“A picture is supposedly worth a thousand words. This 11-shot sequence accounts for 5500 ‘F@#*s’ and 5,500 ‘Yeahs’!” was the crude accompaniment to a Rob Mathis sequence of Jeremy Jones in the September 1998 issue of SNOWBOARDER that set my career of captioning in motion. For being the creator of these images I’ll be forever grateful to Rob Mathis.
Rob Mathis entered snowboarding and photography in the early 90s. At the time, pursuing both riding and shooting photos required a far greater commitment than they do today. This was before snowboarding became an integral part of a target demographic and 14 megapixel digi-cams were considered stocking stuffers. From finding snowboard-friendly slopes to session to hustling for film and processing, there was a work ethic involved in making both happen that seems to have been lost over the past two decades.
Rob Mathis continues to prove that true craftsmanship cannot be commoditized and that the cream of the crop will always be in demand. Just as Mathis found himself immersed in the OG Utah scene of the mid-nineties shooting riders like Cody Dresser, Blue Montgomery, Andy Wright, Brad Scheuffele, and Bobby Meeks long before they became the industry luminaries we know today, and later provided a first-person record of the Forum 8 revolution. Rob now frames the next generation of snowboarding stars with subjects like Torah Bright, Bode Merrill, Same Taxwood, Dan Brisse, Sage Kotsenburg, and Kazuhiro Kokubo at Park City as a Marketing Partner creating media like the “IRPC” Movie.
How did you get introduced to snowboarding–and likewise, photography?
I first started snowboarding in 1985. As a vert skater living in Utah, it was a natural way to make the most of the winter months when you couldn’t skateboard. My first board I bought was a Burton Powdergun. They had no metal edges but longer fins for the Utah pow, haha! I ended up breaking a bunch of those and honestly still preferred skateboarding to snowboarding in those early years. Photography is something I always knew I wanted to do. In fact, on my 1st grade “What do you want to be when you grow up?” piece, I wrote either photographer or race car driver. Although I’d still like to be a race car driver, doing something you love (photography) for a living is not like having a “job” at all!
Do you recall the first time you went out to shoot a handrail?
I actually shot some of my first handrail sessions at the smaller Rail Gardens rails with Blue, Danny, Geary, Andy Wright, and a host of other locals. This was 1994/1995(ish), but I truly remember the season where we started really shooting and filming rails in 1997. Everything we shot for “Decade” was such a great experience. I got to be the skate photographer I always wanted to be. I got my first SNOWBOARDER cover during these sessions of Brian “Chico” Thien at my Junior High school rail. Little did I know that this was going to be how every season started from that point forward, shooting rails and eventually traveling all over the world to shoot on handrails.
Which of these items has been most valuable to you as a photographer: Flash kit, snowmobile, or passport?
Flash kit. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with them over the years, but you can’t shoot as much urban stuff as I have over the years without the flash kit. I remember when I first got my Elinchrom system in 2003, it opened up a lot more shots with all that power. Packing and lugging the damn thing across the world is definitely no joy. Trying to make all that gear fit in your packs so it doesn’t get ruined on Finland trips was a pain, but once you got there and used everything it was worth the trouble. Let’s just say Finland is not overly light in the winter and a flash was a must all day and night.
Kodak or Fuji?
When I shot chromes I really loved Velvia (Fuji), but I truly loved shooting film most of the time. Kodak Portra was my go to, and I shot a ton of film back in the day. The drawback was a lot of mags had a hard time getting the scans right from back then, but damn it looked good when it worked! I still love looking at the original prints from all those film sessions.
Which spot has been more pivotal to your career: Mueller Park or Brighton backcountry?
Ha, that’s a tough one. I absolutely cut my teeth in the Brighton backcountry. I still have ongoing friendships from the crew that I met and shot with in those days. Honestly that’s how I got hooked up with Forum. I was shooting with Bobby Meeks, Jason Bump, Cody Dresser, Brian Thien and Travis Wood among a host of others, Travis had me shooting photos of these guys for a small company called Subtle. Travis ended up moving on taking the marketing job at Forum and hit me up to shoot photos in 1998. I will say that first year I had a horrible contract, but I knew that was where I wanted to be. There was so much energy around that team/era!
Did you ever hear the rumor that Lizard King hit the gap from the Utah Issue cover you shot of Jeremy Jones while riding in sneakers?
