Photos: Tristan Afre

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Tristan Afre

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t exactly recall the first time I saw the name “Tristan Afre” or “Gutstains”. I know it was a few years back and it was either between a photo of his or on The Come Up Board long before I got banned, haha. Then in the last year or two I started seeing his work popping up all over the place, especially from a lot of the Shadow Conspiracy trips. That’s the best part about BMX, when somebody starts firing out good work they are given the opportunities to keep rolling and progressing. That’s been the case for Tristan. The road even recently lead him to his own section on TCU called Gutstains that has been loaded with goodness. I figured I had been silently watching his work long enough and that it was time to get to know him a little better. Let’s dig into this interview and check out some damn good answers to find out who this guy is. After you check out what he had to say, check out this PHOTOGALLERY for even more real good photos!

Name:  Tristan Afre

Location:  Originally from Houston, but I’ve been roaming around the great state of Texas a lot in the past few years.  Currently in Dallas, but I’m stoked my girlfriend & I are moving to Austin at the end of the summer.  It’ll be the first time I’ve had a permanent address since 2008.

Years riding:  I guess about twelve years.  But it’s been a long time since I feel like I’ve really ridden in the sense of going out every day & learning stuff.  I’m almost 30 & have no health insurance, I literally cannot afford to get broke off doing something stupid. I mostly just stick to crusing bowls now. Honestly, I was never really that good to begin with. I’m uncoordinated, overweight & goofy footed, why do you think I started shooting photos? Basicall, just wish I could ride Kona everyday.

Years shooting:  It’ll be ten years this summer.  Although there was a gap of like three years between 2005-2008 when I didn’t even pick up or think about a camera.  When I started back up I had a fresh perspective & all the gear I wanted, there was no reason for me to not make the photos I had in my head.

Liam Eltham

Lima with a big invert over the hip on Speedball at Eastside

What was it that first got you into BMX? Any early memories just pop up?
My first memories of riding were just pedaling around all day during the summers when I was a kid. It felt like having a car. Then one day all the neighborhood kids were jumping this little double & someone had the bright idea to start a fire in the pit.  Long story short, I got to jump it once before half the woods behind our elementary school caught fire. I had to pedal home as fast as I possibly could & lie to the police about what happened. It was the most exhilarating experience I had up to that point in my life & it all happened because of a bike. I got hooked on that feeling & it hasn’t let me down.

What about photography? Was it because of BMX that you picked up a camera?
Yes & no.  We never really shot photos or filmed stuff in high school.  In retrospect, I kinda wish we did but it never really occurred to us then. I guess it was about 2002, I wandered into a pawn shop near my apartment & picked up a Canon Rebel G for like $150.  The next year or so I spent the majority of my spare time at Barnes & Noble reading everything I possibly could.  I shot hundreds & hundreds of rolls of film (and walked out of W*lMart with a lot of free prints) just getting the feel for my camera & it’s settings.  I don’t think I shot bikes for that first year really.  Then Andy Martinez & I started hanging out on the regular; riding, shooting photos & playing tetris all day.  I learned a ton shooting with him & after that, I wanted BMX to be the majority of what I shot.

What’s your current setup?
My setup has changed a bit lately & I’ve been stoked on it so far.
I’ve been shooting a 5DmkII for about two and a half years.  But after my trip to California last year I wanted to throw it against a wall.  The 1/200 flash sync was kicking me in the nuts trying to shoot flash stuff in broad daylight.  But now I’ve got one of those new Pocket Wizard transmitters & can shoot up to 1/400-1/640 with flash.  That’s HUGE. The way Hypersync works kind of goes agains the conventional wisdom of short, fast flash durations but the shutter speed and a bit of panning evens things out. It’s an imperfect science & takes forever to dial in, but anything’s better than 1/200th.

At the end of last year I managed to snag a beta version of the Magic Lantern Unified firmware for the 5D. After using it for a few months, I don’t ever want to shoot video without it. There are so many little features that I love and the best part is, the firmware is only on the memory card, it doesn’t install itself on the camera. Genius.

