SDJ Interview

 

First question, who are you and where are you from?

My name is Sammy Glucksman, aka Sammi Da Joo aka SDJ, I'm from Brooklyn, New York, Park Slope, born and raised. My parents are also from New York as well.


Sammy Da Joo, you spell it J-O-O right?

J-o-o, yeah, to separate myself from other Jews.

[LAUGHS]


Ok, alright. How were you introduced to photography and who were your early influences?

It started in sixth grade, first year of junior high school, they had a photography program, the teacher's name was Mr. Zarba, the man definitely changed my life and the way I see things for sure. Started with all the basics ya know? Photography 101, took my first photo with a camera made out of an oatmeal box called a pinhole camera, you take a oatmeal box and you put a pinhole in it and you put a actual piece of photographic paper in the back of it and you set it down and open it for, I don't know, maybe it was a minute exposure? Maybe even longer? Two minute exposure? Then you close it back up and you take the camera back into the darkroom and you take the paper out of the back of the oatmeal box and you put it into the developer and I saw the image come up for the first time and I was like "Wow!" That was the most craziest thing I saw, a blank white piece of paper turned into an image, that's kinda what got me hooked.


That's dope...

My early influences in photography were mostly skateboard photographers, cause when I really got into taking photos, at first I really didn't follow any other photographers until I got into the skateboarding scene and this guy  Dimitry Elyashkevich was definitely one of my early influences. He definitely helped me out, showed me some techniques on how to shoot skating and what not. So, most of my favorite photographers are probably skateboarding photographers for the most part. Ari Marcopoulos, his skate stuff and non skate stuff I think is amazing, Larry Clark, it's more about people I knew, because for me, photography is about the person and the camera - more than just the camera. Once you get to know somebody, I like their photographs a lot more than just seeing them without knowing them personally.

 

 

You feel like you know why they shot that.

Yeah, I can picture them, there shooting the photo. It gives me like a whole 3D image of the whole situation that's going on.


You see the photo as a whole.

Exactly, and I can actually picture the photographer like there "BOOM Shooting there, that was dope!" I can see the moment, you know?

 


Yeah, a lot of people don't look at it that way, a lot of people they just see the photo, they stop to think that there was someone there taking the photo.

Yeah, you know, when you see a behind the scenes shot? That's how I see a photo sometimes, if I know the person, I can tell, you know, Dimitri was laying on the floor, skater going above him, I can picture the moment, you know, like an outsider looking in on the whole moment.


But you're also an insider because you know technique.

Exactly, Sure!


Because you can break it apart.

But, also other famous photographers, definitely Mike O’Meally, Lance Dawes, I use to like his work a lot, Gabe Morford, Daniel Harold Sturt was always really good, he kind of gave a different side of skateboarding photography, when I was shooting skateboard photography, I had a huge 50lbs. backpack, 3 flashes, lenses, cameras, and Ari Marcopoulos and Sturt would roll around with one camera and show that you really did need all that fancy flash and stuff, you can get a great photo with a camera and a lenses, you didn’t need all that.


They shot it a little more raw.

Exactly.

 


They shot it as it happened, it wasn’t staged, not to say that there's anything wrong with that.

It was more photojournalism kind of thing to me, more than a actual technical skate photographer, which was what I aspired to be, but I also like that as well.


You shot a lot of the Zoo York stuff in the late 90’s early 2000’s…

No, it was the mid 90’s till 2000’s, I stopped in 2000…


Oh, you stopped in 2000? How did that come about?

I mean it all just happen, So i had my first photo in Slap Magazine, I think 1994-95, it was an Independent  of Justin Pierce. Once that happened everybody was like “Woah, this guy is mad young, but he got a photo in a magazine!” People were impressed by that and people started giving me a little bit more of a chance, you know? Like when I shot that photo of Justin, I was standing next to Dimitry, we were side by side, he was shooting, I was shooting the same thing. I gave my photo to Justin, Justin sent it in to Joey Tershey, who was the team manager at Independant at the time, so yeah, it was an ad, I don’t remember if I got paid for it or not and I never got the original slide back, so if you guys have that slide, I love to have it back!


