If you've read this week's issue then you probably already read my quick Essentials write up about the Summer Of Death competition happening this Saturday. --- SLUG Magazine, who happens to be my employer half of the week, will kick off their yearly skate competition series over at the Skate 4 Homies warehouse, but we already covered this in print so let's move on...
Every year we do this, we try to grab either a skater or a SLUG staffer involved with the event to chat, and this year is no exception as we sit down with photographer Sam Milianta about his career, joining up with the magazine, and talking about the local skate scene. All with photos of his work for you to check out throughout.
Gavin: Hey Sam, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sam: My name is Sam Milianta and I am 34 years old. I have a career and own a home but am still a skateboard enthusiast. I have been skateboarding for about 18 years and the older I get the better I was.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in writing and photography, and which of the two do you enjoy most?
Sam: I always liked to write. I remember writing a poem in fifth grade and the teacher told me it was good and ever since then I’ve liked to write. I always wrote short stories whenever the opportunity presented itself growing up. As for photography, I lived in St. George for a while and really didn’t have any friends at the time. I needed a hobby so I went to the local camera store and bought a used Nikon FM2 with a 28mm lens. I thought a 28mm was the normal lens for a really long time. At this point, I would say I enjoy photography more because you can snap a picture at any time as long as you have your camera. Writing is more of a time consuming process and I don’t have as much time as I used to.
Gavin: Did you seek out any college for either field or simply learn from experience?
Sam: I took a bunch of English credits in college as electives for fun. As for photography, I have zero formal training. My friend was a darkroom assistant and showed me the basics of how to print and develop film and just let me try it on my own for a while.
Gavin: What first got you interested in covering the local skate scene and those involved with it?
Sam: I’ve been skateboarding for a long time. I mainly just like skateboarding and like shooting photos. I always have a camera with me and since I’m out skating a lot, it’s kind of natural that some of the things I experience are going to get photographed.
Gavin: Over the years you've been viewed as a kind of documentarian of local skate. How is it for you having that kind of reputation and cred in the community?
Sam: I am seriously flattered by the idea of being viewed that way. This is the first time I’ve ever been told that. I always thought of myself as kind of an obsessive compulsive weirdo who can’t put down the camera. I guess I have a reputation as something more. That’s amazing.
Gavin: For those who may be interested, what kind of camera do you shoot with to get your shots?
Sam: I am kind of camera hoarder and buy cameras off eBay constantly. All my cameras are film cameras, not because I want to sound like a snob but I feel I personally shoot better photos if I can’t see them right away. I like to be able to look at it later so I can disconnect from the situation and look at my photos a little more objectively. I would say 90% of what I shoot is with a Leica M6 and a 35mm lens. It’s not the conventional skateboard camera, especially since it’s a film camera. It’s a really good camera because it’s fairly small and people don’t notice it a lot. If I’m really serious I’ll use a Hasselblad camera. It’s a great camera when you’re using lighting and want a really big negative. I also am totally addicted to the Olympus XA series point and shoot cameras from the ‘80s. Also, for anyone who’s really interested, I mostly use Kodak Tri-X film.
Gavin: What has it been like for you learning to snap action shots and honing your skills over time?
Sam: One thing about being such a skateboard nerd is that I’ve always looked at skate magazines. If you understand the tricks and what photos in those magazines generally look like, it gives you a good sense of timing in photography that actually carries over to a lot of different styles of photography. Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the famous term, “the decisive moment”. That idea is really important in skateboard photography and has made it a lot easier for me to shoot other things. I actually feel like it’s made me better at shooting portraits because I’m used to waiting for the right moment to press the shutter. Skateboarding happens so fast, you have to push the shutter at just the right moment or it’s over.
Gavin: How did you first become involved with SLUG Magazine, and what kind of work did you do for them to start out with?
Sam: I actually met Adam Dorobiala at Gallery Stroll. We exchanged numbers and he called me a few weeks later and asked me if I would like to do some stuff for SLUG. I was given a test assignment. It was to shoot a portrait of Sarah DeAzevado. I stressed about it for a week because I felt like I had to find an amazing location for the shoot. I ended up just going to her house and shooting it there. It was really natural and easy. Most of what I did early on was the same thing I’m doing now: articles about good times I’ve had skateboarding in Salt Lake.
