MUSE: Photographer Logan Hill
For Scottish photographer Logan Hill, life is an ongoing adventure that has taken him all over the world. Whether by motorcylce, bike, or skateboard, his journeys are always documented on vivid film. “I’m happiest with a bicycle, with a camera on my back, a couple of rolls of film in my pocket,” Hill says. We sat down with Hill and found out more about how real film is his vice, his future plans, and that one time David Beckham saw him in his underwear.
Labeling Men: So, could you kind of talk about where you grew up first to get some background on you?
Logan Hill: I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the capital city. It's got huge castles and cathedrals and old streets. It’s like something out of a Sherlock Holmes film or Jack the Ripper. It's like the crumbliest, coolest city ever. And I grew up there. It was rad; yeah, it was super rad. It was hard though - Scotland's beautiful but it's kind of a violent little place. I remember what we had to deal with growing up; it was like tons of soccer hooligans stuff. No one had any guns over there, but there were a bunch of tough little people running around. It was gnarly. I remember not really enjoying parts of it. You had to be sort of constantly on alert.
L.M: Were people skating there? Where did you get into that?
L.H: Yeah, but it was like, so small. There was one store - I remember the store was called Quarterback Sports - it was tiny, it was like the size of a closet. And they sold things from America basically, skateboard stuff, baseball stuff, I don't know. Dallas Cowboys jerseys and things. This was like way back, but the stuff was so expensive, but there was a skate scene. There was an epic skate scene. And Scotland has one of the oldest cement skate parks in Europe. The other one is in France, so people were coming to Scotland to skate this old cement skate park. It was cool, but it was just shitty weather like every day. It's just raining, it could be like every weather pattern in one day. It's nuts.
L.M: Did you first get a camera there? When did photography come into play?
L.H: I always was just drawing constantly. I just drew things, like comic books. I was redrawing my favorite characters from movies, but I had never really gotten into photography until I started going to Spain. My grandfather lived in Spain and I would basically get shipped off every school vacation to Alicante, which is maybe 200 miles south of Barcelona. I was probably like 15 or 16 and I would have my skateboard and my backpack and I would really...I don't even really remember the camera I had back then. But it was a little film camera, probably like some little point and shoot. So I would go stay at my grandfathers and I had some buddies - some Spanish buddies - I pretty much didn’t speak English the whole time i was cruising around. I had some Spanish buddies and they would take me on adventures in the city and we'd go skate, and I started shooting pictures of...adventures. And I never ever thought of photography. It was just a thing to remember adventures by. I never thought it would be a means to something...I never viewed it as, "Oh, I must run over and take that guy’s photo.” It was literally just, we're on awesome missions and I've got to document it, you know? It was cool; Spain was rad. I basically spent every moment I could out there. But then the older I got - like 16 or 17 - I started to get into music a lot more. And all the music I was getting into was from America, rap music and heavy metal. When I was in Spain i started to take photos of a lot of graffiti artists and rappers, and break dance dudes. I was starting to notice little sort of subcultures and it was cool. Then I’d always come back to Scotland. The photos never went anywhere; they just got developed and went into a shoebox. And I just kept going. I finished high school and started working as an illustrator to do graphic design and I did that for a couple years. And I was making pretty good loot for a young dude, but none of us went to college over there. It was just a thing - you didn't. When you left school you got a job, and if you had a skill you were a little more ahead than the next person. But, most people just left school and got jobs or, in those days, apprenticeships. So you’d learn a trade, and I did illustrations. It was awesome. And then for years in the back of my mind I wanted to see America. Everything I was into was in America. All of the movies, the buildings, and New York City, and Los Angeles, rap music, rock and roll. Just crazy stuff. So when I was 20 I first came to New York City. Again, I had a little film camera and I just skated around with some buddies from Scotland and we had no plan. We didn't know anybody and we had backpacks filled with Scottish whiskey and shortbread. So wherever we went we'd meet people and give them some whiskey or Scottish biscuits and they would take us in. We traveled everywhere. We all went back to Scotland and I had, you know, all of these photographs from the trip, but I wasn't really satisfied. I ended up quitting my job in Scotland and coming to America. That was in ‘95 and I just stayed. I was like this is it, this is where I’m going to live. I started out on the east coast, and then over the next 20 years I lived everywhere - Hawaii, Florida, Colorado, Puerto Rico, New York, everywhere. San Diego, and then finally I just sort of, after visiting almost every state, I settled in Los Angeles. It’s been a kind of – it’s been a crazy trip.
L.M: I like the way you say “adventure.” Besides the adventure aspect, how do you think traveling and being where you have been shaped your work?
