A few months back we introduced Marco Hernandez, a 22-year-old photographer from Staten Island – home of the Wu, but otherwise “the forgotten borough” of NYC – to our online readers, but since he loves printed imagery (easily) as much as we do, we decided it’s time for a proper, paper-based, classic-style feature: About to release his first book “Smokers”, for which Hernandez followed Ed Templeton’s and Jim Jarmusch’s (sans coffee pots) example and shot a whole bunch of friends and strangers, we also discussed skating in NYC, the radness of printed matter (i.e. zine culture), and the smoky ludicrousness of ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems).
Marco, how’s life in the forgotten borough these days? What are you up to? Is it still “Stagnant Island” to you?
It’s been pretty good, living here isn’t so bad. It’s nice to get away from all the silence and get out to skate the real streets and shoot photos, but at the end of the day it’s nice to relax back at the home with silence and not hearing cabs beep all night.
Does Staten Island still feel like “unmarked territory” to you in terms of NYC skateboarding?
It’s definitely unmarked territory for skateboarding because a lot of people don’t want to do the traveling part of it; you pretty much need a car to get to spots and search for them, but it’s definitely worth the while.
How much of your time do you dedicate to photography these days? 100%, or do you still have other jobs on the side?
My photography takes up about 80% of my time, the other 20% goes to working normal everyday jobs just to provide the funds to buy more film, cameras, food, and to continue doing what I’m doing.
You’ve been dubbed a “skate life photographer” – is that still an apt description? Is the balance shifting?
Yeah, I definitely would consider myself a skate life photographer just because everything I shoot is usually taken while I’m out skating. There’s so much more to it than just the actual skating, it’s like a hangout mostly. Whenever I’m out, I usually expect to get something out of it, there’s always a photogenic moment that comes up whenever the bros get together.
The bros… who’ve you been skating and shooting tricks with lately?
Lately I’ve been around a lot of different people, but usually you can catch me with Shawn Powers, Igor, Jeremie Egiazarian, Lucas Knight, the list goes on, I think I know almost every skateboarder in NYC.
What can you tell me about that moment when you were so consumed with skateboarding that you started to hate it?
That was a weird moment in time, I wouldn’t necessarily say I hated it, but it got to a point where I got so obsessed with skateboarding, all I did was read skate mags, watch skate videos… I was just so consumed with it I felt like I didn’t have anything else in my life.
I wanted to have more experience with photography so I started shooting street photos, fashion, portraits, just getting my hands into everything so I can see what it’s worth. And then I took a small break from skate photos just to work on my book, “Smokers”. But even when I try to stay away from it on the rolls I commit to shooting for this book, I’ll always have a couple exposures of some skate shots in there as well. But now I appreciate everything skateboarding has done for me, it kept me out of trouble growing up, it’s gotten me into everything I’m into now, so it’s definitely the essence.
Since you’re heavily into zines, books, and analog, black-and-white photos – are you generally somewhat old-school minded?
I actually enjoy using my iPhone and Instagram and all that, but I believe that images hold value and meaning when they’re in print. You can easily skip through images on a site and leave them unnoticed, it’s almost like the images have no purpose. I love looking through zines and books, it’s a better experience than clicking through an online editorial.
Even with skate mags, on some online issues there are sick photos you can’t observe well enough through the megapixels, I would much rather be holding the issue of the magazine and flip through the pages. I took a required class at the college I go to, and I had to start off at an introduction photo class to proceed onto the next class, which sucked and was completely boring.
The class required students to use their phones to take pictures, and I didn’t understand why, if you are going to teach about photography, why limit them to a smart phone where they can’t control anything? I just think there is a lot of laziness, people can take an image on their digital device and manipulate it to look like a photo shot with 35mm film or even a Polaroid. Meanwhile, major film companies are slowly discontinuing films that these apps try to replicate.
And doing a book, your first one – does it feel even better than having an exposition, because it’s going to last for such a long time?
I definitely have been shooting with a different mind set only because of that, once this book is made it’s going to be there forever. But that’s just me being insecure about people not liking it, usually I get hyped on everything I’ve been shooting so I am pretty excited to have it done. I’ve taken time only because if it’s rushed, it will show in the images, and you can’t rush perfection.
I know Ed Templeton’s “Teenage Smokers” book was a huge inspiration for this project… and since his work is often quite candid, how are your feelings about showing friends and strangers in candid shots?
His work is most definitely an inspiration behind it. Most of the images aren’t candid but I have a handful of candid shots in the mix. My friends I am comfortable with shooting, so candid shots aren’t a problem, shooting strangers candidly can sometimes ricochet and they notice you and that can lead to something bad.
Some people don’t like their photos taken, some people find it interesting and some people have asked me if what I was shooting was for an anti-smoking campaign, ha-ha. Even though smoking is really bad for you, it definitely looks rad in photos, which is weird.
