From The Archives
Volume 3, Issue 1 “Authority” Spring 2019
Sold Out [PDF]

Grinding Cars: Jared Souney On His Photo Of Ralph Sinisi

Interview by Nick Ferreira

Nick Ferreira:
There's so much going on in this photo beyond the trick. Can you set the scene for the readers like where it was shot and what time of the night it was shot and anything else that you might remember from that night over 20 years ago?

Jared Souney:
I went into that trip with a plan to have a couple of days to shoot with Ralph before we all drove out to a 2-Hip Contest in Long Island. For whatever reason the flights from California got cancelled the first day, so by the time I actually got there we had one night to shoot before leaving in the morning for the contest. Interviews were different back then (at least the way we were doing them). More recently people started to shoot for months, sometimes longer, and assemble a montage of holy grail tricks that you’ll probably never see them try again. We approached it very differently back then. It wasn’t so much a “this is your one chance at an interview, so you better make it perfect.” It was more “here’s what this guy is doing at the time.” They were more like a day (or couple of days) in the life features… something that readers could aspire to, and get a feel for who they were at that moment in time, versus three years of bangers packaged together. There’s nothing wrong with the glory-feature style. We just did it much more in the moment. That made for a packed night in situations like this though, and we just went out cruising the city hoping for the best. But that whole interview was shot over the course of five or six hours cruising the city with Ralph and his crew.

The car photo in particular was shot late at night — probably after midnight — and very much in a “dark alley” kind of scenario, right by the iconic Brooklyn Banks (which was mostly closed off at the time). Street riding in NYC can get a little wild. Over the years when I’ve been there for contests or on road trips, some of the locals and out of town hooligans would be riding over moving taxi’s, wall riding buses… I think I hoped we’d at least get some of that urban-chaos element, but I also wouldn’t pressure someone to do something like that. It just kind of happened that Ralph was like “I want to grind a car.”

We happened upon that spot by the banks where there were a bunch of City / Public Works type vehicles parked along the road — there must have been some sort of city work offices nearby, or they just used that area for parking, because all the cars down along there were some sort of NYC city work vehicles. It just seemed like the right place to do it: A street with a bunch of old, city vehicles, some of which happened to have squared off trunks. We were pretty hidden down there in the dark, but regardless it was very hit and run. He did it once or twice at most, and then we bolted to the next spot. I don’t want to knock a mid 80s Chrysler (that was my first car) but he definitely did not go for the nicest car on the block, and I think we felt okay knowing it wasn’t some random old lady’s car. It also was more my job to document what was happening, and less to talk him out of it. So we went for it. There wasn’t any crazy photo set up. Nothing in that interview was. It was just a flash on the side of the camera and then someone was holding a small remote flash for me, just off to the side to fill it in a bit, helping to compensate for the fact that it was so dark down there. Most of the stuff in that interview was “get it and go,” which honestly is the most fun way to shoot, at least to me.

Nick Ferreira:
I definitely remember reading a response in the letters section of Ride and someone seemed to be upset because Ralph was grinding a car. I think they mentioned him being a gear head himself. I was just looking at your repost of the photo on Instagram and even now someone mentioned it was a "dickish move." Where do you stand on this? Did you have any thoughts about not running it?

Jared Souney:
We did get a few letters, but I’m sure we knew it would, and I’m sure we talked about it. This wasn’t the first time something pissed someone off… it’s sort of inevitable, but I’m sure we knew it would get a reaction. But it did create conversation. My only real personal justification at the time was that it was a 15-year-old, city-owned work car, that had it’s share of scrapes and dings. A car that sits parallel parked in any city, especially NY, is taking a bit of a battering. Does that make it okay? Probably not. Documenting something can be conflicting. You could look at any of those photos in that interview the same way. The wall-ride on the opening spread is on a roll-up door on the side of a restaurant in Chinatown. That’s someone’s business, and had we done any damage, it would have fallen on their wallet to fix it. I look at street riding very differently now than I did 20 years ago. I own the small building I use for my studio, so I’ve come to appreciate that I’m responsible for any sort of damage. If someone tags the wall out front, or leaves a pile of trash, I have to fix it. If someone knocked over a handrail (I don’t have one), or broke a window, I’d have to pay for that. I guess that makes me look at all this stuff a bit differently, and it’s certainly changed what I will and will not shoot. Roof stuff is off limits to me these days for sure… all I see is roof leaks. But going back to that time and place, and the car itself, I would still shoot that photo of Ralph, given the circumstances.