Pretty sure we can track him down (Joey Tershey), he does Ace, right?

Yeah but who knows twenty years later where that slide is, but at that point, people kept giving me opportunities and were like go out and keep shooting photos and keep submitting them.


Were you on staff at Zoo York?

Nah, just freelanced. I was fifteen - sixteen years old, not a lot of people going to put me on staff.


But you did shoot and contributed a lot of stuff?

I did, I shot a good two dozen ads for Zoo York for over 5 years or so.


And the web stuff as well?

Maybe?


Some of the backend/lifestyle stuff, i know there were photos of Hamilton and the guys just chilling on the site?

I don’t even know if Zoo York had a website back then, I mean this is pre-website.


True.

This is before, before Zoo York even had a website.

 

 

Around that time it was Kids and stuff to right?

They filmed Kids in 94 and that's like I sorta met everybody around 94 right after they filmed kids, eh, right around 93-94.


What did you think of that? Did you think it depicted what life was like?

For sure definitely I was still a virgin back then so like the sex scenes were like ya know? I was always the youngest out of everybody so I definitely had major influences. The movie was pretty true to ya know life day in and day out


Except for the AIDS stuff but for the most part people had a hard time understanding.

Skating, stealing 40s, chilling out all day ya know hanging at Nasa all night. Go to clubs, thats how me and Harold got tight. Cus id be like Harold “take me out to the clubs!” He would be like Yo you are only 13 you can't come out like with us, but come on.. alright alright. He would take me to the house and dress me up and then sneak me into the clubs most of the time I got in not all the time but if I didn't get in I would have to hang out until like 4 in the morning and like skate around or whatever until they got done partying then I would meet back up with them.  At that point I couldn't go back to my house ya know it was too late. I already lied to my parents about spending the night somewhere so it was that or roam the street and skate.


You didn't have a camera at the time

No what I would do is bring my camera bag and then once everyone was done skating I would leave it at Supreme or leave it at this store called Liquid Sky that my sister worked at on Lafayette between Prince and Spring. It was a jungle music record label/clothing line. So I would leave my camera bag there, for the night come back in the morning then come back grab and go back out skating and shoot photos.


Any memorable experiences from that time

Wooo so many man. Going to house parties, stealing all the liquor from the house parties, taking it to the next house party while we just skate around the city. Just drinking and smoking. I remember one time Hamilton brought mushroom tea to Astor place when I was 16 at the time we all took mushroom tea skated all the way from Astor to midtown stopped skating and the sun was out we broke night skating and tripping tons of stuff. Zoo York tour was amazing even though I was the youngest they all picked on me alot stuck in a sweaty van with 10 guys that were 10 years older than me. So I definitely got the short end of the stick most of the time. it was a great experience and I wouldn't change it anyway.


You stopped for a while as well right? like 2000?

Yeah around 2000 and 2001 I stopped skating and stopped shooting photos rather.


Did you stop skating as well.

Pretty much yeah for the most part I stopped skating and shooting photos, reason being were like a lot of the people that I was skating with beyond skating they were my friends and guys I looked up to and we hung out and we partied and once they were getting towards the end of their career and they were all going to do clothing lines and transition into whatever they wanted to do after skating. and for me I love taking photos but it was more I was young at the time also so as much as I loved taking photos I loved hanging out with all them too and once they stopped skating i stopped skating. got like sorta bummed out on the skate scene. I dont wanna roll around with a lot of these heads, maybe its time for me to stop. I dont know why it was just my mindframe at the time


Well yeah you have personal relationships with these people

So I remember being like I am gonna take 2 weeks off from taking these photos and see what happens and 2 weeks turned into 12 years. Besides have a little point and shoot camera every now and then I pretty much didn't shoot photos from 2001-2012 is probably when I got back into it.

 


So what brought you back into shooting?

To be honest I know it sounds a little cheezy but it was instagram, got me back into taking photos.


I remember there was The Hundreds Nerf thing and that was the first time I saw you with a rig.

That was probably right when I bought my 5D.


