Jay Maldonado 'zine
In the winter of 2013, photographer, videographer, skateboarder and LES native Jay Maldonado had a photo show at Saatchi NY. I caught up with him for an interview and discussed his work, growing up the LES, and what the old New York was like. The following is a 'zine that Tucker Phillips and I created for the photo show.
Art Direction: Tucker Phillips
Photography: Jay Maldonado
Click through for images. Scroll down for text.
An interview with Jay Maldonado.
Jimmy: When did you start shooting photos and what got you into it?
Jay: So photography came really late for me. I started to shoot photos in ’07 – ’08 because of a close friend of mine named Dee. Shit wasn’t going well for me. I guess he kind of saw that I was in a tough spot in my life so he loaned me his camera and told me to go shoot. He ended up getting me a one-year subscription to Flickr. That’s sort of what kicked it off. So I would say my boy Dee was my motivation and inspiration to shoot. Thanks Dee.
Cool. That was here in New York?
Yeah, that was here in New York. Some time around ’07 – ’08. Basically right after I left Sole-Tech and I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore.
So that was when you came back from living in California, where you worked for eS Footwear under Sole-Technology?
Yea, for the most part. Sometime after— maybe a year after. So I’d say it was probably ’08.
Dee must have had a big influence on you as a photographer then.
Well, yeah he got me going. He helped me to use photography as a tool, and now it’s with me all the time. Photography has now become another form of expression for me. I like the fact that a photo kind of tells its own story. It’s left up to the viewer’s interpretation a bit differently than video.
Do you still work with video as much as photography?
They’re both equally dominant in my life. I definitely prefer photography to video though.
What inspires you to shoot photos?
It’s hard to say. It’s everyone and everything around me. It’s not just one thing. It’s not just one individual person. But I guess living life itself is an inspiration. Sometimes I feel like I’m not playing my part in society, and that gets me out of bed and gets me motivated to go do something. I sort of relate it a lot to skating. Sometimes you’re just like, “Fuck I wanna go get some shit done”. You don’t know what trick you want to get on film, however when you find that one spot you just figure it out. It’s really just the action of going out and trying. Inspiration is everywhere. You never know what you might come across
Yea. When you go out shooting is it a spontaneous thing or is it premeditated? Do you usually go out with a specific plan?
You know it’s interesting— I always try to plan things out when I shoot but they never fucking work for me. When I make plans to go shoot I always get stuff that doesn’t really embody what I like to shoot. But the days that I just walk around with my camera, more or less running errands— those are the days I kind of find stuff more. I think it’s because my mindset is different. When I make plans I guess I’m too focused on one thing instead of just looking around and capturing life. Either way, going out with no plans works best for me
When you don’t have any expectation things sort of just work out huh?
Yeah, I think so man. It’s just always worked that way. Sometimes I’ll just plan to try and get lost in Brooklyn somewhere and just try to find really cool different things in the city. On those days I spend most of the time travelling and not finding anything. It’s weird; it just doesn’t work for me when I plan.
Totally. You grew up on the Lower East Side in the 80’s right?
Yea. In the late 80’s and early 90’s.
And you still live there?
Yeah I still live on the Lower East Side. I come and go of course, but I grew up there and I still live there. My grandmother is down there and I watch over her at times so I like to be close.
Have you seen a big change in your neighborhood since your childhood or is it pretty much the same?
Nah, I mean it’s changed and it’s the same. It’s really interesting. I guess growing up for some reason I felt a sense of community even though it was a lot more dangerous. People would never go into those neighborhoods unless they were from there or getting drugs. So you felt safer because everyone knew each other like a community. Nowadays you have people who come live here for a couple years because it’s the place to be. Their parents pay their rent and they act like they own the streets.
New York must have been a pretty different place back then.
Yea. It was the best. I think we all felt a bit more alive. Well, I did.
Do you think growing up in the city influenced you as a photographer and filmmaker?
Yea, I think so. I think it has definitely played a part in how I shoot— living in the city. It’s impossible not to shoot a decent photo here. We have the illest backdrop. I’m blessed to call this place home.
Yea, it’s a photogenic place.
So you’ve made some pretty influential New York City skateboard videos like La Luz. Has documenting skateboarding influenced your photography? Was the transition from video to photography somewhat of a natural progression?
Yea. I mean it’s totally been a natural progression. Making skate videos definitely helped me with learning to shoot photos in some aspects. Photography is video and video is photography if you think about it.