Gavin: What has it been like for writing articles and shooting photos for the zine?
Sam: Generally, it’s a good experience. I’m a school teacher so during the school year, I don’t have the most flexible schedule and it’s kind of hard to schedule things and get the necessary people in the right place so I have time to finish what I’m doing before deadline. But it keeps me shooting and breaks me out of my photographic comfort zone sometimes, so it’s good.
Gavin: You've been featured in some videos from the Dew Tour about skateboarding and the general vibe of SLC compared to other cities. How did that opportunity come about?
Sam: My friend Mike Murdock was interviewed for the Dew Tour series the previous year. I guess they called him up and asked him who they should interview this year and he recommended me. They did it in a lot of cities and I was lucky to get to do it. The only other photographer they interviewed was Jon Humphries in Portland and he’s a pretty big time skateboard photographer. I definitely am not in the same league as him so it was really a big deal to me.
Gavin: You've shot photos and covered the Summer Of Death series over the past few years. What's your opinion of the series and the kind of competition it brings out every year?
Sam: I really enjoy the Summer of Death contests because they aren’t like the normal skate contests. A lot of contests are at skateparks and usually there are kids who skate that park every single day and have every trick planned out before the contest. I really like how the Summer of Death series makes kids skate things that they don’t get to (or care to) skate every day. It helps get kids out of the parks and exploring all the great things there are to skate in the Salt Lake Valley.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on this year's Summer Of Death moving to the Skate 4 Homies warehouse?
Sam: The best thing about it is that the general public doesn’t get to skate the warehouse on a day-to-day basis. So it’s cool to get to skate a new park. Also, it might help Skate 4 Homies recruit some new kids for their program.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what's your opinion on the way skateboarding is handled by the city and state, and is there anything you wish you could change?
Sam: Utah is pretty good about skateboarding. We have lots of parks all across the state and they don’t have a crazy helmet law or city employees who hang out at skateparks and give tickets to people not following the rules. The one thing I would change is maybe to have cities look into it a little more before building a park. It’s better to do your research and take a little longer and make a park that will last instead of buying some prefab park that will wear out in a few years.
Gavin: Who are some local skateboarders people should be checking out?
Sam: I’m a little biased but Matt Winskowski and Garrison Conklin. Both of these guys epitomize what real street skating is about for me. There are a lot of really good skateboarders in Salt Lake in general. Mike Murdock is my favorite skateboarder. But he has already established himself as a Salt Lake legend.
Gavin: Do you see anything on the horizon changing for skateboarding in general, or do you think things will remain the same for a few more years?
Sam: Skateboarding, like everything else, depends on the economy. I think skateboarding is kind of having a bad time lately. Board companies and shops are closing and there is definitely less money in skateboarding than there was ten years ago. However, I think the act of actual skateboarding is generally going to stay the same.
Gavin: What's your take, both good and bad, on the way "extreme sports" are presented nowadays with the X-Games and time on ESPN?
Sam: It’s a completely different side of skateboarding than what I have experienced. It’s kind of crazy because when I started out there were professional skateboarders. Now you have professional skateboarders who only do video parts and professional skateboarders who are professional at contests. There are a few who do both. It’s kind of different side of the same coin. In the end, lots of people talk shit on the internet about one or the other but it’s all skateboarding. I think when people get a little older and grow up, they realize skateboarding is fun and you should just do it the way you want to do it.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Sam: I’ll probably spend some time skating around the streets of Salt Lake. I’m lucky enough to be part of a big photo postcard project that has an upcoming show in Melbourne, Australia in November and hopefully Salt Lake City in January. I don’t have a lot planned but I’m sure I’ll travel somewhere to take photos and skate and probably make another ‘zine before the year’s end.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Sam: I probably should promote the Summer of Death contest series, as well as the Film Por Vida print exchange program. I also should thank Angela and Jeanette at SLUG, Adam D., Chris Swainston, Mike Murdock, Jai Tanju, Josh Joye, Joe Brook and Kimmie. I don’t think I would be doing this interview or shooting half the photos I shoot without these people as a constant influence in my life.
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