Your 5D and the 80-200 and you were taking photos cus I was taking photos and they were using my photos and I was like thats SDJ I love his stuff from back in the day and everyone was like Sammy is taking photos again Sammy is taking photos again. and everyone kinda got hyped. I don’t know if you know that, or if anyone told you.

Yeah, I heard that, that was one of the factors, but even prior to that nerf whatever we call it, pick up game...


The Hundreds x Nerf collab...

The little pickup football game we played, I was always Blackberry for the longest time and like 2011 I bought a iPhone, i was like, alright, cool, 2011 everybody's doing this Instagram thing, I just started doing iPhone shots and people were actually complimenting me on my photos that I shot on my iPhone, people were actually bigging me up and encouraging me, so i took whatever money I had and bought a canon and a couple lenses and hit Bobby (Hundreds) up and asked "would you mind if I do a little blog on the site, you know, I want to get back into photography" and he was digging the stuff I was doing and so he gave me my first job and I came back as a so called blogger.


Photographer...

Photogra-blogger.... Bloggapher...

 


Being as Instagram is the reason you came back, how do you feel about the current state of photography?

I love it and I hate it, you know? I love the fact that I'm not shooting film anymore and I can take a million photos and I can erase ninety nine percent of them and have that one that I want. That makes it fun, not having to buy fifty rolls of film at a time and going through them in two weeks, it's kind of nice not dealing with all that stuff.


Not getting a shot and having to destroy a roll...

Yeah, I've destroyed so many, I remember pulling out ten rolls if I was shooting a sequence and they didn't land it, just chuck them in the garbage.

I mean Instagram is great, I love it and I'm pretty much  addicted to it, it definitely eats up hours of my life and days.


We were talking about that last night, how much time we spend on Instagram...

I know, if you add up all the 30 seconds and all those little moments you spend, it definitely adds up to a few hours, but you know, Instagram is great and I think people look into it too much, you know, about how many followers you have more than the quality of your feed, which I understand, you have those followers for a reason, be it the comments you leave, however you engage your followers, you know, build your following, it's great but at the end of the day, do companies want you for your eye or as a billboard? What I call billboard jobs, because these brands are just using you as a billboard, which I totally understand, if I was working for a big company, I'd probably do the same thing because you'd get the most exposure out of that person. At the end of the day, you should look at people that can actually take photos...


Or that understand the process...

Yeah, that understand, so that's a little disappointing for sure, because I don't really have a lot of followers so I don't get that corporate money like that and a lot of those billboard jobs.


I mean, I don't have a lot of followers as well, but I appreciate the people that follow me because I know a lot of the people that follow me, it's quality over quantity...

Yeah, the way I see it is, you guys have all these followers on Instagram, and that's cool, but I know a lot of people in real life and that's what's gotten me...


Exactly!

It's gotten me to were I am and got me the jobs I have today.


I've had that issue with a few people, were they take my presence on Instagram more seriously than they take me as a person. At the end of the day, look, I have a life outside of Instagram and a lot of what happens to me is because of that life outside of Instagram, instagram is just a fraction of a second in my life. It's moment that's been curated and filtered and we present it to you and it still happens and it's a part of my life, but it's not my whole life. My whole life is this, me sitting across from you and the relationships we have.

I take it more seriously, I guess because I stop taking photos for so long and a lot of people, if you didn't know me from 95 to 2000, you wouldn't have known I was a photographer. You would have known me as Sammi that worked for Nike, Nike ID doing design consulting work. The kids that had different sneakers everyday and had all the fly kicks...


It depends, say if you weren't in the scene or photography...

You'd be surprised, a lot of people have asked how you got so good at taking photos so fast? What are you doing with a camera? You here to take photos?

I'm like, yeah, I use to shoot photos back in the nineties and early two thousands, but if you didn't know me then, you'd have no idea that I did that, that's how much I gave up photography, that I didn't do it at all and people don't know me from that side, unless you know me from back in the day.

So I take Instagram more seriously because I feel like I have to prove myself again, maybe that's me being my worst critic and being hard on myself...


But I think we all do that, I do that myself...

