Words Matt Lubanksy Photos Ian Reid & Alexander Richter
We’ve all known people throughout our lives that just happen to take the circumstances they’re given and make the most out of it — Ian Reid is definitely one of those special people. Born in Brooklyn in the ‘70s, Ian grew up as you would think most inner-city children would at that period in time and in that location — except for the fact that he picked up a liking for skateboarding at a young age. Taking what he loved and running with it, Ian soon found himself traveling around the world, living off of skateboarding and eventually parlaying his role in skating into creating films and becoming a professional photographer. From skating in Barcelona to taking war photos in Syria, Ian’s story is a long and adventurous one that makes him one of the gnarliest people we know.
Mass Appeal: Let’s start with your younger years. What was it like for an inner-city Black skater in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s? Were you sort of an outcast?
Ian Reid: Yeah, I mean I’d always get weird looks. People would be like, “Why you chilling with all these White boys? You’re dirty, your shoes are all fucked up,” that type of shit. They just didn’t get it. You just had to remind them, you’re still a nigga from the ‘hood and you will fuck them up. So that shit ended quick though, at least in my ‘hood. But even when I went to other places, I would still get that shit, so I’d have to remind them. It was a lot different then from now with how mixed it is. Gentrification [laughs].
Did being dedicated to skating help you stay out of trouble with crime when you were younger?
Yeah, it definitely saved my life in some ways. While my childhood friends were in jail, I was in Los Angeles skateboarding … so yeah, it definitely helped me and made me value freedom way more. Every time, back in the days when I was in jail, I’d be like “Fuck, I just wish I was out skating, fuck sitting up in this place,” but you know when you’re not traveling from skating, you’re usually posted with your homies and, well, shit happens. But I had the ability to just say “Fuck it” and go to Philly or Los Angeles and get away from it and just skate. It was my savior.
One of your closest homies with you during your time spent in Philly and LA was Brian Wenning, and a lot of us first saw you through some of his old footage. Did you link up with Brian when he was already pro, or were you guys tight before he rose up in rank?
Hell no! I met Brian Wenning probably around ‘93. He was just some dirty Jersey kid. It started with both of us being at the (Brooklyn) Banks at 8 a.m., like every day. After a while, it was like, you’re here, I’m here, might as well be friends. Looking back though, that was some real dedication. Waking up in the a.m., I would skate down to the Banks and he would take the train in from Jersey, skate all day, and then go home … just to do it all over again the next day.
You mention the Brooklyn Banks. Do you think the closing of the Banks symbolized a change in NYC skating at all?
Nah, not really. The Banks was an important place, but it was more of a hang-out spot where people would meet up. Sometimes you’d end up getting stuck over there way longer than you planned, but we had a lot of other favorite spots. The Banks, the red benches, the seaport — they were all my favorite spots and everyone else’s favorite spots for that matter.
After traveling around the world to places like Los Angeles and Barcelona, what do you think makes New York skating unique?
It’s just rough, man. Like it used to bug me out when I went to Cali, ‘cause it was just so perfect every day. Blue skies all the time; there was never any excuse not to skate. It’s just harder to get shit done in New York. Like motherfuckers will watch a clip and be like, “Yeah, that was alright,” but then, when they actually come to the spot and see how fucked up the ground is, they’re like, “How was that even possible?” None of that really reads well in the footage if you’ve never skated New York. You don’t see the old lady screaming at you when you’re trying to land a trick. You don’t see that huge crack right before the ledge that you have to ollie over just to get on it.
In the past decade, some of your popularity has come from your film, Sex, Hood, Skate & Videotape, as well as some of the photos you’ve shot. When did you learn how to shoot and edit film and who taught you?
Jay Strickland is the fucking man. I would sleep on the couch at the Baker office out in Hollywood and he would come in to edit videos. Beagle and I would just watch him. He would teach us some shit, but it went in one ear and right out the other with Beagle [laughs]. I would learn that shit, then, at night, I would work on my first video, “Ian Reid’s Video.”
When can we expect the next video from you?
