Before any of the cameras were around, Jake was always insane. I didn’t know how to read the guy at first. He was super opinionated, in ya face and would always wild out. He even started a clothing/film production/Jackass-inspired company called Krazy Katz. The camera wasn’t even a camera, I’m pretty sure he got it from a Kinder Surprise. Some things change and some things never change. He still wilds out; all you have to do is put about five cameras on him and the Jake Darwen experience naturally begins. If anyone has witnessed this you know you have two outcomes: the clip is gonna go viral or you won’t even be able to film it because you’ll be on the ground laughing too hard. The strong opinions are still there and he’ll school you on any fact. The clothing company may have fizzed out but for some reason the film production company somewhat stuck. It may have taken a small shift to stills but my gosh it has paid off, practically creating a whole new look that no one else can do. I can confidently say Jake’s one of the best photographers—if not the best—in the world. We never needed a novelty sized cheque to tell us that, but the world seems to agree too. One quality that has always impressed me is his determination. He shoots photos like he skates. He’ll spend countless hours trying to film something or learn a new trick I can’t even pronounce; until it’s perfected he’s not leaving the spot. This is the whole reason why he’s so successful and made such a strong name for himself. He doesn’t give up and gets what he deserves. I’ll happily call him one of my best friends and be proud of anything he does. He’s one of a kind and will do anything for the homies.|Kayle Lawson
So let’s start it off, where are you right now?
Right now I’m in Brisbane. We just finished this little filming trip with the Element guys and I’m about to head to the airport soon to fly back to Melbourne.
You’ve been on a bunch lately, weren’t you just in Auckland?
Yeah, there was a trip at the end of January for 10 days to New Zealand which was actually the first skate trip I’ve done back home since I moved to Australia five years ago, so that was epic! It’s an awesome feeling to actually be on your home turf showing your friends around because you want to show them the best time you can in the little amount of time.
Far out, that must have been cool to show them around your stomping grounds. Hey so as people are probably noticing, these images are of you, not ones you’ve taken. How was it being the one doing the skating?
It’s a complete flip of the script. I’m so used to being behind the lens that I forget what you have to battle through when you’re in front of it. It’s always a mental battle because I’m always envisioning the trick from both perspectives. So when I’m trying to do something it’s so easy for me to forget about even trying the trick and focus more on how the light looks etc but when it works out it’s cool seeing someone else’s view on it.
I noticed that when we were shooting the cab and you were asking about the light. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about photography but what I thought I should ask is, are there many times when you’ve been shooting something and thought, ‘man, could I do that’?
Yeah, I just need to know if I’m jumping down something it’s worth it in case I get smoked. I feel like a few years ago that may have happened once or twice, but not at all these days. In saying that though, I’ve become a lot more selective with what I shoot, because you start to get a feel for what’s going to look really good and stuff that sometimes just won’t translate in a photo. Everyone I’ve been skating with at the moment has been doing tricks I can’t even think of trying, especially when they’re jumping down gaps etc. My body would just crumble, hahaha!
Like for example, China has no rules. You can do seriously anything you want.
In terms of finding time to skate yourself, is it something you struggle with?
Nah, not at all. There are so many hours in a day it’s an excuse to say you don’t have time to skate, haha. Even if it’s just skating flat ground when everyone’s warming up or if no one wants to shoot anything that day you generally find yourself at a skate park somewhere or just skating a curb in a car park.
So going back to the beginning in a roundabout way, I’m sure you’ve been asked this but what exactly was it that got you into shooting skating?
I was just getting too many injuries. I had three years of back to back surgeries. I broke my forearm and needed surgery when I was 14, then had a spiral fracture on my tibia and fibula when I was 15, then I ruptured my ACL when I was 16. My mum had to take so much time off work to look after me, it was just getting too hard for her. I remember after my knee surgery I went out skating just to hang out one of the days with everyone, and David Peryman and Willy Low were always filming everything. I was just sitting there watching all of this cool stuff go down and had nothing to show for it. Then I had this brain surge of getting a photo camera. It made sense because no one in our crew had one, so I used my savings I had to buy a Nikon D40X and for the months of rehab I took up photography at high school and just went out skating with everyone and learnt how to use it over time.
Did you know when you started shooting photos that that was what you wanted to do?
I was oblivious about it for ages because it was just something I’d do for fun and to pass time until I could skate again. The more I started shooting photos though, the more I started to realise it could potentially become a career. I started reaching out to photographers and Mark Barber luckily took me under his wing. I was in high school and he would let me assist with him on commercial shoots and when he was working on NZ Skateboarder he would let me watch him do all of the editing to the magazine. I honestly didn’t know a thing. He would just pay me to be there and teach me a bunch of ways to use my flashes etc. It was incredible. Shoutout to Barbs! Fucking legend!
Barbs is a fucking legend. Okay so moving forward, you now spend a large amount of time in the States. How has it been cracking into that scene? Do you think you have an advantage or disadvantage being from New Zealand?
I’ve spent the last three years going there for six months at a time. It has its pros and cons. I love being over there though. Every time I’m there it becomes more comfortable and easier to navigate around. Everyone is always on the mission as well, which is always a good thing! I don’t think there is any advantage or disadvantage being from New Zealand though. I’ve had people ask me if New Zealand is in Europe though, which is absolutely insane.
I had someone in the States ask me if we spoke English in New Zealand once. So tell me what the pros and cons are.
The pros are you get to skate and shoot with some of the best skaters in the world and there’s unlimited opportunity over there. If you’re in the right place at the right time, anything, you never know what, could happen. The cons are the police are a lot more gnarly than they are in Australia and New Zealand. You can get deported if you get caught drinking beers in the street or in a school yard over there. Just little things like that which we’re so used to doing here are a lot riskier to do over there.
Oh man… the time when I lost my passport boarding the flight to China on my first DC trip…
With that in that back of your head, do you have to play it safe while you’re in the States? Surely you can cut loose every now and then?
Yeah, well you can do whatever you want at the end of the day, you just question what you’re doing more than you would in other countries. Like for example, China has no rules. You can do seriously anything you want.
In terms of American magazines, have you found the process of getting your images in there any different to here or Aus?
Not at all, it’s still the exact same process. You have to start from the bottom all over again. When I went to America the first time I just shot every day as much as I possibly could and then asked around to get contact details for the editors of magazines over there. Eventually after sending photos through for a while, things slowly started getting published. That was definitely one of the most rewarding feelings getting something published in an American magazine.
Do you see yourself moving there full time?
Yeah, I could move there 100%. Just have to work on this visa and it’s on.
Rather than sign onto one company, you’re becoming the go to for multiple brands. Do you think this is where things are going or is it something that you yourself would rather do?
Yeah, that’s been a trip! It’s a crazy feeling when you get hit up from a company to go overseas and shoot a trip for them! Luckily it’s been happening more and more over the years. To be honest I would love to just stick to working for one company and build a body of work for them over the years. I feel like all of my favourite photographers that I look up to have done that. For example if you think of DC you think of Blabac’s photos, Vans you think of Acosta’s photos, Element is Gaberman. It’s cool when a company has their dude and all of the imagery is consistent in my opinion.
For sure, a consistent archive is a priceless thing, huh? Speaking about trips, do you have a story that sticks out in your head for good or bad?
Oh man… the time when I lost my passport boarding the flight to China on my first DC trip for Nyjah’s shoe release was a complete nightmare. We had already been to the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and we were flying to China. We had a full day of travelling and it was pretty late at night. This still makes no sense but I showed the flight attendants my passport and boarding pass then started walking down the tube connecting the terminal to the plane and I remember putting my passport in the left hand pocket of my camera bag, like one that’s a really tight slip. I put my bag in the overhead luggage and then went to sleep and went to grab my passport to fill out my arrival card and it wasn’t in my bag! I had to call out a flight attendant and tell them the situation during the flight and it was like a scene of a movie where somehow everyone hears what you said and stop talking and look at you! We landed and I wasn’t allowed to go into China. The customs officer said ‘where are you from?’ I was like, ‘New Zealand?’ Then he goes, ‘all right, you are on the next flight home via where you just flew from’. Leigh Bolton was standing with me and watched it all happen. The DC dudes were waiting for their bags so they had no clue what was happening when Bolts walked down solo and I wasn’t there anymore. Long story short, I flew back to Singapore, purposely missed my flight back to New Zealand to get an emergency passport, got a hotel, got a new Chinese visa and four days later I was back on the trip. The lady at the embassy said that I was the first New Zealander to travel into China on a temporary six month passport because people normally just fly straight home. It was my first international trip with DC. I’m not throwing in the towel that easy.
Considering your age, you’ve been in the game for a minute now. What are some of the changes you’ve noticed so far?
It’s hard to say, but I feel like a big change I’ve seen is the rush to bring out content. People don’t like being patient these days. I was lucky enough to catch the end of the era of buying VHS videos and DVDs. Everyone used to study videos so much and appreciate them so much more. Now it’s a rush to bring out fruitless content on the internet, which is here today and gone tomorrow and it just doesn’t have the same love that it used to. There are companies that are obviously producing untouchable content, like the Vans and adidas videos were absolutely ballistic. You could see how much energy and time got put into those but if you go on Thrasher or something there are so many parts you just watch once and never watch again because they just look rushed and not thought out properly.
Somehow my name got put forward and I just flew over there and somehow won the Best in Show award
Has this affected you? Do you see it changing?
Nah, not really. I still like to do things traditionally. If I film or shoot a photo I want to make sure I’m trying to do my best on both fronts and take my time. There’s no rush.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
Yeah, I actually just finished one! I got invited to Whistler in Canada for this Pro Photographer Showdown competition that they’ve been doing for 15 years. Somehow my name got put forward and I just flew over there and somehow won the Best in Show award. It was insane. I seriously had no idea what was happening when they announced it!
What did you have to do?
I had to create a slideshow with all of my work, which had to go for 8–9 minutes and tell a story. No skate photographer has ever won it before so I wasn’t holding my breath. After a few days of doing the edit I started to do it more for myself than for the competition, because it’s like creating a photo part in a way, so it didn’t feel like a chore or anything because I was so attached with making this the best thing I possibly could. I just worked on it for days on end without leaving the computer, trying to make it the best thing I possibly could. Thankfully I had James James helping me along the way and without him none of this would have happened!
That’s amazing! I can safely say that Australasia on the whole is super proud. What’s next for you?
I’m just trying to wrap up a few more interviews here in Australia then I’m heading to America for a bit. Element are finishing their video this year and asked me to go on a bunch of trips with them to Europe and China so I’ll just be bouncing around the place and trying to keep the dream alive!
Thanks to my mum, sister and Ash for all the support over the years with everything! Thanks to Mark Barber and Dave Chami for giving me feedback with my photos from day one and always trying to help me progress my photography! Thanks to Harris Taylor for being the biggest legend and always having my back (he pretty much owns half of my gear, hahaha!) Thank you SW. Thanks to everyone that’s let me point my camera at you, without allowing me to do so, none of these photos would exist! And a massive thanks to Jake and Dave at Manual for letting me have an interview.