Between dropping my 50 1.8 on its face & leaving my 70-200 f/4 on the set of a rap video, I only had a 24-105 f/4 & the 15mm fish for the longest time.  Let me just go ahead and say fuck f/4 lenses. A few years ago, I didn’t think one stop made that much difference, but when the light is falling at dusk or you’re at a dark street spot, you need f/2.8 or faster. Also, I didn’t feel like I was getting the kind of sharpness I wanted out of the 24-105, so I sold it to start a set of primes.  The first two I got were the 35 f/2 & the 85 f/1.8 and I’m hoping to add a Zeiss 50mm soon.  With a little bit of that leftover money, I switched out the stock focusing screen & dropped in an Eg-S super precsion matte screen.  It emulates the look of an f/1 lens & the focal point snaps into view in a very distinct way.  The sharpness I’ve been getting out of primes & RAW files has got me so stoked lately.

As far as flashes, I’ve had a couple of Sunpak 555’s crap out on me lately. And by crapping out I mean only firing 8 out of 10 times, which for BMX is completely fucking unacceptable. So the setup right now is a Lumedyne I use at 100ws, one 555 & a Canon 430exII.  Its taken a lot of getting used to shooting flashes of such varying powers, but I’ve kinda been working it out lately. With the way the new pocket wizard transmitter works in hypersync mode, you gotta shoot the flashes at or pretty close to full power. So I use the Lumedyne as a big main light, the Sunpak as a second light & the 430 over my shoulder for fill. Most of the difference is made up in distance from the subject.  Not ideal but it works.

My grip bag is usually packed down with two light stands, a Manfrotto tripod with a 701 video head & a 496 ballhead, a glidecam 2000, a super old school pistol grip/shoulder stock, Manfrotto super clamp/magic arm and I recently got a 3ft track dolly.

I edit with Lightroom 3 & Final Cut 6 on an old ass macbook pro, shits more like a macbook flow haha (i think Mastroni came up with that one) Lightroom is where its at for photo editing though. Its basically a stripped down version of photoshop for photographers; almost everything you need & almost nothing you don’t. It won’t help make bad photos look good, but it helps good photos look great.

Mickey Marshall BMX

Mickey Marshall euro on home turf in Baton Rouge.

Do you have a dream setup or are you pretty content with what you have? What would that setup be if you could have it?
I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be shooting with the 5DmkII for awhile.  But it’s hard not to want the next best thing.  I really miss the feel of a 1 series body, so that 1Dx would be amazing.  So would a set of L primes.  As far as lighting, I would love to have three kits: four speedlights with Pocket Wizard Flexes, six Sunpak 555’s and a couple of Elinchrom Rangers or Profoto 7b’s.  I’d really like to see what an 80in octabox boomed out over a handrail would look like or trails stuff shot with softboxes rigged up in the trees. BMX is shot almost exclusively with hard lights, so it’d be crazy to shoot some stuff with big lights & studio modifiers.

Now I know over the years you have had the opportunity to shoot with a number of riders. Who are some of your favorite people you have had the opportunity to go out and shoot with?
Top 3 would probably be Ben Hucke, Hersh Patel & the late, great Rickey Bates. As of the past year or so I’ve had a real good time shooting with Simone Baracco, Kareem Williams, Gabe Brooks & my boy D.  There’s a ton of guys I like shooting with though: Seth Kimbrough, Lahsaan Kobza, Trey Jones, Scot Draper, Matty Aquizap, Lima Eltham, Tony Cardona, Jared Swafford, Andy Martinez, Jabari Winters…pretty much anyone who’s down to do work, doesn’t get stressed & trusts me to make them look good.

Who are a few riders you haven’t had the chance to shoot photos of yet, but would really like to?
Some of my favorite riders I haven’t shot with yet: David Grant, Scott Ditchburn, Tom Smith, Tony Neyer, Brian Kachinsky, Garrett Reeves, Ryan Howard and Shawn Macintosh.  These dudes do a lot of stuff they’re not gonna want to do twice and as a photographer, I love shit like that. It means I gotta be on my game, no time for fuckin around. Drew Bezanson is pretty high on this list, but we’re going on a Shadow trip to Colorado this week, so that one’s getting checked off.