So video totally crafted my photography. But I think the root of that is skateboarding itself. Without it I probably would have never done video and without video I wouldn’t have gotten into photography. Skateboarding is the core of all that— where you always just look at things in a different manner. And I think that’s why a lot of skaters are creative or do creative things. When you step on a skateboard you kind of automatically start to look at the world in a different way.
When did you start skating?
I started skating in’88 or ’89 I guess.
And you grew up pretty close to the Brooklyn Banks right?
Yea I grew up a couple blocks from The Banks. In my neighborhood we knew it as “The Walls” [laughs].
Because of the wall above the banks?
I guess, but I think it was because of the steepness of the incline [big banks], but I don’t really know.
Oh so it wasn’t even about The Banks’ wall at all?
I don’t even know why these kids called it that [The Walls]. One day these other kids were like, “No, its The Banks” and I was like, “Oh, okay” [laughs]. We just wanted to go fast and ride down some shit, and The Big Banks was the perfect place. I remember seeing a freestyle contest there. It was fucking sick. A lot of bright colors [laughs].
But yeah, I grew up a couple blocks from there and there was this skate shop called Benji’s Ultimate Journey Skate. Benji’s was basically the shop back in the day before Supreme was around and right after a few other shops closed. I spent most of my childhood in and around the shop, and skating around the financial district and the banks. I really miss those days.
That’s awesome. Must have been an interesting time. Were there skaters from all over the place visiting New York back then or was it mostly locals?
Yea, but it was more sporadic. It wasn’t so consistent like it is now. There were always groups of people rolling through the city though, like crews from the
Tri-State Area. We would all show up at the banks on the weekends and just skate all over the city.
So it was a bigger deal when skateboarders from other areas came to the city?
It was different. We would have so much energy at a spot like the banks, with all these heads skating together from all over the Tri-State Area. It was awesome. It was a feeling that you couldn’t explain. It was something special. We all wanted to be apart of it. If we didn’t know it, we sure as hell felt it.
So you seem to photograph a lot of people on the street. When you shoot a stranger do you approach them and have a conversation first? Or do you just snap a quick shot and go on your way?
I kind of try to get them in their own natural habitat. I usually shoot first and if they seem interesting enough I’ll talk to them. Most of the time my subjects don’t even know I’m there, which is how I like it.
To you, what links this set of photos together?
Obviously they’re all shot in New York. But the thing that links them together is they all have kids in them.
What is it about kids in the city that interests you?
They just kind of speak to me more than anything else. It could be a reflection of when I was growing up. I’m not sure, but there’s something about the kids in the city. To me, they embody what New York is about.
It’s a youthful place.
Yea, and everything’s still new to ‘em you know what I mean? There’s just so much they’re exposed to in such close quarters. Or maybe it’s their sense of innocence. They don’t know the chaos that exists around them. They just know that moment that they’re in.
Yea for sure. Are there any particular stories behind these photos?
There aren’t any real stories behind them, but I love the kid at the bank checking him self out in the monitor. That’s totally something I might do [laughs]. Also, the kids in front of the projects playing around on the ground— to me, that embodies a summer night in NYC. It’s definitely one of my favorites.
Are there certain areas of the city that you frequent for shooting kids and other people?
No no, not at all. To be honest I hang out around Soho, Lower East Side kind of area. Sometimes I venture out to other places—Brooklyn, Washington Heights. I really just walk the streets for hours with no destination in mind and hope that something will jump out at me and I’ll be ready to shoot it.
Right, so it goes back to you just having a more spontaneous approach to photography.
It’s kind of like skating. You know you want to get something on film, but you just don’t know what it is until you see it.
Yea. You’re looking for that one thing and you don’t even know what it is.
Yea. I don’t even know what I’m looking for. But I’ll know when I see it.
Yeah for sure. Has your photography changed much since you first started shooting a few years ago?
Yea. Fuck yeah. Its changed, it’ll always be changing. It’s always going to constantly evolve because photography is so new to me. There’s still so much to learn about it, so it’ll constantly develop. I couldn’t say how or in what way though.
Cool. So, any plans for the future?
Continue shooting man. That’s it. Whatever comes my way, comes my way. But I just want to be able to go out and shoot more. You know I really, really enjoy it, and I don’t really care about anything else but being able to do that one thing.