You’ve shot the entire book with black-and-white 35mm film, are you generally into old-school, analog photography and developing methods? Or do you still shoot both, digital and analog?
I do shoot with digital cameras as well, I usually shoot with it only with skating or with a client I am working with because of the faster results. With this book, I developed all the rolls myself, made contact sheets, scanned all the film with my scanner, I take pride in my work, I can’t really trust labs to do the process for me only because I get worried they can mess it up and it’s ruined.
The last time we spoke you said you were about to build your own darkroom in the basement… so you’re done building now!
I am! The enlarger is a little trashy but it works. I made a couple prints in my basement once but I just didn’t have the right materials so the results weren’t the best. But as of now I’ve been looking into a new enlarger, I’ve also been using public darkrooms but only in the morning time because there are no students or regular people there.
Since our whole issue is going to focus on the theme “offline/analog”: have you ever photographed anyone smoking one of those new vaporizer e-cigarettes?
Ha-ha, no! I’m not sure about other people’s opinion on it, but I find it to be such a “Bro” thing. Here in Staten Island, the only people who use vapes are people who listen to dub-step music and mostly do it in public just to be that guy. I did it once as a joke, we were skating and this kid let me try it – the amount of smoke that came out of my mouth was ridiculous! It’s starting to take over though, there is a store down the block from my house that just opened, it’s called VAPE CAVE, should be interesting to see the type of people I’ll be seeing in the area.
Did that fascination with smoking, the rad look of it, make you try smoking as well? Do you smoke?
No, I don’t smoke. I have tried it a couple times, most of my friends do and I just think it’s photogenic. People insist I’m promoting an unhealthy lifestyle and will go on about how I shouldn’t be exposing this to the world but honestly, it’s a personal choice for people, we are all going to die anyway.
You had a show and a zine called “I remember nothing”… is photography a way to remember moments otherwise forgotten?
Yes! Whenever I am out I take so many photos, it’s pretty funny because sometimes I’ll be too lazy to develop the films, and the rolls sit for days, then I forget what I shot and I decide to get out and do it. Photography is definitely always going to be a way to remember something, good or bad.
Did you ever get in trouble for taking pictures?
Not really, a lot of the time people don’t really care, but I have come across some characters that threatened me but I don’t feel intimidated by that. Although one time I was shooting photos of my friend skating a drained-out pool in Staten Island, the park’s Department cornered the whole place so we cooperated, all of us had gotten $50 tickets for trespassing and honestly, we could’ve easily dodged that because they kept mentioning how scared they were of us because there was about 10 of us and three of them.
Have you been dabbling with video as well? Maybe some super-8 stuff, keeping it analog?
I thought about it a couple times to start shooting video as well, but that’s a whole different realm so I feel when I get the confidence to start learning and doing the same steps I did with photography, I’ll be shooting with super-8 cameras and all that.
Nice! Do you still sell most of your zines to London? Got an explanation why that is so?
Yeah, a lot of my customers are from the UK, I always have to pay for custom slips and all that jazz when I send them out. Honestly, I am heavily into European skate culture, I always have been since I was a teenager, so it’s definitely an awesome feeling that I’m known out there. I’m into brands like Palace, Polar, Magenta, Isle, the old Blueprint, so it just feels right, hopefully I can travel out there soon.
Hopefully! What can you tell me about recent zines? Or forthcoming ones?
I recently made a skate zine with Meanwhile Press out of the UK called ‘Mean Streets’. Out of all my zines, this one has gotten a lot of exposure and sold out twice on the web store. I definitely will be making another one soon, I challenge myself to make at least three zines a year. I think I’ll continue to make zines until I die, it’s a rad culture and being able to trade them with people, sell them, look through them, it’s just an awesome feeling looking at your work blown up in pages and hearing people talk about it.
Almost as awesome as seeing your work on a board, I guess… you once did a board graphic for The Northern Co., are you planning to do more stuff like that in the future?
Of course, I am always willing to work with skateboard companies on graphics or even shooting for them, even if it isn’t paid. I love skateboarding and if a brand is willing to give me the opportunity to place my photo on boards, that’s all I need. Who knows, maybe I’ll reach out to another brand and we will see if a new graphic is possible.
Let’s wrap this up. You’ve been listening to the streets since your first zine release (“The Streets Talk But Do We Listen?”), so I wondered: have you been hearing different things lately compared to when you first started roaming the streets in 2011?
Not at all, the streets are always going to be dangerous, but that’s what makes it so much more fun.
What else can you announce for 2015?
I have plans to have another solo exhibition in NYC, release my “Smokers” book within this year, and continue to skate indoors during this rough winter NYC has been going through. Other than that, just enjoying life and having fun, that’s what it’s all about.
by Renko Heuer