A Quarantine Q&A: Phil McKenzie
Nov 18, 2020
We sat down with our close pal, Phil McKenzie, to catch up and talk all things 'fun'. Phil rips bikes, boards, and absolutely kills it behind the lens. Read more in our quick little Q&A below!
Q. Phil, what's new? Thanks for taking the time to knock this thing out!
A. Hey Jay! I'm just staying busy with some preparation for the snow season.
Q. Let's start with the basics... Where are you from and where are you currently?
A. I was born and raised in Arvada, Colorado but I moved to Boulder, Colorado a couple of years ago.
Q. How do you like Boulder?
A. Man, it's the best. Over quarantine, I fell in love with the ability to bike out my door every single day without hitting the same trail twice. In a lot of ways Boulder is a great place to be a snowboarder as well, it's about 40 minutes from my front porch to the chairlift at Eldora. Every season is gorgeous and there is always something going on out here.
Q. Man, you can't beat that. Let's dive into the photo scene... What inspired you to get into the photo world?
A. To be completely honest it started out with the fact that I've always wanted to be a pro skateboarder but I've never had the skills or desire to injure myself severely on a regular basis. At first skateboarding photography was a way for me to be able to be more involved with the skate scene and have a reason to show up to spots I'd never skate myself with my friends who rip. However, I quickly found that nailing a skate photo is probably the best feeling in the world, sometimes even better than landing a new trick. Since then I've used photography as a tool to dig deeper into all my passions but most of my work centers around snowboarding, cycling, and of course skateboarding these days.
Q. What is your earliest memory from photography? (maybe a photo or a story)
A. It has to be some time around when I was 5 years old and digital cameras were still about 10 years out. My Grandpa shot a photo of me on a Polaroid 600 camera. At the time a little black box that could make a permanent photo of me instantly felt (and to a certain extent still does feel) like magic. I vividly remember holding the photo in my hand as I watched my image slowly take shape. I felt the same way years later the first time I shot light trails on a DSLR and I try to find a little more of that feeling with every photo I make today.
Q. What was your first legit rig (camera setup)? And when did you get it?
A. In 2014 I got a canon rebel t4i, it's a really good camera and I still use it today for a lot of my product photography. It was probably the best present I've ever been given because it opened the door for exploration and self-expression in ways I'd never experienced, even in skateboarding. I immediately started shooting light trails, long exposures with a flash, portraits of my dogs, and really everything else I was doing day to day. That obviously progressed to skateboarding and the rest is history.
Q. Alright here's a tough one... what's your current favorite photo (that you shot) and why?
A. This one is super hard because I'm pretty passionate about every photo I make, most of my work is of people I admire and all of it requires some creative problem-solving which I find super rewarding. However, the one I'm digging most right now has to be one I shot with my friend John Worthington at the "nude bowl" in the California desert. They call it the nude bowl because it's all that remains of a 1930s era nude resort. The spot has been a mecca for skaters since the pioneers of pool skating laid first grinds in the 70s, so just being there was a privilege. The nude bowl is a trek to get to, the last mile is rough dirt roads and once you arrive there's no guarantee the bowl won't be filled with dirt, trash, or whatever poor desert creatures (dead or alive) got stuck in there. Fortunately, it only took about 20 minutes to clean out. In the photo, John is blasting a slob air while our other friend's dog Buddy, who very much enjoys skateboarding chases him. Part of the reason this is one of my favorite photos is that it just captures a moment in time so perfectly. You can see the unbelievably crusty coping, the fact that John is airing almost impossibly high and there is a realy unique light in the photo that you only get in the desert. Also, Buddy the dog. In fact, mostly Buddy the dog. There isn't much I don't love about this photo.
Q. Woah, that is impressive! Nude bowl is SO crusty. Tell us about snowboard photography. What got you interested in the snow industry?
A. Yeah, so snowboard photography is kinda new. Growing up I was lucky to go snowboarding a couple of times a season. It just wasn't something my family did. When I got to college I made a couple of friends that are ripping snowboarders and I shot with them a little bit but I was too busy with school to get out more than a handful of times a year. In the winter of 2019, I was a little burnt out on skateboarding after a year of trying really hard to make a job out of skate photography and failing. I decided a season to focus on snowboarding and working just enough to afford gas, groceries, and rent would be good for the soul. Spending more time on the hill inevitably led to shooting more snowboarding. By the end of the season, I was had stacked a lot of photos I was really excited about including some with Danny Davis and I even had a photo show that was supposed to happen the first week of COVID lockdown. Snowboarding is a lot like skateboarding except everything is a lot bigger and people are way more willing to make photos at sunrise. I am constantly looking for new spots to shoot and brainstorming concepts for the next storm, the weather-based aspect of it all makes it really fun.
Q. WILD CARD - Do you have a favorite conspiracy theory?
A. Animal Chin is out there, and I'm still searching.
Q. HA! I love it. Back on track now. A little on bikes and skateboards... Show us a photo from each that you're stoked on?
A. Yeah, there's been some big overlap between the two lately. Both have mostly been on dirt. The skate one is my friend Sawyer Revich throwing up one of the best methods I've ever seen on a skateboard at Valmont bike park. Just to give some perspective here those wheels alone weigh almost as much as an entire skateboard usually does and I've never seen anyone actually clear entire bike lines at Valmont on a skateboard, apparently neither have any of the bikers.
The second photo is one I shot a couple of months back for the Boulder Lifestyle Magazine Women's issue. It was shown alongside a story about women's cycling in Boulder. One of the things that mad this mission so special was that I met up with this crew of ripping ladies at sunrise before we all had to go to our 9-5 jobs. You could feel the passion in the air with this crew, it takes a special breed of person to be up at 5am to ride bikes for a couple hours before they go to work and energy levels were high. We set out on Dowdy Draw, one of the most beautiful trails in Boulder, and made use of the gorgeous early morning light hitting the flatirons.
Q. How rad! What're your plans for the next few months and moving into winter?
A. Shoot shoot and shoot some more. I'll be stepping away from my full-time job in Web Development in November so I can ride and shoot more. It's still Fall here but we've already had a good snowstorm and I've been making the most of it with early mornings and late nights behind the lens. P.S. hire me.
A. Stoked to get into it! My general photography advice is to just shoot whatever you've got. Whether it's an iPhone or an old 35mm camera. The best photos have virtually absolutely nothing to do with the gear you're using and everything to do with the lighting, composition, and subject matter. I often find myself looking to the #iphoneography tag on Insta for ways in which I can strip down my photos to the bare essentials.
My action sports advice is to just live it. It's impossible to make good action sports photos without being both deeply involved and passionate about what you're shooting on a personal level, everything else comes second.If you ever have questions about shooting action sports or photography in general don't hesitate to hit me up, I love passing knowledge on to other photographers.
Q. Last one: what's the ideal day look like for Phil? How would you keepitfvn?
A. Wake up in the Copper parking lot with a foot of snow on my van, ride all day, hit an Indian buffet on the way home, light up a street spot to shoot some photos, and wrap it all up with a nice moisturizing facemask.
To keep up with all of Phil's adventures follow him here: