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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why am I so mad?

So why am I so mad at Zvereff and his Rajput Ride photos?

Essentially, it is because of the amazinging falseness of them. This is partly my fault. I looked at the pictures alone, without any context, and came to some conclusions. Those conclusions were wildly wrong, and part of that is surely my fault. That doesn't change the fact that I'm mad.

Further, I think I am justified in much of my assumption.

While a more astute eye than mine might well have identified the skaters as foreign. I don't think anyone could identify the photos as "a behind the scenes, and a rather slanted one at that, of a Red Bull sponsored event." The video, interestingly, is much more balanced. You see that India is not a bunch of narrow alleys populated entirely by elephants, scooters, and picturesque old men. You see that, despite Zvereff's remarks to the contrary, there's plenty of beautifully maintained and nearly new concrete to be "shredded" by the skaters.

No, what Zvereff gives us is the same fake McCurry fake India, only this time with skateboarders. What are we to make of this? The tropes are all there indicating True Culture Documentary (in the National Geo style). While one might not necessarily read this as "Indians are skating in Jodhpur" but one can surely be forgiven that assumption. It is, I think, completely impossible to realize that these photos are actually a Red Bull ad.

Did they get all the required permits? Irrelevant. Persuading bureaucrats that the fee you pay makes up for your obnoxious behavior is not at all the same thing as not being obnoxious. As a former resident of San Francisco where you can get a permit for anything, I can attest that paying the relevant fees does not make you beloved by the residents, and it doesn't make you not an asshole.

Did the locals actually love them? Well, that's surely the narrative they would promote, and it's largely un-checkable. And again, it's largely irrelevant. The Indians thought the British were pretty funny with their silly hats and the standing around outside all afternoon "guarding" things, too. In any case, the standards of the locals are not the only standards in play here. By the standards of the west, this sort of thing is pretty shitty and, as westerners, they should answer to those standards as well.

Of course, let's be honest. It's Red Bull and skateboarders, statistically, we're most likely talking about awful, self-absorbed, egoists. Do you really think they made sure to get all the permits that might apply?

There's just no way this wasn't a bunch of foreigners, permitted or no, loved or no, charging around in a foreign country grinding the edges off of various people's concrete objects, getting in the way, and generally being pushy and obnoxious, all in the service of selling an unpleasant beverage to frat boys.

And that is not even close to what the photos said to me when I first saw them.

And that is why I'm so irritated.


  1. I hear you Andrew, would it have been (even) worse if the pictures had been shit too ? You 've got to hand it to the beverage boys that they at least know very well how to get a good photographer, because the pictures I agree are really good.
    Don't know what to make of this, other than just enjoy the pictures, prefer espresso over RB anyhow.

  2. Pls review Dan Zvereffs sk8 Kazakhstan photo journal. Would love to hear thoughts.

    1. It strikes me that lacking the easy referents of India and Holi as we so often see it in America, and faced with an enormous and complex country, Zvereff has fallen back on a random selection of bullshit.

      Of 26 pictures, 9 or 10 seem to mostly be pictures of the bros screwing around in this weird place. There's a couple half-hearted "look at these odd looking people" and a handful of snaps of "here is our car".

      It's absurd to think you could spend a couple days or weeks banging around Kazakhstan and come away with anything meaningful, and it looks like they didn't even try. They just ground the edges off some really very nice looking stonework with their fucking boards and jumped back in their rented van to hit the next incomprehensible location.

      There appear to be two genuinely lyrical skateboarding shots which I cannot love because of the basic Ugly American subtext, and the rest is basically half-hearted crap. Not even up to his usual standard.

      I think he must have been simply slammed. It's too big, too fast, too much, what the hell are we even doing here.

      The "peeing in the train's toilet" shot sums it up pretty completely. This is a photograph made by a guy who has simply given up.