Ha, I never heard that rumor. I don’t doubt it, but I never did hear it.
Have you ever considered living someplace other than Utah?
Once I was shooting snowboarding full time no other place made sense. When I was working at Forum I’d fly back and forth to stay with Steve Ruff what seemed like every weekend, but Utah is where my roots are at.
What is the most influential trick, image, or session you recall shooting?
Oh wow, that’s a real tough one. When you’re as lucky as I’ve been to be able to shoot such incredible talent, there was always something heavy going down. Without a doubt, what stands out as more of an all-time trip as opposed to one session was our first urban trip for “True Life.” This was the first time I was going on a trip just to shoot rails. We started off in Chicago, Illinois, and I have no idea how that ended up being our first spot. It was Jeremy Jones, JP Walker, Mitch Nelson, Nate Bozung and I’m pretty sure Brandon Bybee. I ended up getting one of my favorite shots of Nate in Chicago on this kinked ledge that still is one of my favorite images. We were completely hulking it, no idea where we were going, straight up days just driving around and looking for rails. We ended up getting great stuff, but decided to fly into New York from Chicago. Buffalo was the first stop and it’s where JP scoped the red kinked rail that ended up being his closer. That thing seemed like a monster at the time. We actually tried to set it up at night, but ended up coming back the next day to get the shot. The funny thing is there was a car in part of the runout area of the rail, and when I was framing it up I wanted it in the shot because it had New York plates. Ha, I’d probably crop the car out now if I shot it, but then it seemed so surreal to be shooting snowboarding in NY. Sorry to drag on, that just ended up being one of my all-time favorite shots of JP. It’s pretty overwhelming to hear people talk about that shot still whether they had it on their wall or just remember the image. That stuff never would’ve happened if I wasn’t shooting the guys I was at the time. Great memories!
Does it ever irk you when slopestyle riders call “Murphy Flips” double corks?
Haha, nah. But I remember shooting the sequence of Jason Murphy on the swimming pool jump at Brighton like it was yesterday. I think that was one of the last things he did before leaving on a Mormon mission.
When was the last time you shot action photos without a filmer there?
The funny thing is I actually really like a lot of filmers that I get to shoot with, but damn I hate them in the shot, haha! I shoot a bunch at Park City these days and I actually get to go do some photo shoots without a filmer. The death eye lens is a killer! Of course I’m sure the filmers love shooting through all my flash gear that’s set up these days.
Is the Forum 8 the best team in the history of snowboarding?
I’m obviously biased on this question, but absolutely yes. Granted, other teams had incredibly talented riders, but as a whole team/marketing machine/videos no one has done it like that brief run. I’m one lucky SOB to have witnessed this stuff like I did, and I’m not sure if that can ever be repeated like it was with the Forum 8.
Where can people pick up a copy of your book “Slide: The Photography Of Rob Mathis?”
Well, I do see where they’re available on Amazon and other random used locations. I only have ten left that I kept for myself.
What is the best city for shooting jibbing in the world: Minneapolis, Québec City, Anchorage, Helsinki, SLC, Marquette, or Buffalo?
Helsinki, by far. The first time I got to witness this urban mecca was in 2004 for “Video Gangs.” Joni Malmi kept telling us we needed to come over to his home country and shoot. We ended up doing two trips before Christmas that year. Ha, it was so good and new back then that Eddie Wall jokingly told me to label the shots Minnesota so crews wouldn’t start rolling over. I’ve seen countless amazing shots from all the crews over the years and people are still crushing it even now. I saw some great Oli [Gagnon] and E-Stone shots from this past season. Helsinki is by far my favorite.
What can our readers expect from Park City this year both online and on the snow?
Park City has been such a great experience. We’ll be doing the “I Ride Park City” web series again. Pat Fenelon has been crushing it on the video front. Jeremy [Cooper] and crew will be creating (and re-creating) an awesome park so you never get tired of riding the same runs. The team there is a great mix of huge names like Bode, Torah, Brisse, Stevie, Erin, Scotty, Sage, and Biittner, but Coop also added on new blood like Dylan Thompson, Sam Taxwood, Alex Sherman, Griffin Siebert, and Blaze Kotsenburg. It makes shooting there a true pleasure!
Have you ever thought about using old slide loops as shot glasses?
I actually need to find something to do with them. I acquired a bunch over the years that just collect dust.