Nick Ferreira:
Interesting. I mean street riding in general is always trespassing or destruction of property so I do think it's a slippery slope to say one thing is more destruction than the other. But with that said, I don’t really know where I stand on it because I think you can pretty easily find yourself in a trap; if I’m not okay with grinding someone’s car, how can I be okay with wallriding someone’s wall? Which, I am very okay with cause that shit is fun.

Jared Souney:
I think what I would shoot a photo of and what I’d personally be comfortable riding might be different. I probably wouldn’t ever grind a car on the street. Maybe at 2-Hip Meet the Street. I’ve certainly ridden my fair share of concrete walls, and ground plenty of ledges. I think it’s very much a to each their own situation, as far as where the line is. I’ve said “no” to shooting stuff that involved people’s houses… stuff like wall rides on the side of homes that had banks up to them. That’s just not for me. If a concrete wall on the side of an overpass gets some tire marks on it, that’s possibly a nuisance, but it’s not the end of the world. I guess for me it comes down to my own interpretation at the time. I’ve certainly put my share of quickcrete at the bottom of barriers and that sort of thing. I guess maybe these days I distinguish more than I used to between causing something to need drastic repairs, and making it a little more usable.

Nick Ferreira:
This was shot for Ride BMX US at about the same time New Jersey just seemed to explode with coverage: Props Scene Report, riders getting sponsored, etc. What were the conversations like when it came to what you were going to cover? I mean since things were slower getting to the readers/consumers of media in those days, how were you all tuned into what was going on across the country?

Jared Souney:
I was from the Northeast and had only lived on the west coast for about a year, so I was tuned into that scene a bit. A lot of the Jersey guys would come up to New England and ride with us over the years, and vice versa. So the guys I hadn’t met, I’d heard about just through proximity. The Jersey scene went way back to the 80s, but the new, more street oriented guys like Ralph and his crew (Tiseo, George Dossantos, Will Taubin, Jeff Zielinski, Rob Dolecki, etc.) were becoming more and more known outside of the mid-Atlantic right about the same time I started working at Ride. Jeff Z and Dolecki were starting to shoot a lot of photos of all those guys and sending them to us here and there. Ralph had just had a full part in Nowhere Fast, so that put him on another level as soon as that came out. For us at the magazine, we just had to talk to people and keep our ears open. This was the message board era, but internet video was pretty shit. We’d get a lot of local videos sent to us, and we watched as much of that stuff as we could. The message board sites like Protyle, and later BMXBoard, contributed pretty heavily to the information sharing. And then we just had good old fashioned phones on our desk, and that new fangled email. I certainly pushed for as much as I could from the east coast in general, but either way, no one could have ignored those guys.

The magazine’s editorial staff at the time was just myself and (Mark) Losey. We didn’t have big budgets, so every trip we took was about trying to make as much different content as we could, hopefully to be spread across a couple issues. Ralph’s part in Nowhere Fast was fresh on people’s minds, so he was an obvious choice to try to shoot with, and the 2-Hip contest in NY helped connect all the dots in getting me out there. I could fly to Newark, shoot with Ralph, and then catch a ride to Long Island with those guys for the contest. From there, I hopped in with someone else after the contest to get more photos somewhere else. On trips like this one I’d usually make new connections, see new riders, and hear about who was popping up in those areas. I’m pretty antisocial and hate networking, but there’s something about the BMX scene at that time that broke down those social barriers.

Nick Ferreira:
I've always really enjoyed your black and white photos that were featured in Ride but what was or is your favorite set-up to shoot BMX photos?

