Sam Muller is a Los Angeles based skate photographer. At a young age he has shot many great icons like Gino Iannucci, Guy Mariano and Jason Dill. We are huge fans of his photography style here over at Aika Collective and wanted to find out more about what’s going on in Sam’s world. Fellow Aika Collective Photographer Blair Alley brewed up a bunch of questions to hear the insights about his crew getting robbed by cops in Panama, what he learned at the Art Center, upcoming photographers and more.
Wild in the Streets Los Angeles
Being a LA native, do you feel the city is oversaturated with skate photographers?
Not really. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of us here, but I think it’s rad we’re all in such close quarters. I’ve learned from, and become friends with a lot of the photographers I looked up to when I was younger, and that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else. It’s also good to have a lot of like minded people around you because its really motivating—not to mention that there are 10 times as many skateboarders as skate photographers here, so there’s plenty to shoot.
Your Nicaragua trip with the Trunk Boyz/Chocolate team for Pretty Sweet was pinnacle. You got your first cover from that trip. Got a crazy story from that trip you can share?
That was an epic one—the ‘Trunk Boyz’ came into existence on that trip. The first night in Panama City, right after I shot that cover of Raven, half of the crew got arrested. Kenny and Vincent were skating some pyramid bumps on a roof and the cops thought we were trying to break into the building. After being swarmed by gun-toting Panamanian police officers, Vince and Kenny ended up having $1300 in cash stolen by 2 of the arresting officers. The concerned citizen who had originally called the cops realized his mistake and ultimately got us out of the situation. Ty had also filmed the crooked cops taking money from Vince and Kenny at gunpoint so that helped sway the captain to let us go. We were told the two officers who stole the money had been arrested and the next day we had two Police internal affairs officers escorting us around the city. And that was just the first night.
One night in Costa Rica Raven got mugged and beaten up at a club, luckily to be found by Kenny stumbling around a sketchy neighborhood at 6 the next morning. Nicaragua had it’s own bit of excitement too—one night Chico’s uncle had to dissuade a couple of drunk gangsters from robbing Elijah and Stevie with two shotgun blasts in the air. It was a trip that I won’t forget any time soon.
Kenny and Vincent getting robbed and arrested by police officers in Panama.
Vincent Alvarez lipslides his way accross Panama
How was shooting Guy Mariano in Venice? Were some of those shots taken from moving boats?
It was a dream trip—shoot one of the best skateboarders to ever do it in the most beautiful city on earth. Before Guy and his fiancé Gina got there, Federico Vitetta, the director of the commercial, and I scouted the entire city so we really got to spend time getting to know the place. Most people that visit Venice spend two or three days there–we spent two weeks exploring and shooting. One of the visual concepts Federico wanted to achieve was to make it look like every shot was from a the water, so yeah most of them were shot on a boat. It was pretty tough to get the sequencing and timing of the shots right, especially because the canals are their streets, and there’s plenty of boat traffic.
Which photographers continue to kill it year after year in your eyes?
Skate-wise I really love O’Meally’s work, he’s been shooting classics for the better part of 20 years now. Oliver Barton, Skin, Gaberman, Sem Rubio, Ben Colen, Burnett, and Anthony Acosta have also been on fire forever. Outside of the skate world I really love Annie Leibovitz, Martin Schoeller, Frank Ockenfels, Wolfgang Tillmans, Larry Sultan, Mary Ellen Mark, Tom Craig, Dan Winters, Nadav Kander, Peggy Sirota, William Eggleston, Bryan Schutmaat, Daniel Shea, Harley Weir….shit the list goes on forever.
Who are some upcoming photographers you know that we should keep our eyes on?
Jacob Messex, who’s already been working for The Skateboard Mag and Jake Darwen have both been shooting great stuff lately. Thomas Sweertvaegher in Belgium is also great, I’m not sure how much skating he’s shooting these days though.
Who were some of your mentors in skate photography and what did you learn from them?
O’Meally has been a great mentor and friend to me over the years—I met him when i was 17 and he got me an internship at TWS which lead to a position as a senior photographer there. I’ve learned tons from him, about the technical side of things as well as the business and etiquette in skate photography. I also learned a ton from Martin Schoeller when I worked for him, he was always really good at teaching the people around him.
Sam shooting Tony Hawk at his ramp in Vista, CA
I know you went to school at Art Center, what did you learn there that you’ve applied to shooting skating?
My time there made me realize that there’s more to shooting skating than just the action photos. To really shoot a subject you need to show more than just one aspect of it, and that I think was the most important thing I learned there. You have to be curious about everything.
You’ve shot in New York a lot too. What’s the biggest difference between shooting in NY and LA?
It’s a totally different process—in New York you have to make photographic choices before you even walk out the door. It’s a really boiled down way of going about it, which is really nice sometimes. You’re also fully immersed in the city in NYC—you’re on the subway or pushing around rather than being in the car, so it just feels like you’re doing and seeing more.
You’ve shot some of our great icons: Gino, Guy, Dill—did you experience some of that mystique when you had the chance to shoot them?
Hell yes. It’s always amazing to go skate with those guys, you feel like you’re watching history in front of your eyes. It’s so easy to shoot them too, because they look amazing no matter what they’re doing.
Gino Iannucci – Push
Jason Dill – Backside 360
Anthony Pappalardo Kickflip to Fakie
You shot some young LA kids before anyone else: Elijah Berle, Sage Elsesser, and Na-Kel Smith. Did you know these kids had such bright futures ahead of them? Is talent scouting part of being a successful photographer?
I could see that they had potential for sure, but they all made their own success. I just happened to know them all because we all lived relatively close to each other. I was always hanging out at this shop in West Los Angeles and met Elijah there when he was 11, Sage lived across the street from Adrian Adrid, David Bowens, Elijah, Jarold Webb and me at our first apartment when I was 19 and he was maybe 13, so we’d be skating the curbs out front with him in the mornings, and Na-kel would come to the Workshop store on Melrose when my roommate Jarold first got a job there, I think about 6 years ago. I think it’s definitely important for photographers to know talent when it’s in front of them—as a photographer it’s your job to help push guys to skate their best, and people with talent and motivation are the most receptive to that pressure.
Brian Anderson 360 Flip
Brian Delatorre Frontside Blunt
Dakota Servold Frontside 5050
Where does shooting film fit in for you?
I still shoot tons of film, just not for most of the photos that make it into the magazines. It’s nice to have the immediacy of digital when you’re shooting a skate photo because you can work a little more closely with the skater to get the best photo possible. I shoot a lot of portraits and travel stuff on film. It’s the best to experience the trip without having to look at a computer too much, and then you get to relive it all over again when you get home and develop the film.
Any advice you have for upcoming and young aspiring photographers?
Keep your ears open and shoot what you love