming for Bon Appetit and went there to meet up with Ricardo Fonseca.
Talk a little about your relationship with Fred. Initially I was probably a little bit intimidated, as he had just made Menikmati and Sorry, but then he lost that tape and since then he has always been really nice and very patient with me! No, I’m just kidding. I guess there was an easy connection between us because we were both into photography and both shooting with the same camera. We were also vegetarian and really into nature, so our friendship came pretty naturally. After that first trip we kept travelling together for all the Cliché videos and other projects. Then I started to eat meat again and stopped shooting film, but somehow Fred is still my friend! What has been your favourite collaboration with Fred? Cuatro Sueños Pequeños, the Thomas Campbell movie. It was a small crew of amazing people, we went to sick spots in some cool locations and there was so much creativity involved. The whole process was so cool that sometimes I didn’t want it to end. »
How did you become involved in Cuatro Sueños Pequeños? I met Thomas Campbell in the Basque country when I was 16, through our friend Fernando Elvira. We went skating together, shot some photos and even though we didn’t speak the same language, there was some kind of connection there. 16 years later he called me and told me about the project and two weeks after that I was in his house in California! This time we could speak the same language and we started to talk about Cuatro Sueños Pequeños, coming up with the idea of the dream story first and then discussing the crew and how to find the money. It’s funny because the whole thing was kind of a dream for me, not just the movie itself, but also working with such creative people like Thomas, Fred, Brian Gaberman, Sem Rubio and Antton (Miettinen), skating with one of the funniest and most unique skaters, Madars Apse and being able to use my old friends, the Chiwoks for the soundtrack. It couldn’t get any better really.
What is so unique about Fred’s eye? Like every other master, what makes him unique is the way he looks at things. He sees things that no one else sees. In my opinion, he is one of the best when it comes to composition, playing around with architecture, lines, reflections… He has his own unique style, which you recognize straight away when you see one of his images. This applies to his photography and his videography – he has a similar style in both. His video editing is amazing too, always really dynamic. If you had the option of having Fred as a filmer or a photographer on a skate trip, which would you choose? Fred does both, no matter what project he is involved in. That’s the way he is and how he works. I remember we went to Israel with Cliché and Fred came as the official photographer for the first time. He was there to shoot skate photos for some magazine article, which he did, but he also managed to shoot enough of his own personal photos to make a book (Hand in Hand) and directed and filmed most of my Cliché commercial too. All in one week! We were out all day skating with the whole crew and then at night, while everybody was sleeping, he was out on his own missions, shooting photos and looking for locations for the commercial. Sometimes he came back in the middle of the night to grab more film and left again. He didn’t sleep much that week.
Did you have any specific theme or goals for Txabolism? I came up with an idea because Fred asked me what I wanted to do, but as soon as we began filming, things slowly started to change until we pretty much forgot about the original story. We just kept the idea of showing something other than skate tricks and introducing some of my artwork and photos. I left the rest to Fred. Tell us about the locations in the film. I decided on Lisbon because I love the city: the people, the weather, the street life – it has a lot in common with Barcelona, being an old city by the sea. I also have some good friends there who told me about lots of new stuff to skate, so it was an easy choice. I did some research on spots and had some things in mind I wanted to try, but half of the stuff we ended up using wasn’t planned. For example, we only found that weird pool where I do the frontside blunt because some local dude came to talk to us at the skatepark and told us about it. Often the best things happen without any planning. We decided to go to Paris after Fred sent me a photo of a spot that looked like a huge open book. It was perfect for the film. Unfortunately that spot had been removed, so we contacted Luidgi (Gaydu) and ended up going to some different spots in some sketchy Parisian suburbs. It was good to see this side of Paris and the spots were amazing, that tunnel is so sick.
Tell us about your own photography. I just bought an old Leica – which I always wanted – and because of that, I’m shooting film again. I started shooting with a Nikon FM2 that my friend Fernando gave me as a gift when I was 21. I spent 10 years shooting with that until I got my first digital camera and stopped shooting film. My photography is like everything else I do. There are moments when I am more focused and creative and put all my energy into it and there are times where I just don’t feel it as much and become lazy. I was lazy for a while recently, but I am back on it 100 per cent. Hanging out with Fred and Thomas has really helped – just seeing them so focused and passionate inspires me. Another source of inspiration has been moving away from the city into the countryside. Nature is definitely my biggest influence and just being out here makes me want to shoot photos. Do you ever ask Fred for advice? Not really, I just pay attention to what he shoots and how. He is definitely a big influence on my photography.
Do you remember first meeting Javier? We met 11 years ago, on my first filming trip for Cliché. It was in Lisbon, Portugal where I lost that tape – not a good start to our working relationship! Talk a little about your relationship with Javier. We have shared so many good times in amazing places, making the best videos we could for Cliché. We share various passions, like photography – Javi has a really good eye for epic visuals. We connect on so many things and have similar sensitivities. Our approaches to working together are also very complementary – I bring ideas that suit him very well and get him stoked and he brings his ideas too. Some of my angles are his ideas. It's not like he tells me which angle to shoot from all the time, but when he does, he's usually right. What has been your favourite collaboration with Javier? Cuatro Sueños Pequeños is definitely the most important one. It was such a unique project. Javier and I travelled together a lot while making the film, so we became even closer. It was great shooting on 16mm again too; it had been years since I last used a Bolex camera. Before the film, we were both really stoked on the Cliché commercial we worked on together – that was definitely a major reason why I was asked to work on Cuatro Sueños Pequeños.