  3. Dear blogger,

    Oh golly! A long form Internet rant reply. On a 'blogspot' no less. I haven't slummed it like this since GeoCities.

    I'm going to begin by saying that I'm a longtime fan of Dan Zvereff the photographer, and Dan Zvereff the human being. I don't really mind what you think of his work, or what digit you believe he's used to adjust the tone curve of his photos. The fact that you spend so much time on your blog interrogating how a photo has been processed is indicative of where your priorities lie. Some people don't like Dan's work. Others do. It's there to be appreciated or critiqued. Have at it. I'm not going to write two blog posts on your work just because I don't find black and white photos of leaves particularly compelling.

    Skateboarding too welcomes critique. Being angry at skateboarders is the age-old refuge of those not yet old or affluent enough to own a lawn to tell kids to stay off of. Having grown up living between multiple global cities, I can say that skateboarders are some of the most creative and conscientious people I've ever met. But your opinion differs, and it's your blogspot, so I won't press this issue either. However I will say that your assertion that marring somebody's property should be a capital offense makes me hope you sleep through the next vote.

    Dan happens to be a great skateboarder, writer, illustrator, animator and photographer. I like his work. So do the widely respected publications that run his work. The trips he takes weren't created by Red Bull. For years he and his friends have been travelling to far-flung places, and yes, while they're there they skateboard. Their series, Visual Traveling, built a following, and since then Red Bull has paid for Dan and his friends to do what they were essentially already doing. Seeing the world. Riding their skateboards. And based on your opinion, either engaging in cultural exchange or destroying public property. I'm personally ambivalent when it comes to Red Bull. It's another unhealthy beverage. There are many. So sure, fuck Red Bull and fuck the man and fuck McDonald's and fuck fat cats and sellouts and anyone not having to pay their way because a brand has decided to sponsor their travels. And sure fuck skateboarding because to be honest, it can take the heat from another angry guy with a keyboard.

    There's a lot of hate out there. As the song goes, "everyone's a critic and most people are DJs." I'm not exactly astounded by the negativity that you've tried to frame as honesty. This is the Internet. But as you've taken a personal interest in a friend, I've taken a personal interest in you. Congratulations, another reader.

    It's a shame that based on a website you've decided to fingerbang a public 'fuck you' out of your keyboard, directed at a person you've never met. A genuine, intelligent, hardworking person who would never waste time on here defending himself, and doesn't need to.

    I hope that in the future, rather than say "fuck [person, opinion or thing I don't agree with]," you use your opinion to inform a new creative vision. To go out into the world and create work that you believe is more honest and deserving of praise. When you're busy making things it's hard to find time to hate on things you dislike. I was hard pressed to find time to write this post.

    Of course you're also welcome to Google me and write vitriolic articles about the many cultures I've exploited simply by using my passport. I love a good laugh.


    1. Thank you for your input. I only wish you could spare more than a few moments so you could write at length rather than the few brief words you were able to share.

    2. Don't you think it's an unfounded assumption to think that because they were skateboarders they were pushy and obnoxious? I don't know if they had permission to do a photo shoot there or not (although I would think the company would get permits or whatever is necessary for a commercial shoot), or if people who live there thought this was annoying or amusing or fun or a nuisance. Why is this shitty by Western standards? They did a commercial shoot, taking photos and recording video while skateboarding around town - seems like that's up to the people that live there to deal with it accordingly and resolve problems if there were any. I think there are plenty of commercial shoots done out in public here; I would hope going to another country that a photo shoot would cause minimal disruptions and be done in a respectful way. I still don't see why you find this quite so irritating. It's up to the skateboarding photographer if he wants to contract with a company or license usage of his photos to promote a beverage marketed to certain audiences, and that may not be the healthiest drink on the planet (and seems to be disliked so far by all of us that have commented!). Seems like it's his skateboard and his camera and up to him how he uses either one. Sharon

    3. After due consideration, I think I adequately addressed all of your questions in the original post.