So I do take Instagram fairly serious because I do get work off it, I don't have a website, I don't update my tumblr too much, so if you want to see my work, go on my Instagram. To be honest, I prolly put my best work on Instagram, because even if I had a website, my Instagram is going to get way more traffic than my website...


It's easier....

Way more people are going to see it, because people from every business is looking for a photographer, you know?


But it's business, not personal to you?

No, I keep mine pretty business, I don't really post any personal stuff on Instagram, that is like more for Snapchat and other apps that waste my time.


 

Hehe, so who are some of your favorite photographers now? Like skate and non skate?

I don't know, it's so hard now, with Instagram, there so many good photographers that it's really hard. I almost really don't try to look at other people's work, as weird as that might sound. I like to just focus on what I'm doing, I could look at all these amazing photographers and be like wow, this guys doing this, this guys going there, etc... And I'd be "damn, wtf am I really doing?! I'm kinda not doing anything but walking around Manhattan and taking photos..."


There's people who have made careers from doing just that!

I don't know, it just me being hard on myself, so I try to not look at what other people are doing as much as possible and focus on what I'm doing and try and build my creativity from within I guess instead of looking at other peoples stuff and trying to put my own spin on something that's been done, even though there's stuff that I might think of in my head, it's already been done before but at least it came organically from my head, you know?


It also I think the challenge, on how to do it? What I like and respect about you is you're technical, there's a lot of photographers nowadays who aren't technical, they don't understand the mechanics behind a shot...

Oh man, some of these big time Instagram photographers that have a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, they're asking me the most simple photographic questions, that I learned in sixth grade, and it kinda bugs me out, like really? You don't know that? You take all these good photos, and your photos are good and you have all these followers, but you're asking me, why do you put your f-stop this way? And I'm like, you don't know by now?


Yeah, they don't know depth of field, how to stop a frame, freeze a frame, why you shoot at a certain speed as opposed to another speed...

Yeah, it really bugs me out, their photographic knowledge is so basic, yet they're able to take good photos. It's so instant now, you can take a bad photo, look at the back of your camera and correct yourself and shoot again and again and again till you get it right, it'll take you 5 minutes at the most, were when I first started, I had to shoot the film, shoot the photo rather, trust my judgement sorta, which I was young and my knowledge of photography wasn't that great either, so I'd have to wait, finish the roll, take it Camera Color that I use to use on 17th street, that would take a day or so, get the photos the next day, be like "aw, shit, I fucked this up, shit, why?" Go back and try and reshoot that photo, and the whole process, you know, where as now you have something that can take five minutes time max, to correct yourself nowadays, you know what I mean? Where it would take you days to go through that whole process of redoing it, you know, not sure if that makes sense?


Yeah, it does, it makes sense, but I think when you shoot skating or any type of sport it teaches you a different sense of timing, timing in skateboarding is so...

Sure, you have to anticipate! There's that lag of time when you press, hit the trigger on your camera and then the photo happens.


A lot of people don't even realize that you when you shoot skating, you prefocus, you set your focus where you think the height of the trick is going to be, people don't even realize that, they trust that the autofocus will do it for them...

Yeah, I'd ask, "put your board up in the sky, where you'll think the peak is of your ollie" and that would be my focus point and I'd flip my camera over to manual and I was locked in or put your board in the middle of the ledge, where you'll think you'll be locked in on that tailslide and that's my focal point.


People don't understand that...

The best camera can't keep up with fast action like that.


Ansel Adam would say "the most important part of the camera is six inches behind the lens"

For sure


And that's why you'll always be an amazing photographer...

But I think that saying, the truth of it, is becoming less and less...


I mean, yes and no... Eh, I don't want to accept that as the truth, but I guess so...

Everything is so instant nowadays, there's YouTube videos, you can learn to take photos so much faster than before, you know?

There's not as much lag time as before, everything is just instant.


Yeah, there's no waiting...

You shoot your photo, you bring it home, you edit it and it's good to go.

 

 

Any parting words?

Parting words, fuck, man, I'm not good at parting words... Hold on, let me think about that...


Anyone you want to say you're thankful for?

