Tobin Yelland picked up photography early. And it was skateboarding right away. The subculture and lifestyle surrounding it especially. He was first published in Thrasher when he was only 15. We caught up with him below to learn a bit more about his path to being a revered skate photog.
WHAT YOUTH: How old were you when you got into photography?
TOBIN YELLAND: I got into photography at 14 during the summer. I had a photography and darkroom class and took it with my good friend Luke Ogden. I grew up in San Francisco and I was introduced to photography through skateboarding. I watched the older photographers who worked for Thrasher, taking photos and skating at the same session. It looked fun, so I borrowed my step dads camera.
Do you remember the first time you realized “This is what I want to do?”
Yeah, the first time I was like, “Yes, this is what I want to do for sure was when I got to shoot photos of Mickey Reyes, Mike Alcantar and Julien Stranger at a session at Everet Middle School. They were shooting for Sick Boys (an amazing skate film by Mike McEntire) Bryce Kanights was shooting photos of these guys for Thrasher and also being filmed by Mike for Sick Boys. After the session I showed the photos to Bryce hoping to get some feedback. He took them to Thrasher and Fausto Vitello saw a sequence I shot of Mike Alcantar and wanted to use it for a Venture trucks advertisement. After the ad ran I got a check for $100 and photo credit. I was so stoked I was freaking out. I was 16 and graduating high school soon and had little interest in going to college so I figured that if I could do this in the future I could pay bills this way.
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How did you develop your technical and creative skills?
My mom and step dad made me a darkroom. I coated the sink with fiber glass resin in a stuffy room and was so out of it after that. I basically developed my own film and printed all the time. I looked at books and tried to copy other photographers. I shot nudes of my girlfriend in my room and cloudscapes from my roof and skating every weekend and after school.
Did you go to school or have a mentor?
I took a few darkroom classes and one documentary photography workshop and got to meet William Kline and Larry Clark. I made a connection with Larry Clark and knew after this that I wasn’t interested in fashion photography but that photographing my friends skating and living life is what I wanted to focus on.
What is like to look back at all your ’90s photos and see where all the crew is at now?
I’m still friends with most everyone that I skated and shot photos with in the ’90s. I look at these images as a time when we only thought of skating and what we needed to do to skate as much as possible. My friends were broke. We ate a lot of beans and rice. I rented a closet for $80 a month for a while. I think the lack of money in skating — especially in the early ’90s during the recession made my goal clear. I just wanted to skate have fun and be the best photographer I could be.
What are you into shooting now?
I love shooting interesting people. For work I have been shooting a lot of lifestyle photos and also making commercials and documentaries. I went on a skate trip in the summer with some old friends and made some new friends and am really happy with the photos I took. I have young kids and love to shoot photos of them growing up as well.