Arto Saari is a world class skateboard legend. The 35-year-old has had three major knee surgeries, a heart surgery and a horrendous concussion caught on film, as well as other numerous slams. The level of trauma endured by Saari would have caused many to quit, or at least greatly slowed down their skate career. Yet, this Finnish born skateboarder seemed to differ as he continued to outdo himself throughout his career, beginning with achieving one of the most elite titles in skateboarding, ‘Thrasher’s Skater of The Year’, back in 2001.
Having achieved so much in skateboarding, Saari still skates but has been transitioning into photography. Just as in skateboarding, his will, and creativity have propelled him to be a greatly respected photographer in the world of skateboarding and now, is starting to expand outside of the sport as well. We caught up with him on the eve of his photo exhibition opening in London – which coincides with the premiere of his clothing sponsor Volcom’s Holy Stokes skateboard video – to talk about his recent projects and photography.
Evan Goodfellow: I’m not sure if you remember this but I first saw you at a skateboard demo in a small city in the middle of Canada called Saskatoon, SK, Canada about seventeen years ago, with Rick McCrank and Moses. It was right when you got sponsored.
Arto Sarri: No shit. Holy Crap. That is a long time ago. Yeah I remember the tour, that was my first time in North America. But Saskatoon… I am trying to remember what the park looked like.
EG: It was an indoor park, it had a bunch of fibreglass ramps.
AS: That was a three week tour. That whole trip was insane.
EG: So the Volcom video has been premiering around the world. You were just in New York for it, right?
AS: Yeah, it’s starting to get busy again this year. It’s been great, it’s starting to get busy on the photography side and the skating side. Life is good, I can’t complain.
EG: Tell us about the photo exhibition, it’s through Volcom and happening in conjunction with the video premiere correct?
AS: There will be an exhibition at Parlours skate shop tonight in London. Then the premiere is afterwards at the Hackney House.
EG: Where will you go after London?
AS: I’m going to Paris tomorrow and on Sunday I fly to Madrid to do a showing over there. From there on I’m going to help out on a New Balance trip. We are doing a little skate trip starting in Madrid so I’m just going to go from one trip to the next.
EG: What’s the story behind the photos featured in the exhibition?
AS: It’s photos from the last couple of years, there’re some lifestyle photos and some from the skate trips. The show includes photos from myself and a European photographer Jelle Keepens. He’s a pretty epic photographer, we each have about twenty pieces. It’s quite a big show.
EG: You have been doing so many cool projects. I saw the one where you got to skate the Helsinki Airport. How did that come about?
AS: That one came through a random email, which read, “Hey we have this interesting project. Do you want to hop on a call to talk about it?” I read it and it almost sounded fake but I said “sure.” Soon enough I was in Finland doing a scout and starting to plan the whole thing out. Six months later we were there actually shooting it. That was a trippy one for sure.
EG: When I saw it, it seemed like a dream for any skateboarder.
AS: Yeah, it was pretty rad and believe it or not, it was non-skaters who came up with the idea and then they approached me and Pablo films and gave us the freedom to help develop that project and make it legit on the skateboarding side of things.
EG: For this new Volcom video Holy Stokes do you have a full part in it?
AS: No, I just have a couple of tricks sprinkled throughout the video. I was mostly behind the lens. The tours are pretty hectic and there’s a lot of stuff going down so I was more behind the camera making sure that we get all of the stills and everything.
EG: I saw your cover photo for The Skateboard Mag with Lance Mountain and Steve Olson [Alex Olson’s father]. It was really nice! How did that come about?
AS: Cool, yeah that was a rad group effort that came together somehow. I mean, we had talked about it for quite a while. Lance and Steve had that idea forever but just never got around to doing it because they didn’t have a location. One day Lance just showed up at my house with a bunch of paint and canvas and 2x4s and and was like, “Alright we are doing it.” He started stretching canvas and painting on it. It took like three days to get the whole thing done and it was super fun working on that.
EG: And you shot it in the pool in your backyard?
AS: Yeah that pool is in my backyard.
EG: Do you ever get sick of people coming to your house to skate?
AS: No, actually believe it or not it’s been pretty mellow. It goes through phases where it’s like super busy and the next minute it’s mellow and you go a month without anyone skating it.
EG: And your wife is cool with everyone coming to skate?
AS: Yeah, that’s actually a blessing. She’s super down for skating. I don’t know how she puts up with us but she does.
EG: For your photography you got to hang out with Ed Templeton a lot, and I’m curious who has helped you develop with your photography?
AS: I mean there’s been multiple people throughout. I got the blessing of hanging out with pretty much all the top skateboard photographers in the world for the past fifteen years. We would be on tour and we’d be shooting and anytime I had a question I could be like, “Hey, what does that do?” So I could just pick their brain. But in the early days I spent a lot of time with Skin Phillips, he kind of got me started, and obviously Atiba (Jefferson) has been a pretty close mentor. I shot with him back in the day but also in the photo game he’s hooked me up and pointed me in the right direction and helped me out quite a bit. The list goes on.
EG: Now your younger team riders like Curren Caples are getting into photography. Do they come to you for advice?
AS: Yeah, Curren has been messing around with cameras. Here and there some questions come up and I try to answer to the best of my knowledge. But yeah, everytime I see Curren he’s got some kind of camera, a different point and shoot. Last time I saw him he had a Leica and I was like, “Cool,” it’s getting serious. If you are shooting with an M you gotta be into it.
EG: What about fashion? I heard you’ve done a few fashion shoots?
AS: Yeah, I have tried to sink my teeth into it a little bit more but obviously I’m pretty heavily rooted in skateboarding and it takes a lot of my time, so I don’t have a ton of time to go out and meet people and seek out clients and meetings and editorial stuff. I’ve shot with Erin Wasson a couple of times, for her jewellery line that she started a little while ago. I shot a bunch of pictures for her catalogue and press images and things like that, some portraits of her and the jewellery. I’m just getting my feet wet outside of skateboard photography which is rad. I’m super into shooting portraits.
Holy Stokes: A Behind The Scene Photo Show by Arto Saari & Jelle Keppens runs at Parlour Skate Store, Hackney Road until 11th June