Pascal Lieleg Interview - Photographers Ep 2

Interview with Pascal Lieleg, Photographer. |  by Sebastião Belfort Cerqueira

The man behind Official Bowlshit is one cool dude. Read on if you want to know the origins of the mysterious tribe of the SkateoFaris, the secret reason why people start skating transition, how to successfully mix beer with skating, and lots of other fun bowlshit.

As one of the most active photographers in the Trucks and Fins community, there’s quite a few things I’d like to ask you. However, first of all, I was looking online and I was trying to figure out if you were a professional photographer, I mean, do you do photography for a living?

Mmm... I don’t like to use that term. It’s hard to tell when that point comes when you’re a professional. Is it just because you earn money from it? I feel all the time like I have to learn a lot of things when it comes to photography, I’m not finished yet. I wouldn’t call myself a professional, just very ambitious. Plus, I don’t like the pressure. You know, when someone says “oh a professional photographer is coming”... I’m just hoping I can make them happy with my images, but you never know. Sometimes people like them, sometimes they don’t, photography as a lot to do with taste. So, yeah, I do it, but my normal profession is as creative art director for a hotel brand. In my semi-professional way I try to get better at photography and earn some money while I’m at it. One day I hope I can say I make a living from it. That would be the dream.

Because I saw you have a whole different side to your photography, outside of skateboarding, like shooting real models and for brands like Adidas and some others...

Yeah, I’d say it’s all about context. I do a lot of running and so I came to Adidas because they have a running group here in Hamburg and that’s how I got the connection, cause they said “hey, we need a photographer”. It’s always like that, that’s why I got to work for Men’s Health and Adidas and sometimes for other big brands.

  • "In my semi-professional way I try to get better at photography and earn some money while I’m at it. One day I hope I can say I make a living from it.
  • VISIT PASCAL PROFILE
It’s always cool to be at the right place at the right time. But let’s get into skateboarding – I always like to ask people when and where did they start.

I guess I was 12. Yeah. Now I'm 33, so I was 12, I was in school. One of my classmates had a board. We were at this school for the whole day, it was like nine hours and then you went home. And the school had great conditions, like big sports facilities, and we also had a little skatepark. It was one rail and two quarter pipes and the bank, that's it. But at least we had something back in the day. And, yeah, we shared this guy’s board because he was the only one who had one.

I was so addicted from the first moment that I was wishing I could also get one. And then I got one for Christmas. Yeah. For Christmas, I got a complete. And it was not the typical first board you get when you tell your parents you want to start skateboarding. They’ll usually go to a big Walmart or something and buy a board. But my parents went to a good skate shop and bought me a really good board. So that was quite cool.

Since then I had just a few breaks from skateboarding. In my hometown we didn’t have a skatepark, not a real skatepark, we had some quarters. But the city was always trying to put these quarters where we wouldn’t annoy other people, so it was hard for us, it would be like in some industrial parking lot somewhere. Until eventually this guy that was involved in looking out for the youth of the city decided to organize the community and we got our first real ramps and an official park.

How old were you then?

I guess I was 16 or 17. But before that sometimes we had the chance to go to this big skate hall. That’s one good thing about the area, a forty minute drive would take us to one of the biggest skate halls in Germany. It’s really huge, with 3,200 square meters of skate area. At first, when I was just starting, it was a pretty shitty park, they’d build ramps on pallets and everything was really DIY... but it had a lot of character. But then they got some support from the city and from some big companies and they started improving the ramps until it became a really good park. Nowadays it's called Playground Skatehall.

One good thing about it was that, when they were starting, they had miniramps with different sizes, they had huge transition and a half-pipe. Now they have completely re-done the park about four times, I think it’s in its fourth version, but the cool thing is that they still kept some of those first features and my favourite one was the bowl. We didn’t have one in my hometown and so I was always eager to skate it when I went there. And the funny thing is none of the locals ever seemed interested in skating it, most of the times I’d be the only one in the bowl.

Yeah, I didn’t have any type of transition around when I started skating, it was just street. So nowadays when I go to a skatepark I just suck at it.

It's really funny. I love both. I also do some street stuff. But the main reason why I chose transition was I just had to drop in. Because, back in the day, I was pushing mongo. I wanted to hide it, and when I dropped in nobody saw that I pushed mongo. So I have the theory that most of the halfpipe and bowl skaters are secretely mongo pushers, that's the reason why they start. Mongo pushers are also good at fakie. But, yeah, actually it was just two or three years ago I decided I’d teach myself how to push normal. It was a hard pressure to put on myself but I kept at it and now, even though I’m not as fast as I am pushing mongo, at least it doesn’t look as stupid as in the beginning.

