Capturing a Culture

Capturing a Culture

Along with its unique Porsche culture, the West Coast gave birth to modern skateboarding, captured by J Grant Brittain

As Porsche enthusiasts know, passions run deep, while to the outsider, only the surface is visible, giving little insight into just what it is that devotees obsess over. You only know if you’ve been there and the only people who understand are your fellow addicts.

With this, there’s one documentarian who captured the birth of modern skateboarding like few others. A time when it lived in its own cosmos, rarely venturing out, and certainly not to be used as a platform for branded cool like today. That person is J Grant Brittain.


SFM: What does skateboarding mean to you?

GJB: I began skating when I was 10 in mid-1960s, so it has always been in my life. In 1970 I started surfing and got more into skateboarding, which sort of took over. Then I started working at the Del Mar Skate Ranch in California in 1978, then I picked up a camera the following year. That’s when skating and photography took over and changed the course of my life.

SFM: What defines an iconic skater?

GJB: I think great style sets the iconic skater apart from the rest. The way a skater looks while skating is what stays over time. The Chris Millers, the Christian Hosoi’s and the Duane Peters are the skaters who get remembered for decades.

SFM: What’s your favourite era of skating?

GJB: I call the 1980s the “Golden Era of Skateboarding”. That one decade was when vert skating came of age and street skating started and took over. Vert and bowl riding started to get more technical and airs got bigger and street skating was created by skaters to fill the void of no ramps and skateparks being available. The 1980s is also when I was learning to shoot photos and starting a magazine.
SFM: What’s your advice for those starting out?

GJB: Start by shooting your friends, everyone starts out the same way, at the bottom, It’s like anything. You don’t start out shooting Tony Hawk or Andrew Reynolds. I encourage people to shoot film too, it helps slow the process down and you learn a lot about light and how to use it to create better photographs. Everyone is in a big hurry nowadays and it doesn’t hurt to think things through and pre-visualise before pressing the shutter.
All images available to buy at jgrantbrittain.com

Co-founder of Transworld Skateboarding Magazine, the title featured numerous photos (many seen here) over his 20 years as Senior Photographer and Photo Editor, including over 60+ covers. His photos have also featured in magazines, books, and photo shows around the world.

Grant left Transworld in 2003 and now works on his own artistic, commercial, and personal projects: teaching, photo shows all over the world, releasing new photos from the archive.

SFM: What’s your favourite era of skating?

GJB: I call the 1980s the “Golden Era of Skateboarding”. That one decade was when vert skating came of age and street skating started and took over. Vert and bowl riding started to get more technical and airs got bigger and street skating was created by skaters to fill the void of no ramps and skateparks being available. The 1980s is also when I was learning to shoot photos and starting a magazine.


SFM: If you didn’t shoot skateboarding what subject would be an alternative?

GJB: I already shoot landscapes, portraits, abstracts and architecture, so I would keep doing that. I am a photographer first and foremost.

SFM: What’s the key to capturing a great photo?

GJB: Knowing skateboarding and the skater are a must. The timing and the correct angle to shoot from are key. Pressing the shutter button too early or too late fails to catch that peak moment. I work closely with the skater, that’s the most important element.

Style's 'Drive Five'



  • Favourite driving route/road?I love the road from the desert in Mesquite up the mountain through St. George, Utah and into Zion National Park.
  • Most memorable road trip?

    Driving with Belgian friend from Antwerp to Amsterdam to Münster, Germany, through Switzerland to Le Grand Bornand in the French Alps and back to Belgium.

  • Dream road trip?

    I think Alaska, as I’ve never been there.

  • Porsche of choice for the journey?

    I’d usually say a 356, though in this case I think a Cayenne might be better suited!

  • Dream driving partner (dead or alive)?

    David Bowie.