It’s been done since 2007. I haven’t released it because the Internet has fucked everything up. I don’t want to release it and not make any money; that’s just like the worst possible scenario.
Aside from shooting video, you’ve also been shooting photos of women professionally. How’d you get into that?
When I started shooting photography, I was pretty much just shooting buildings and streets — just easy shit. That got boring, so I was like, “Fuck it” and started shooting women. Getting girls to take off their clothes and stuff never gets boring [laughs].
A lot of your shots are in abandoned spots. What’s the inspiration for that and why do you gravitate towards that aesthetic?
I like the peacefulness of places like that and some of the places have such a great history and story to tell. You can look at the walls in some places and just imagine what went on in it during the times it was active. I like to insert women into these gritty places to give it a sense of life. A beautiful, naked woman can spruce up almost anything, plus it’s the fuckin’ adventure—we all love adventures.
I was shooting at this place in Brooklyn and it’s kind of surrounded by water, so you have to go in it during low tide. Anyway, me and this girl shot in the place all day, almost completely forgot about the water, and when we got done and went down to leave, the damn water was up to the door and there wasn’t any way out. It was either “get in waist-deep water or jump out a second-floor window,” so we went waist deep.
Besides shooting women, I’ve also seen that you’ve been busy traveling all over, from Alaska to Syria. Could you explain a few of the trips you’ve gone on recently and the importance of getting out of the city?
Travel is one of the most important things I think you can do. Traveling the world was the best thing about skateboarding, and I thank skateboarding for expanding my horizons.
Recently I just wanted to go to places that people usually don’t go to. So I went to South Dakota and shot buffalos ‘n’ shit. It was wild, standing in front of a 2000-lb animal that could just look at your camera and think it was a gun and charge you at any moment.
Alaska was another one where it’s like, who the fuck from New York City goes to Alaska? Nobody. So I got on a plane and was there like, “Damn, I kind of know why nobody from New York City goes to Alaska; it’s cold and lonely here.”
What about your trip to Syria? What inspired that and what did you gain from that experience?
Syria … Syria was fuckin’ crazy, by far the gnarliest shit in life. I was always into war photography; it was just so insane to me on many levels because it’s raw emotion.
The first night in Syria I heard this woman get raped and I remember asking my fixer what we should do, and his response was “go to sleep.” That shit was gnarly. Interacting with Syrian people was cool because most were happy to see me, but they all asked what would make me come to this place in the current state that it is in. They didn’t understand it and a lot of them said I had a death wish.
I talked with a lot of interesting people and some of the stories are hard to swallow. For example, I was sitting down casually eating and a woman just started telling me, “I was raped by five soldiers and then they killed my sons” and then she went back to eating like it was normal. Shit was really tough. After I got back, things were fuzzy for a while. The things I had seen and heard made it difficult to shoot women the way I liked to before. That country is in peril and it’s not going to get better for a long, long time. I wish the best for them. I met some wonderful people that I wish I could help in more ways than just taking a photo of them and getting it printed in a magazine — it’s real life for them and I’ll be going back as soon as I can.
Do your travels to places like Syria and Alaska give you a different perspective on living in New York when you return?
Ah, it’s crazy; after getting back from Syria, my whole entire life perspective changed. It was tough to come back to America and listen to people complain about trivial shit and then see so-called gangsters. Over there, I saw nine-year-old kids that told me about slitting the throat of [Bashar al-] Assad and I had lunch with a man who killed over 100 people in a massacre … so yeah, a lot of things get put into perspective.
Lastly, to bring it full circle, have you found time to skate while doing all this traveling? Any dope spots in some of the foreign places you’ve visited? Any skate scenes in a place we don’t know about?
I try. It’s hard to bring a board and skate shoes with you on some trips. Turkey has some amazing spots, but it was hard to skate. I brought skate shoes (cheap suede kicks) and borrowed a dude’s board that I met and skated for a few hours in Gaziantep. They had a shitty but fun skate park. Other than that, there’s no skating going down in Barrow, Alaska.
This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 53. Read more stories from the issue here.