L.H: It’s weird, I’ve been shooting constantly for the last 20 years and my technical knowledge of photography as a whole is so minimal. But I just like grabbing my camera and just getting out there and doing it. Probably going to school would’ve helped, but I like going places and just…I got too much curiosity. There’s so much in this country, it’s crazy. You’ve got hills, mountains, desert, valleys; Cali is totally different from New Orleans, which is completely different from Rhode Island. You could drive across my country in maybe two hours. It’s unfathomable. But driving 24 hours in America gets you not even halfway across. Like, fuck, man, this place is so mental. I love it.
L.M: Have you tried to not go digital?
L.H: I tried about six years ago and I got a nice digital camera, and I got the photos back and they were all crisp and nice and really vibrant. And I hated them. I hated everything about it. The photos went into a folder on my computer and that went into another folder. They’re probably still there on the hard drive - I've never gone back and looked. I just didn't like it. I love film; I love the mess-ups, the weird double exposures, the graininess, everything. It's like, I love that feeling when you kind of really don't know how it’s going to come out. When I got to the photo lab to get my envelope, I race home to see, to view it on the screen like it's Christmas morning. And there are mornings where it's like, “Oh fuck, that didn't come out so awesome,” and then there are times where it's like, “Holy shit, this looks epic.”
L.M: I know that it is part of your routine in the morning - picking up your prints…
L.H: Yeah, man, I love it.
L.M: So editing is pretty minimal for you?
L.H: Yeah. I’ve got to the point now where once I get my negatives developed once I get my prints, because it's good to hold something. And then I get my disk and that goes into the computer. And this is all the boring stuff. But, I’m so low tech, I have Photoshop; I basically resize photos but that’s it. Once in a while I’ll have to change a light but, that’s really it. Whereas I find I see a lot of people shooting digital and then going into editing and making it look like film. Which I understand a little, but man, you can't beat real film. Maybe it’s like those DJs who are purists - you know, they show up to the gig with real vinyl. They show up with crates - which sucks because you gotta fucking carry it - and usually you have to bring a bro to help carry your cases, but that actual needle on the record is just, to me, like film camera stuff. It’s like when people thought vinyl was going obsolete. You can still buy that shit everywhere. Same with film; there are people out there still crushing it with film. One day I hope I can look back on all of my fucking giant boxes of negatives that are a goddamn nightmare to move house with, and it'll be, it is worth it. It's expensive too. But I don't drink anymore, I don't smoke, I don't really have to many vices I guess. But, I do like paying for this film to get developed; I love it.
L.M: Now that you've been doing more fashion type things, what would you say your favorite thing to shoot is?
L.H: Man, that’s a tricky one, because I really enjoy shooting so many different things. Like, for example, I love shooting motorcycles - if you can get that one photo of the guy tucked in, leaning all the way over and he's just tucked into a corner and the motorcycle is just like almost dragging on the ground, that point just before the exhaust makes sparks - that moment is rad. Or when you've kind of like, muscled your way to the front of the stage at a rock show and it's just pandemonium at the front but the lead guitarist is just killing some solos, and his hair is going mental, and you get that one photo out of the roll, that you're like, “Aw man, that’s what’s up.” Like, some dude is a full power stance with his guitar just pointed right at the crowd. It’s that type of stuff that is just rad. I dig shooting glamorous people too, like, who doesn't want to shoot epic, hot chicks in awesome clothes? That stuff is amazing, but I don't get that feeling from fashion as I do actual like, people doing a rad job, you know? Whether it's like some dirt bike rider skidding out or a guitarist or a skateboarder, I dig that. Like an image that has some kind of impact sort of.
L.M: More capturing a moment that's happening?
L.H: Definitely. I've never owned a car in my entire life, in any country. I’ve owned a ton of motorcycles, but I’m happiest with a bicycle, with a camera on my back, a couple of rolls of film in my pocket. I hate camera bags. I’ll usually just have it strapped to my shoulder, and there are some days where I leave my house and I’m biking, and I’m like, “Where the hell am I going right now?” I have absolutely no fucking idea where I’m going and then it turns into, “Oh, I haven’t seen this neighborhood before.” And then as soon as 10 minutes is in, I’m on a whole mission, just solo, checking things out. I love that. Hopefully I can be doing that for a long time. Just bicycle, camera, and the shittier bike the better. Because you can’t go into crazy parts of town on a nice bike, it’s better to just be super low profile. That’s why I have a $20 bicycle.
There are times where I’m like, none of this stuff means anything. Shooting for magazines, shooting for fashion, shooting motorcycles, shooting skate stuff – it’s all rad. I hate that word, “lifestyle,” but that’s what it is, it’s like, people want to see cool people in cool clothes doing cool things all over the world. But I’ve been feeling like I need to document things that are more…I would like to go to other countries and document much crazier things. That keeps rattling around in the back of my head. Maybe one day the photos could help some people. It sounds corny and cliché, but that’s all I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of years. I don't know where it'll go, I always seem to have a foot in skateboarding and do other stuff, but I do dig it.
L.M: So more of a socially conscious path for the future?