There’s also a lot of dudes I’ve known for a long time that I’ve never shot photos of. I’ve never been super eager to project myself into a situation, like “Hey man, can I shoot that?” If its chill, we can get some shit done, but I’m not trying to bug people to hang out or shoot something on the spot.

If I remember right, you get a fair amount of travel time in these days. Where all have you had the opportunity to shoot at?
The past couple years have been awesome as far as travel goes. I’ve spent time in San Francisco, LA, Long Beach, Philly, New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio, Louisville, Colorado, North Carolina, Atlanta, Orlando, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Baton Rouge & probably a few places I’m forgetting. I think I’ve been to like 35-40 states in the past five or so years. I’m ready to get some international stuff going soon though.

Where are three locations you haven’t had the chance to go, but would really like to go to ride and shoot?
1. NYC, I’ve been there a few times without my bike but I want the rough, rugged & raw 20″ experience.
2. Mexico City. Twice the size of New York, our money is worth more & the constant fear of being kidnapped/murdered sounds awesome!
3. Dubai, that place just looks nuts.

Who are some of the photographers that really inspire your work?
Some of my early photo heroes were Jared Souney, Mark Losey, Jeff Z, Josh Root, Rob Dolecki, Atiba Jefferson & my friend Ramon Orona.  The stuff they were producing on celluloid before the digital learning curve seriously blew me away. The first time I ever saw a 6×6 transparency shot with off-camera flashes, it changed the way I thought about making images. I can remember that like it was yesterday.

When I started getting serious about BMX photos, I drew a lot of inspiration from a few dudes who were coming up at the time: Devon Hutchins, Jeff Allen & this skate dude Matt Price.  I saw these guys go from shooting photos for fun to getting a ton of work by being well-connected & good at what they did.  That shit lit a fire under me.

Right now I’d have to say my biggest inspirations are Jeremy Pavia, Vince Perraud, Justin Kosman & Jeff Z.  I hadn’t picked up a BMX Plus in years until I saw the stuff Jeremy was shooting. His photos are sooo well executed from camera to edit to print. Vince Perraud can do everything from bmx shot like fine art to high end strobe stuff, I really respect a range like that. Kosman is just such a pro. His stuff looks so polished & commercial. I’ve loved the stuff he’s done with Vans over the years. And Jeff Z. What can you say, he’s the man. He’s given me a lot of good insight in the past year or so, stuff he didn’t have to tell me but he did.

Style is what separates every photographer from the next. How would you describe the style of photos you shoot?
To be honest, I feel like I’m still trying to find some identity when it comes to my photographic style.  I don’t think I’m quite at the point where people are like, “damn, thats a gutstains photo”.  That’s one of those things that will develop naturally over time; definitely nothing I’m trying to rush. A few years ago I started to getting into pre-visualization, challenging myself to make the photo I had in my head show up on the LCD.  Being able to do that on a consistent basis these past couple of years felt like a huge breakthrough for me.  Its seriously the best feeling rolling up to a spot & seeing the photo in my head before I even take my backpack off.

Care to share a crazy story from a shoot? Sketchier the better.
Damn, this one just happened recently.  We were out at this abandoned cinder block factory on the second night of a music video shoot.  The first night we were out there with a generator & lights for hours, unbothered.  But when we rolled up that second night, we saw car headlights & some figures moving around on the outskirts of this property.  The artist I was shooting went to check out the situation, walking around behind the dudes. He said something to them & before he could even finish his sentence, one of the guys pulled out a gun. He told them that we were just there to shoot a video and “we didn’t see you, you didn’t see us”. All of a sudden the dudes were completely cool. Turns out they were just stealing truckloads of leftover cinder blocks. Awhile later they drove by in two severely weighed down trucks, said bye & everything. Hate to think of what might have happened if those dudes weren’t so friendly or didn’t speak any english, it’s the perfect place to dump a body.