It’s really tough. Especially when you’re older and you only have those precious moments to go skate and you know you can have so much fun doing it the way you’re used to. It’s a hard decision. But anyway, I wanted to talk about something else. More than once, when you sent us pictures of skateparks for Trucks and Fins you also sent us little articles about them that were really cool. It’s more than just information about the park, it helps us get an idea of its environment, the people who go there, and so on. Do you have any more of those planned?

Yeah, unfortunately some of the parks are closed, and that’s kind of annoying. But when I send you any stuff I always try to ask myself what I would find interesting when I go to a park. And for me it's always the people who are in the park and, like, trying to get to know a little bit the community surrounding it. Because... I don't know, maybe it’s the same everywhere, but at least here in Germany every skatepark in every town is like a community thing. It's not just that some mayor of the city said “Oh, I want to have a skatepark.” It's never like that. It's just the community.

In Jever, the town where I grew up, which is famous for its super bitter beer, when we first got our shitty ramps, we formed a group, we called ourselves the SkateoFaris, and we took care of the place. The city let us have a space where we could have the ramps and we wanted to make our little park grow. The city didn’t want to spend money on it so we had to earn it ourselves. We gave skate lessons to kids, we did demos whenever there was a public celebration in town and asked for donations, we sold SkateoFari t-shirts, we invested everything back into the skatepark, and that’s how it grew. And nowadays... it's really, really funny... The skate group still exists 12 years after we founded it. And they, the actual members of that group have no idea who it was that founded all that. They know Joshua Dings but they don't know me and Kevin Kellermann. They still call themselves SkateoFaris, but they have no idea about the history behind their crew. That's pretty funny.

It’s a great story. Sometimes we hear about a community getting together in order to convince the local authorities that the town needs a skatepark, but it’s not everyday that people actually take it upon themselves to make money and invest it into their town’s skatepark. It’s pretty inspiring. Moving on, and since you mentioned beer, I really liked your “Beerics” video. I thought it really had some production values to it, and the rhythm is really well-managed. I wanted to ask you, did you shoot it and direct it all by yourself?

Yeah! People have asked me that question a couple of times but, yeah, it was all very spontaneous. Tom [Tieste], the skater, has been working for some time as a trainee in this small brewery in Bremen, learning how to make beer. One day he asked his bosses if he could skate the brewery, you know, along the different parts of the process. It was quite funny, because he knows I do some video stuff and he told me about the idea and asked if I could be there to shoot two or three days later. I asked him how long he thought it would take to shoot and he said maybe one and a half to two hours. I have to say he was well organized, he had a good plan. But it was only when I got there that he told me exactly what his plan was and I was like... “ok... fuck.”

I had to think about a lot of things. And I guess in the end we were there for four and a half or five hours. Which was okay, yeah. It was okay. But in my head I was always like “you have to remember when he comes from the left side where he goes to, so then the next cut he must come from this side...” Because otherwise you get confused, you know, when he comes from one side and next scene he’s coming from the wrong direction... I had that in mind all the time so the pressure was really high. Yeah, I'm still a little bit proud of that one.

Well, you should be, because it looks like something that was made for a big skate brand by two or three photographers or filmers. Speaking of that, are you planning on doing more youtube stuff in the future?

How should I put it... yes, I do plan to do more of that stuff. But in the end it's always the time. I love to edit a video but I hate it at the same time because it takes ages. For me the hardest part is to find the beginning and to find a way in which I would like to tell the story. When you have the raw material, you have a lot of options. I want to entertain the viewer and to find my style, but in video editing I don't feel like I've found it yet. I experiment a lot and I try to use new techniques or to adapt stuff I see on skate videos. But there's a lot of things I have to learn. That said, I want to do some artsy stuff, but it's hard to do artsy stuff that everybody understands. I want it to be artsy, but understandable at the same time.

But actually I am working on some things right now. Last year I went to the DIY Sintra spot with Joshua [Dings] and I want to edit some video of that trip, I’d like to do it like a travel movie, because I took a lot of photos and I’d like to combine them with the video. Plus he also did some hard tricks there, he did a darkslide, we also have this one with another guy, Chris, who showed up at the spot and was a very good skater. Josh did a blunt to fakie on the quarter while Chris did a backside alley-oop wallride over him. I can’t wait to show that to people.

The thing is, when you see it too small, like on instagram, you can’t feel the image.

Can’t wait to see it. Now, we’ve recently prepared a short interview we do to every new photographer who joins Trucks and Fins, but since you were onboard before that, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions that we put on there. The first one is more of a request: choose a photo you took that you really like and tell us why.