L.H: Yeah, I’ve come close a bunch of times to like, eating shit, you know? Not knowing a neighborhood and going in, and, being this skinny white dude from Scotland. You know there are sometimes where I have to remind myself, “Oh man, you are in LA, you are in South Central, you've got to be aware where you are.” There have definitely been some moments shooting photos that - knock on wood - and everything.
I meet a lot of people, but I’ve been really lucky with the different groups of people in cities that I’ve met. I don’t know if that’s luck or part of what I’ve been doing, but that makes a huge difference. Especially when you arrive in a place that you don’t know anyone. But i just want to keep riding bicycles and taking photos.
L.M: More to come…
L.H: Yeah. I managed to make it to the Playboy Mansion to shoot photos this past year. That was epic. I think everyone back in Scotland, literally, it was like, I got into Harvard or something. They were cheering and going sick; it was awesome.
L.M: What was it for?
L.H: It was for some skateboarding shoot that was for Playboy. There were playmates everywhere, peacocks, monkeys, pheasants. Everywhere you looked there was some hot bird sun tanning or playing pinball or tennis. It’s the real deal up there. That dude’s carved out a pretty nice little lifestyle. I guess that’s why he's always in pajamas, always comfortable. But I just want to keep shooting bands and I would love the jobs where if someone was like, “Hey, can you go on the road with these people and document their trip.” That will be the stuff that I want to sink my teeth into. Even little personal missions. Like I would like to ride a motorcycle from LA to Patagonia to see what kind of things I could get into there. Who knows? I'm just constantly daydreaming about adventures and missions, even if it is just out to the desert. It's hard to wrangle some of my buddies on the missions. I’ve actually been going with - I met this crew of Mexican kids - they're a little bit younger than me that are really like, showing me, so much stuff. They go mountain climbing and they take me on these crazy hikes into the mountains all around California, and it's out of control, it’s so epic. Just the stories - it's like one Scottish dude and like four Mexican kids just walking into the fucking desert. No one has any professional gear - we're in like fucking skate shoes and backpacks and water canteens. These guys bring the craziest junk food and snacks there's no Cliff Bars or anything like that. It's like straight up Doritos and we’re marching like 20 miles in a hundred degrees up to10,000 feet. One day they had Ziploc bags of this brown stuff. I didn't know what the fuck this was but they were dipping into it - I thought it was tobacco or something. I’m like, “Yo, what the hell are you guys eating?” They were like, “It's crickets, man.” And I was like, “What do you mean crickets?” And I looked into the bag and it was like barbequed or fried salted crickets from Mexico. Whole, like bugs, with eyes and little antennas and they looked all salty like a potato chip and they are munching on them like they are skittles or something. And I was like, “Holy Christ.” They let me try them, and it was so gnarly because it made me so thirsty. They were just like salt bombs and the whole rest of the day my tongue was made of sand. I couldn't drink. I think I finished all my water that day and these dudes are like Everest Sherpas just living off of Coca Cola and crickets, just marching into the desert. But I like LA. I like it here. I don't know where is next for me. Not sure what the plans is, but LA is pretty interesting right now.
L.M: You have access to a lot of different types of people and things here.
L.H: It's true, yeah. You’ve got people that have everything living right next to people who have nothing. And there is all of these types of people in the middle who are trying to be discovered. It makes for a pretty interesting place. I've never in my wildest dreams - growing up in Scotland - would I ever dream I would be living in Hollywood, biking along Mulholland drive or biking through Beverly Hills looking for abandoned pools to skate with friends. It really is like a fantasyland out here; anything is possible. Like David Beckham saw me in my underwear. I went to the beach one day and forgot my swim trunks, but it looked so good that I had to go swimming anyways. So I just took off my clothes and jumped in the ocean in my boxers. But boxers never really hold up so I’m holding onto my boxers while body surfing and there are surfers out there and hot chicks in bikinis everywhere. It’s California - everyone is skinny and white - and I’m holding onto my boxers literally like an orphan. And I come out of the water and I’m standing on the beach looking back out at the surf and the only other dude standing next to me - he's taking photos of surfers or something - and I look over and I’m like, “Oh, holy shit, that’s David Beckham.” He looks over to me and I’m literally clutching my boxer shorts like a kid at Halloween clutching his candy bag, all bunched up and held up all high, and he looks at me and he just looks at my boxers. I don't even remember what I had on - probably dinosaurs or something - and we just kind of looked at each other and just carried on. And then I dried off and left the beach. I could never make these stories up, you can't write the script, it’s just constantly happening. When I call my parents and they ask how I’m doing I tell them about these adventures and wacky little things. I don’t know if they can even understand how bananas it is here. Didn't David Beckham do an underwear line? We’ve both seen each other in our underwear. That’s pretty epic. I’m sure he made it look a little better, but I’m sure he got a kick out of it because I looked like such a hobo.
Interview by Eric Fulcher