Yeah, I can thank a fucking lot of people, shit man... All the OGs, the original Supreme team for kind of shaping me into who I am today. I want to thank Bobby Hundreds and Phil Frost, those were the first two people that gave me work when I first got my camera. I want to thank Pete, even before we were friends you've always liked my stuff and I've never forgot that, it's something that stuck with me and I appreciate you bailing me out of my lack of photoshop knowledge.


You didn't have that, when you were shooting (in the past) someone else did that...

Yeah


You sent your roll in and that was it, what did you send, a slide? Contact sheet?

Negative or slide.


And someone else dealt with it, people don't understand that, that a concept people don't understand or comprehend, there's a dude that would take that slide, put it in a slide scanner or a drum scanner, they would scan it, retouch it, and then you'd see your ad after it was published, you wouldn't even see a proof, no one was sending you proofs!

I was happy, you know, they could chop it up, whatever...


Sometime they won't use the right photo!

So many times they've gave photo credit on my shot or I got photo credit on other people's shots, that's just how it goes.


Photo editor was over worked...

But yeah, Pete, always thank you for helping me out.


I've always said you are my favorite New York City photographer, both skate and other than... Even though I'm older than you, I still respected you, people sit there and don't think about the technique, a lot of photographers now, they don't think about what it takes to actually shoot something, you're very humble and quiet about it, but you know your shit.

I think people have gotten spoiled from Instagram, from looking at good photos, it's like a dime a dozen, don't get me wrong, I like shooting rooftops, bridges, skylines and stuff, but I do that more to please my Instagram followers. I'll post a photo of a old Chinese guy, that stuff I like to shoot, and I'll lose followers and get way less likes, and I'll be alright, fuck, let me go shoot a sunset...

  

It's trends...

I'll get all those followers back and way more likes, blah, blah, blah...


It's trends though, I think people are conditioned to like certain things and they don't understand why they do it, it's just conditioning and trending, it's not that one photo is not as artistic as another, it's just "this is what we like, it's picturesque and pretty" where as you can have a old guy playing mahjong, and they're like "yeah, we don't understand this?"

They're like "what is that? Why are you shooting old Chinese people?" , if you don't see it, then you don't see it...


Exactly...

We're not on the same wave length...

 


It's not eye candy...

Exactly, I see beauty in totally different things, which is fine, if that's what you're into, then that's what you're into. I like to be well rounded, I like to be able to shoot anything, there's no job that I want someone to offer me, that I go, "I can't do that that, I don't know how to do that." I want to be able to do anything.


I don't see that as a problem...

Everybody is like "You need to pick something that you want to shoot that is your thing" but it's so hard for me, to shoot one thing for the rest of my life? Sounds horrible!


You don't have to, I don't think you have to, a lot of people pigeon hole me into a portrait photographer, I mean I did one InsideOut Project and all of a sudden that is what I'm known for, alright, cool, I'll run with it, but that's not the only thing I shoot, I shoot a lot of other stuff, I shoot skating, surfing, sunsets, I shoot all that cheesy shit too, but I shoot street stuff. I don't shoot women, but that's for my own personal reason, not to take away from guys that shoot women, but I always found it as a...

... Easy route?


Exactly... I think it's harder...

Yeah, I understand that as well, but shooting girls has been popular since photography first started till the day there are no more cameras!


Of course! Cause you know that's prolly one of the reasons mother fuckers made cameras, for nudes...

Exactly, it's going to be popular till the end of time.


For me, I don't know, I'm a knucklehead and I like doing shit the hard way, don't give me easy, give me hard... Story of my life!

Yeah, I through phases shooting women, I won't do it for months then I'll do it a bunch, then I won't do it for awhile, it's a pain in the ass, they all complain, for the most part, they all want me to make their photos look like they're in Vogue, that's not my style, I'm not a super retoucher, I'm not going to airbrush your face and make you look flawless, when you're really not...


Shoot what's there...

Exactly, you're not Kate Moss, and I'm not gonna hire a retoucher to come and do it for me...


Nah, I shoot what's there, I rarely go in, I mean I do that for a living, retouching, but for my own work, I rarely go in, I shoot what's there.

Me too...


I'm not interested in the make believe... Alright, thanks bro!

My pleasure, thank you!

 






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