Ok, I have this one I really love [check photo number 4 in the gallery]. The thing is, when you see it too small, like on instagram, you can’t feel the image. You need to look at a big version in order to understand what’s going on. This circle is like a full-pipe, it’s an art object made by this artist called Karolina Halatek. It’s seven metres long, I guess, and it's five metres high and the surface, the inner surface is completely like a led stripe. It’s a plastic full-pipe and it’s completely lit up. It had been standing outside the art museum in Bremen for some weeks and it was completely unprotected, there was no security, I had seen people riding bikes through it. So I went there at night with a couple of friends from Bremen, Louis and Gino, and I asked them if they could do a double. I wanted them completely on the sides and I shot it straight from the front because I wanted the image to be as confusing as possible. It looks flat but then the skaters are not on the same plane. I left a little step that was in front of the sculpture just barely perceptible, but otherwise there are no clues, it’s completely dark. I thought when I dropped it on instagram every skate magazine would be like “What? What is this?”, but it never happened... [laughs]

I’m sure it’s because there are not many magazines anymore and they must all be pretty busy. Anyhow, I’d seen that picture on your Trucks and Fins profile page and always thought it was really strange. It makes sense that it’s an art installation, you don’t just find that kind of stuff out there in the wild.

Yeah, and you know what’s funny: I really liked the installation so I found Karolina Halatek on instagram and sent her the picture. I thought it was a good picture of her work. But she was really pissed, she was commenting on the post like if she was shouting “NO SKATING ALLOWED!” and I had to say “sorry, we didn’t know, there was no security, nothing...” And then what’s even better is that the Bremen museum organized a competition of the best photos taken at the installation and mine was considered one of the top ones. I also have another good one there where Louis is doing an ollie into it and it looks like he is falling into nothing, like that big wide hole is taking him. The only thing is that his ollie is not that perfect. That's why the shot is not that special but the idea is nice.

Sounds cool. Now let me ask you another one from our short quiz: if you could choose a combo to shoot, like any skater doing any trick in any spot in the world, what would your dream combo be?

Ooh, that’s a good one... It’s really hard... but there’s this new guy that no one had heard about until Thrasher put his part out, this super sick bowl skater, John Worthington.

I know, I think he’s on Creature now.

Watching his part I was like “what the hell?” I’d love to see him destroy our local bowl in Bremen. There are these really hard stairs, like in this tight pocket, it took me months to be able to get around them, I was super stoked. I actually met one of my best skate buddies there once. He’d come from Stuttgart and he had a to-do list – he wanted to do all the stairs in all the bowls he could find in Germany. He’d saved Bremen for last and it took him one hour of straight tries. He told me those had been the hardest he’d ever done, and he’s definitely more talented than me. But anyway, I’d love to see Worthington hit those stairs, he’s so skilled at doing hard transition and shallow ends that I imagine he could probably do a backside or frontside air over that pocket. I’d love to take a photo of that.

I see you really know your bowlshit...

You know, it’s a funny thing, there’s a cool side to not using my real name in my work as a skate photographer. First I can go to the skatepark incognito, people may know Bowlshit but they don’t know that I’m the guy who’s taking all the photos. Some people think Bowlshit is a company, I’ve gotten messages and emails wishing me and all my team the best of luck and stuff like that. It’s funny. You see, when I started doing photography in college I naturally started shooting skating, because that way I could go skating and still get work done for my courses. In my group of friends there was this Swiss guy who used “bullshit” a lot. Anytime he was pissed off he’d say everything was bullshit. Only with his accent it sounded like “bowlshit” and I just thought that was the perfect name for my photography projects. Then we had to build a website for another course and design a logo and I just made everything look like it’s a brand. It’s like one big joke. I can act like I’m this big company. Newspapers that have used my photos ask me for the copyright and I tell them the copyright is “bowlshit”. Having an official newspaper write that the copyright is “bowlshit” is just funny as hell.

It’s a great joke. Before we wrap this up, is there anything you’d like to add? Any new stuff in the works?

Yeah, there’s one thing I’m starting right now... it was planned for last year but because of the whole corona thing it got postponed... maybe for October or November of this year, anyway, I’m working on a photo book. I’m choosing the best photos from the past four or five years of skate photography and putting them in a book. I’ll probably try to do it through crowd funding or like a pre-sale. Just do one run, for the people who let me know they want it, and when it’s done, it’s done, no second edition.

Sounds like a good idea. Be sure to let us know when you get that pre-sale going, we’ll help spread the word.

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