Having moved from his native Vermont to New York in the early 90s, skateboarder-come-photographer Tino Razo became a major fixture in the city’s skate scene, working at the infamous bar-slash-gallery Max Fish bar (a regular hang-out for the likes of Shepard Fairey, Leo Fitzpatrick and Andrew W.K.) ideally located next to Aaron Rose’s renowned Alleged Gallery.
When Max Fish sadly closed in late 2010, Razo headed west and relocated to Los Angeles. His debut photo book Party in the Back documents his new life in LA, in particular his ventures skating deserted backyard pools with his friends and pro skateboarders.
With LA and SoCal’s abundance of empty swimming pools, it’s a skater’s sun-kissed fantasy. Locating abandoned swimming pools using online maps, Razo and his friends would drive down, clean out the mess and skate the pool. However, skating pools can be hectic due to the inevitable arrival of police, and or landowners crashing the party, all the while trying to get in the best session possible. We caught up with Razo to talk to him about close encounters and his new photo book.
Evan Goodfellow: Congratulations on the book, what do you have planned for the launch?
Tino Razo: We’re going to do the LA Book Fair, then a small book shop near my work, and then we are going to do a show at the Alldayeveryday space downtown that same night on the 24th February. It should be a lot of fun. I’m stoked because I’ve managed to get Ray Barbee to play that night.
Evan: Ray Barbee is awesome. I just saw him this past year at a photo show in Vancouver at Antisocial skateboard shop.
Tino: I always see him with a camera around his neck but I don’t think I have ever seen his photos. I imagine him shooting black and white arty photos.
“I had a guy threaten to pull a gun on me and then the next thing you know he invited me into his house and let us skate his pool and was bringing us beer and shit.”
Evan: When you first started to go skate the pools and shoot photos, did you know right away that you wanted to do a book?
Tino: Not really, it kind of presented itself as the body grew.
Evan: Did you go skate each time or were you on a mission just to get photos?
Tino: I skated every single bowl for sure. Unfortunately I did shoot more, but I made sure that I wasn’t just taking from it, you know what I mean? I was trying to add as much as I could to the profession as well and still kind of walk away with something.
Evan: Do you have any crazy stories about getting kicked out?
Tino: Dude, I fucking got out pretty goddamn easy. Even the photo with weird cop turning around looking at us, they came in pretty hot. We had beers and they were upset that, then they looked us all up and down and saw that we were all kind of skate dudes and then they were like, “Do you mind if we see what you guys can do?” They jammed us up for like an hour but then let us keep skating.
I have had a couple of other ones that were out in the hood and shit. A lot of times people will just think we are metal scrappers taking shit apart to find metal or some sort of sketchy shit like rummaging around old houses. For the most part I’ve got out pretty unscathed. I’ve heard of a lot of other situations though. We had one pool where a friend from Hawaii came in and we gave him the address and he actually had a gun pulled on him. I had a guy threaten to pull a gun on me and then the next thing you know he invited me into his house and let us skate his pool and was bringing us beer and shit.
Tino: Yeah, it’s crazy. I’ve received more kindness than anything out of dangerous situations than one would expect. At one point, a guy came out, and initially I think he wanted to kick us out but then got into it because the guys were ripping the pool and then came back with Coronas and went back into his house to cut up limes. All of my getting kicked out has just been jam-ups or shitty neighbours. I made it through pretty good.
Evan: You’ve been pretty lucky…
Tino: With that being said, every time you jump into those situations you instantly have that feeling of waiting for something like that to happen.
“As a kid I was always interested in skateboard graphics and dudes who were making little movements into art through skateboarding. I was one of those skate sponge kids at that time.”
Evan: Tell us about the Max Fish scene. I think it’s so crazy that a bar could be such a centre for art and skateboarding.
Tino: Yeah 100 percent, we all used to hang out at this other bar around the corner called Spoons. That was kind of the skate vandal bar and then down the street around the corner was Max Fish and that was always kind of known as the art and music bar. Then when Spoons closed it all kind of merged in 1999 or 2000.
Evan: You studied art too?
Tino: For a bit, that was my way out of Vermont. As a kid I was always interested in skateboard graphics and dudes who were making little movements into art through skateboarding. I was one of those skate sponge kids at that time. Being a broke kid and needing help from the parents, the best way to move to a city you want to be is through college. I threw that out to them and it worked.
Evan: Was there anyone in particular who was really influential to you when you first moved to New York?
Tino: My very first job in NYC was assisting Phil Frost. He was a major help back then. We skated together in the 80s and met back up via The Alleged Gallery and my brother when I moved to New York in the early 90s.
Evan: The Alleged Gallery art shows must have been really amazing!
Tino: Yeah, it was really cool man, being able to go to all that. Gonz (Mark Gonzales) had his first solo show there, and there were early Barry McGee shows. As well as everyone like Tobin (Yelland) and Ari (Marcopoulos) and all of those photographers. I was always influenced by that but never really did anything with it. I was always more like a fan and appreciated it.
Evan: When did you decide that you were going to be an artist?
Tino: I don’t think I’ve decided that yet [laughs]. Even with this project, it wasn’t meant as an art project or anything. It literally was just the same thing I’ve always done, just in a new environment and I decided to document it for some reason.
Tino Razo: Party in the Back is out 21st February via Anthology Editions.
Party in the Back book launch is on 24th Feb at Alldayeveryday, 2028 East 7th Street LA