Jared Souney:
That photo certainly falls into the style I like to shoot most. It’s not necessarily the black and white aspect, it’s the raw-moment vibe that motion and on camera flash creates. There’s motion blur in a lot of that stuff. It’s not perfect by any means, and those imperfections are the reality of what we were doing—it was seat of the pants. It’s hard to explain to people that haven’t been around this stuff, but this photo is a lot of what photography is to me. I kind of despise the big production, agency style, commercial photoshoots where you have producers, art directors, stylists, assistants, catering, permits, budgets, massive lighting kits, etc. I’ve done that stuff, and sometimes still do, but I usually end up hating it. The stuff we were shooting back then was often much less polished than a lot of the stuff today. 70% of that for me, is that I had no clue what the fuck I was doing, and I was learning on the fly. But even now that I have a bit more grasp on what I’m doing, I still prefer to shoot that same “hit and run,” handheld flash, sort of way. A lot of action photos today are tack sharp, perfectly composed, with all the action stopped perfectly using  multiple strobes around the scene and the higher flash sync speeds that digital allows. It can feel very fairy-tale. The photos I grew up on and was inspired by… most of those photos would go in the garbage today. The imperfect crops, motion blur, flashes in the photo… the imperfections are what makes those old photos feel so right. As the years passed I shot a lot of more “polished" stuff for a while, but I’ve found myself reverting back to that raw, handheld flash, fisheye style a lot more over the last 5 or 6 years again. Riding around with friends in a sketchy hit and run situation, and coming out of there with a photo when you had no time to set up, all the while knowing you might have to run for your life or for the police… it’s fun. In those old film days, there was a bit of added anxiety and adrenaline in the “did I get it or not waiting period” before you processed the film too.

That photo in particular was black and white for a couple reasons: It was so dark down there, that black and white was the best option. It was a bit more forgiving of a film in that kind of lighting.  The slide films we shot were super slow in speed (usually ISO 64), primarily because those films are much sharper and had better contrast than faster films, which could be super grainy and flat. I ended up using (Kodak) TMAX 400 black and white a lot because it’s a great film to begin with, but it was a faster alternative, that still had a decent grain if you blew it up to larger size. Also, contrasty black and white film feels very "New York City at night" to me; like the street photography you’d see from the Studio 54 era. Contrasty, flash lit, wide angle shots with a lot of movement. Again, it’s a gritty look, and for New York City, it just feels right to me to have some of that.

Nick Ferreira:
For sure. Yeah, I guess I just really remember this one article you did about street riding super early that was all shot in B&W with no flash so maybe that’s why I associate the B&W with this more loose style. I think a lot of photos lately seem way too polished for my taste. I feel like BMX is such a raw energy that when it becomes clinical it just loses the energy. And I also think that the approach you took to the shooting of this photo and the other photos in the article over the course of a night instead of weeks, really shows that energy. Okay last question: This might be a hard one but but what do you think your favorite BMX photo of all time is?

Jared Souney:
The photo that always comes to mind, and it is a black and white shot, is Mat Hoffman’s Go Magazine cover that Spike Jonze shot of the first ever (at least in public) flip fakie, back in 1990. Photographically it is pretty utilitarian, but it’s a moment in time that hit hard on so many levels. Information traveled so much slower in those days. So when that magazine showed up in mailboxes, most of us around the world had no idea it was coming, or that it had even happened just two or three months prior. It was a serious “oh shit” moment, that I don’t think has happened like that to me since. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I think it’s much more difficult to create that level of “holy shit” these days. Everything is so fleeting now. And every new thing always hit the rumor mill before it gets released. It’s just a different time.

Go The Rider’s Manual July 1990

There’s nothing on the technical photo side, or composition wise that makes that image stand alone, but it took one moment in time and made it forever for anyone who got that magazine. There aren’t a lot of those kind of moments. I can’t remember the last time I stood at my mailbox in disbelief for that long. These days if that were to happen I would expect that it would be some sort of unexpected giant bill or something.

Overall I tend to appreciate a documentary style of photography more than a commercial style. Most of my influences visually are probably more design related. Magazine making in general was influential to me growing up…I wanted to be a part of and learn that whole process, which is what got me into photography. I was a designer before I got into taking photos, and I tend to shoot photos with design in mind. The 80s skate and BMX photography is what got me started and what still gets me excited. ︎
BMX Magazine since 2017.
Published irregularly.
a Totally Relaxed LLC production.