Danny Hickerson BMX

Danny Hickerson with a little nosepress at House Park after a few months out with a bum shoulder.

Do you shoot much outside of BMX or are you pretty much all BMX these days? What are some of the things you also shoot?
Outside work is actually what I make a living on.  I wish I could shoot BMX full time & maybe I will in the future, but for now I definitely rely on other projects to keep me afloat.  As shitty as it sounds, I’m really not above shooting anything if the money is right. I just like getting out there & having a camera in front of me.  In the past few years I’ve shot everything from web edits to pet portraits & so much random stuff in-between. Lately it’s been weddings & music videos though. The money is good & I’m starting to get the feel for them.

You have a pretty distinct nickname. Where did Gutstains come from? Any sort of story behind that one?
I wish I could make something up that didn’t sound so gay, but it’s the name of a song by a band called the Unicorns. The song is pretty weird, I think it’s about a photographer following a decapitated celebrity home from a strip club? I saw them with the Arcade Fire in probably like 2004, that’s how I found out about them. That show was pretty awesome, but the next time they came to town was way different. It was right after they got a record deal. They went from doing all this interesting, experimental stuff to this upbeat, poppy shit. And I guess you can buy a lot of drugs with upbeat, poppy money cause those dudes were strung the fuck out the next time I saw them. That show was kind of a blur, we all pre-gamed at the skatepark, I think I drank 5 Colt .45’s that night. So like ten of us go to this show, completely wasted and the band is just as wasted as us, plus drugs. They couldn’t even make it through one complete song, it was kinda sad. So we start heckling them about how fucked up they are and they’re slurring their words trying to tell us how fucked up we are. Three or four of us got kicked out & the band attempted to play a couple more songs then gave up. They said something about that being the last time they would ever come to Houston and that they were breaking up. A couple days later they were set to start an Australian tour, went all the way there & decided they were done. I kinda like to think they played us chopped & screwed versions of their songs and we made them break up. Good stuff right there. haha Short story long, it was a song title that I made an AIM screen name out of and its stuck with me.

You recently started your own section on The Come Up. How did that all come about? What can people expect from it and why should they check it?
A few years ago I started posting a lot on the photo/video section of The Come Up Board. I was pretty much just killing time, sitting in my office at my 9-5. I’m not sure how the whole Gutstains persona came about, but before I knew it I was like this fucking villain from professional wrestling. I guess it was a combination of people thinking their photos were the shit or just making the same mistakes over & over again. Whatever it was, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about it, thats just not in my nature. I’m not gonna lie, I was definitely talkin a bunch of shit but it wasn’t like it was unfounded. If there’s a big ass shadow on a wall or the highlights on someone’s face are clipped, I’m gonna straight up tell you that that big ass shadow looks terrible & you completely, irreversibly blew the highlights. Sure, there’s probably a nicer way to say a lot of the stuff I said, but I’m not really that good at sugar coating stuff. I think what pissed people off the most was that I knew what I was talking about and had the photos to back it up. People in the internet hate shit like that.

I don’t think Adam22 even knew who I was for the longest time. But in the Summer of 2009 our mutual friend Ben K got hit by a car on his bike & I was keeping Adam up to date on his condition. Ben K went on to fully recover, but Adam & I continued to keep in touch. In early 2010 I think he got around to reading some of my posts (mostly a lot of long drawn out arguments) & seeing some of my photos. He text me randomly one day while I was out street riding in San Antonio asking if I’d be into doing a companion blog to the main site. Naturally, I was into it and we started to get the ball rolling. Due to a myriad of random reasons, my blog kept getting pushed back for almost two years. I, honestly, didn’t think the shit was gonna happen. But much to my surprise, Adam stuck with the idea & we launched a few weeks ago.

