Red Bull Illume relies on the expertise of 53 judges from 30 countries to pick out their favourite images. But just who are they? We spoke to judges from different continents, beginning with North American representative J. Grant Brittain, co-owner and photo director of The Skateboard Mag in the USA.
Hailing from California, Grant is one of the skateboard scene’s true legends. His photography has helped to define the seminal moments in the skate scene for three decades. As a photo editor, his magazines have always been revered for the quality of writing, photography and graphic design. However, it all developed from a simple love of skateboarding and getting his first decent camera at the age of 25.
"My brother and I both received clay-wheeled boards for Christmas around 1965. We just skated down hills and rode on our butts and had fun. My friends and I would just cruise around like we were surfing. We rode ditches and rezys [reservoirs / concrete ponds] and a few pools. I was always into art as well and thought I would be a cartoonist or artist. It was when I started shooting skate photos that the light bulb went off."
After taking a photography course at college and receiving zero encouragement from his professor, Grant learned his trade by just hanging out at skateparks such as the legendary Del Mar Skate Ranch. As skateboarding experienced its first real low-point at the start of the 80s when skateboarders deserted the sport, it was Brittain's photos of the Bones Brigade era from 1979 to 1983 that helped to communicate the revival.
Grant photographed skateboarders such as Lance Mountain, Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk as they invented new downhill slides, pioneered the use of vert-ramps and shredded pools in ways thought not possible up to then. However, it was sense of fun and adventure in his photography which captured the imagination of kids everywhere. "I had a steady stream of talent coming through to photograph. I just learned by doing. I had no one to ask back then, there were three photographers and no one shared info."
After helping to start Transworld Skateboarding Magazine in 1983, he spent 20 years there as its photo editor and photographer. Famed for the quality of its art direction during the magazine's golden period in the 80s, Brittain's photography was published alongside creative contributions from film maker Spike Jonze and skateboard legends such as Mark Gonzales and Steve Berra. "I just wanted to do a mag that made great skateboarding look even better. I was surrounded by talented skaters, writers, photographers, artists and art directors. The photo editors at non-skate mags don’t usually shoot photos. I am a photographer first and foremost, I am all about quality."
In 2004, Grant co-founded The Skateboard Mag in skateboard-mecca California in order to work on a magazine with complete editorial control which could truly represent skateboarding’s independent spirit. What is a typical day like? "I am the Production Manager and Director of Photography and a co-owner, so I have my fingers in everything in terms of running a business. It's just great to be involved in every little detail of doing a magazine. It’s a small crew and not too much stress – it’s like coming to play, not to work."
How has the industry changed since he started? "The photos are basically the same. Back then, you could shoot just about anything and it could get in the mag. Now, it’s the Trick of the Week that's important and whether that trick is still acceptable. Stuff gets old fast. It's a one up contest and now a video part can pretty much out date a sequence of photos in a mag. Timing is everything, you've got to get it in the mag before it’s on video, TV or the Internet. Magazines are up against those other media sources now."
What is his idea of a great photograph? "It's when a photographer is able to bring their personal vision across by way of a photograph or series of photographs. For me, it's also a photo that makes me want to go take photos or go skateboarding."
Returning to the jury for the second time, what are his hopes for Red Bull Illume in 2010? "I saw some really great photography in 2007. I like the jury process, I think photographers being judged by their peers is cool. I think we’re again going to see some really astonishing photographs."