What is so unique about Javier’s approach to skateboarding? I love working with Javi because he's super motivated and very professional. He knows what he wants and tries to find amazing spots that are new or pretty much unknown, yet really photogenic – he knows that’s the icing on the cake. On top of that, he is an amazing skateboarder with unique style and class. He's pretty gnarly too and really dedicated. I'm amazed how much he still goes for it. This is pure love of skateboarding. Did you have any specific theme or goals with Txabolism? Nothing specific, but I knew I wanted to make something a little different from my recent work. The thing with skateboarding is that you can’t really plan too much because it never goes the way you want. This project has ended up being quite far from what I first had in mind. I had to adapt a lot – there are so many factors involved – but that's what skateboarding is about. When you go out in the streets, you can’t predict or control things. There were many shots I wanted to get that didn't happen. But I got unexpected shots and in the end, I made do with what I had and adapted. It's like this with all projects. »
Tell us about the locations in the film. I usually leave choosing locations up to Javi, because he does a lot of research about where he wants to go. Paris happened sort of randomly – I was going there to shoot a concert and Javi's girlfriend Carine had to be there at the same time, so there were two reasons for him to come along. Most of the spots we hit were in pretty sketchy areas in the suburbs – places I haven't been for years because they are scary. But we went with the right people at the right time – in the morning, as the bad guys usually start their shady business around 3pm. Everything was fine, but we knew anything could happen, so we were stoked when we were back on the train into the centre.
You’ve recently been shooting with the Leica Monochrom. Tell us about the camera and how it is to work with. I really enjoy it. The quality is amazing. Before, I really didn't like shooting digital – it was so far away from analogue for me – but with this camera, it's a different story. The images don't look electronic and the resolution is exceptional, which is thanks to the black and white sensor – it's four times sharper than a colour sensor. With proper editing and the addition of a little grain, the results are amazing, just like film. I shot all my pictures in this book with it. But of course I will always shoot film because it's our responsibility as photographers to not only shoot digital, but also to keep film photography alive.
You had a break from shooting and filming skateboarding recently. I had to quit everything temporarily to renovate the flat I bought in Lyon with my girlfriend. We didn't plan to change much, but we basically destroyed everything except the walls and had to start from scratch. We thought it would take two or three months, but in the end it took 16! Once you start, you have no choice but to finish the job. I have no regrets – we are really happy with what we did and our home feels amazing. And I learned so much; before this, all I could do was to put up crooked bookshelves!
Do you prefer photographing or filming skateboarding? I love both, that's why I do both. I really wish that for every trick I shoot, I could have both footage and photos. Both mediums are unique and have their own positive and negative aspects, making them very complementary. That's why I try to mix them whenever I can. I like using photographs in video edits.
How do you approach shooting and filming the same trick? This is dictated by the project. I still mainly make videos, so my photography back catalogue is much more limited, which makes me very sad. I went on one Cliché trip just as photographer, but I have only done that once. I would like to do it again, for sure. But to answer your question, it's only rarely that I get to shoot both at the same time. If I can set up a good tripod angle for video, I can shoot stills too, but I’ll only do this if it's the best angle. Otherwise, I always give priority to video. How did you become involved in Cuatro Sueños Pequeños? Javi wanted me to work on the project as he thought it fitted my style perfectly and Thomas knew my work and liked it very much. It just seemed like I was the best guy for what they wanted to make. At first I said no, because I hadn’t finished the flat, but my girlfriend said, “You can’t refuse such a great project after not working for over a year,” and she was right!
How was it working so closely with Thomas Campbell? Thomas is such a unique individual; he is amazing. He masters so many different things: painting, sculpture, filmmaking, photography… I love what he does, his style, the colours he uses. It's so poetic, sensitive, beautiful and inspiring. Thomas has a strong vision and he knows how to make you feel like you’re part of the project. He is easy to work with and we connected really well. What do you think of the film? I think it's beautiful. The 16mm brings such a different dimension and coupled with Thomas's style and ideas, it's epic. Anyone can watch it, even if you know nothing about skateboarding. Without doubt it will be one of the most important projects of my life.
Photography by Fred Mortagne Julian Furones David Turakiewicz Neil Chester Vincent Coupeau Thibault Le Nours
Pg. 04 Javier, Lisbon Julian Furones
Pg. 15 Paris Thibault Le Nours
Pg. 05 Zaragoza Fred Mortagne
Pg. 16-17 Backside smith grind, Lisbon Fred Mortagne
Pg. 08 Backside 360 nosegrab, Lisbon Neil Chester
Pg. 18 Lisbon Fred Mortagne
Pg. 09 Frontside ollie, Lisbon Fred Mortagne
Pg. 19 Lisbon Julian Furones
Pg. 10-11 Ollie, Paris David Turakiewicz
Pg. 28 Paris David Turakiewicz
Pg. 12 Zaragoza Fred Mortagne
Pg. 29 Javier, Lisbon Fred Mortagne
Pg. 13 Barcelona Fred Mortagne Pg. 14 Backside ollie, Paris Vincent Coupeau
Designed and produced by Grey Skateboard Magazine greyskatemag.com Editor Henry Kingsford Art Director Chris Pearson Illustrations Rob Mathieson