My blog is kinda like the main site in that a lot of it’s content is aggregated from around the web, but I try to add a little bit of commentary to each post. And I’m working on some original stuff that should get rolling over the summer. I really just want to give people some cool shit to look at. A lot of other photo blogs are so square or just post a bunch of crap, its hard to find the really interesting stuff. Basically I want to present a really dialed pool of content from the sea of crap floating around the web. I guess the other part of it will be trying to keep my finger on the pulse of photography in and around BMX, wether it’s highlighting some good work or wondering what the hell someone was thinking. Dudes who shoot good, consistent work and companies who run good ads with good photos have nothing to worry about. And if I say something about you or your company, it doesn’t mean that I hate you or you’re terrible people, it just means something you put out probably could have been better. We gotta all want to be better.

You can check out Tristan’s blog at!

Where else can people check out some of your work? Do you have a photo site or anything like that? As amateur as it is, Flickr is about the only thing I’ve kept up with for photo stuff the past few years. I don’t really have the time, money, know-how or body of work to make the kinda website I’d want, so Flickr is kind of my online filing cabinet. If you want to cut straight to the BMX stuff, you can find it here: Click here

Tazz Hernandez BMX

Tazz Hernandez stretches out a can can at Dugan’s ramp

I know you talked about how your photo work developed over the years and you ended up doing a lot of things you never expect. Where do you see things going in the next five years or so? Any goals or anything like that?
The next five years are so wide open, I almost don’t even want to make a prediction. Five years ago, I never could have imagined I’d be doing what I am now, so there’s no telling what I’ll be up to in 2017. I just hope the global climate doesn’t turn volatile before I get to accomplish some things. I have a feeling as soon as I’m about to make some moves North Korea is gonna nuke us or zombie apocalypse is gonna break out. I got to shoot a photo of Joe Rich doing a table before the world ended though. Joe Rich Photo.

Let’s say a brand wants to get you on board to shoot some photos for them. Are you up for it? How should they go about getting ahold of you?
I’m always down. gutstains@gmail Let’s work something out!

Do you have any shout outs or thanks?
My girlfriend Morgan, my mother Lili, Chad McClain, Andy Martinez, Caleb Everitt, Ronnie Bonner, John Paul Rogers, Ryan Chadwick, Joseph Chachare, Ryan Mayorga, Ron Davis & Mimi Deveraux…I truly wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for these people.  Thanks for everything, I hope you know I appreciate the shit out of everything you guys have ever done for me.

Gaz & Joe at Mutiny for the foot in the door, Robbie Morales for being the man, Dave & PJ at Stolen for putting up with Kareem, Brian Tunney in general, Adam22 for following thru with the blog & being a real person, Ryan Sher for making moves & not having to be on the “cool team” in bmx, Steve Crandall for being awesome, Ben Hucke for always rooming with me on trips despite my audible slumber, Chip, Jason & everyone at Sparky’s for all the good work, Nuno & Harrison at Defgrip, Tom & Tina at Empire, Sarah James for being Sarah James, Cbox for helping me out with the things I always needed, Davis for being a good friend in general, Ramon Orona for being more of an inspiration than he probably knows, Jared Hawley for holding it the fuck down all day/every day, Clark Lara for showing me the way, Jas Clayborn for keeping me busy, my sisters Sunni & Misti for loving me since day 1, Hersh/Victor/Jay/Lucas for letting me chill, anyone who has ever given me a ride or a place to stay, any rider I’ve shot with that hooked me up with your TM, that shit means a lot, for real.

Kurt & Jeremy at The Union, you guys are doing great work. Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview.

Anything else you want to say?
I’m just a normal person, man. Most people who know me know that. Its the people that don’t know me that seem to get what I say & who I am mixed up. I’m not walking, talking ball of negative energy. I couldn’t live like that, people would never work with me if that were the case. While most dudes sit around & talk shit to their friends or through anonymous comments, I’m not afraid of putting my opinions out there. I’m not afraid of putting my name on it. I don’t hold myself in any regard as the best photographer or best blogger or whatever, I’m well aware of how small my presence is. I’m just trying to make better photos, hang out with my friends & have some fun.

Now, check out more of Tristan’s photos in this fresh PHOTOGALLERY!

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