Interview by Mark Noble
This instalment of our FIRSTS series with media guys in the BMX game is with none other than Fat Tony. Fat has been living the dream and changing his game for a good deal of years now, and shows no sign of letting up. I distinctly recall his package of photos with Terry Adams landing on my old desk back in the old magazine days, and we just knew we had to blow out the article as big as possible – the selection of images with Terry were definitely not your typical set of photos, and it was one of the most photogenic articles we ran back in the heydays of the mag. Shortly after that, he started working full-time at Ride BMX in Southern California and the rest is history – “I started learning to shoot proper photos around 2004, and started getting published in 2005. Then I started working at Ride in June 2006.”
So what is Fat Tony up to now? “Nowadays I am working for myself full time. I do a lot of video production for Alli Sports. I am also the BMX team manager for Freegun Underwear in the US, so I do photos and videos for them. Most of my photo work these days comes from contests. For example: I’ll go to X Games and shoot for Fox, Monster, Mongoose, and DC Shoes so they all have photos for their web sites and social networks, then I’ll sell individual photos from the event to brands like DK and Specialized for catalogs, ads, etc. And I am also starting to announce contests and demos… on camera and microphone stuff.”
Busy times indeed. Let’s find out how he started in all this, and rewind the clock with Fat’s own FIRSTS.
First BMX bike you had:
The first ‘real’ BMX bike I ever had was a Mongoose Menace—black with purple splatter paint all over it. I got it for Christmas from my Dad, but I got to pick it out from the local bike shop myself. It had screw-on type pegs just on the back to carry around my friends. Later I put clear GT gel grips on it and thought it was so sick! Then one day it got stolen out of my friend’s garage.
First BMX Video you watched:
The first BMX video I remember seeing was Schwinn’s American Muscle on VHS at my friend’s house. There was a clip where Joey Garcia manualed around a fountain, and I couldn’t believe he manualed in a circle! I had only ever seen my friends manual in a straight line before that, haha! The Sheep Hills clips were badass, too. And you can’t forget the Jackson 5 song! The first VHS I actually bought myself was the original Props Road Fools. That one changed the way I saw riding and really introduced me to BMX as a lifestyle. I religiously bought the next five Road Fools videos the day they came out.
First BMX event / comp / show you went to:
I’m not sure which was first, but I remember going to two shows when I was in either seventh or eight grade probably… One was the Mat Hoffman Extreme Team during a monster truck show in the Super Dome. Hoffman did his famous frontflip dismount, and someone did a long-as-hell sit down pedalling wheelie, and I was so pumped! The other show I remember was a GT Air Show at Joe’s Bike Shop in New Orleans that I had my grandfather bring me to. I’m pretty sure Trevor Meyer was there, but I don’t remember much more than that, haha.
First video you watched and thought, ‘I’m doing this’:
That would definitely be the Mississippi scene video… I can’t remember if the video had a name, but a rider named Chris Wade from Jackson, MS, made a VHS video for their local scene and had a premiere inside a planetarium. It was so inspiring to see all my friends from my neighboring state put in work for their video parts. My buddy Brock Gomez and I went home and pretty much immediately started filming for a Louisiana scene video. We ended up releasing our DVD titled Chronicles in 2004.
First Pro BMXer you met:
The first pros I really remember seeing and pseudo-meeting were all the racers and dirt jumpers at the ABA Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in November 1998. Everyone I had been seeing and reading about in Snap and Ride BMX were there—Fuzzy Hall, TJ Lavin, Todd Lyons, John Purse, Cory Nastazio, Shaun Butler, Gary Ellis… I got my photo taken with all of them, got their autographs, and of course, racked up heaps of free stickers! At the time, Brian Foster was probably my biggest idol. I had the Foster Brothers Airwalk shoes, so brought a silver paint pen with me, and got Brian and Alan to sign them. When I got back home I displayed the shoes on my dresser along with my racing trophies.
First camera you bought to shoot BMX:
The first camera I bought to learn how to shoot BMX photos was a Canon 20D with a kit lens. I eventually bought proper glass for it, but I actually used that camera for years, even when I worked at Ride. A few years ago I finally upgraded to a Canon 5D MKII, which is what I still use for photos and videos. I also have a Canon T2i that I sometimes use for slow-mo or second angles.
First rider you photographed:
The first riders I photographed were all my friends and locals in the Baton Rouge area while I was in college. That eventually branched out to other locals all around the south as well, but the first legit pro I ever shot with was Terry Adams. I had just graduated college and had nothing but free time, so I called up Terry and asked if he wanted to shoot an interview for Ride UK, which at the time was the only magazine that had published my photos before. Terry was keen for the project, so we spent about ten days driving all around Southern Louisiana shooting at the most wild locations we could think of. That interview is still one of the pieces I’m most proud of in my career.
First trip you went on to photograph or film BMX:
After my second year of college I decided to sell my show car and buy something more practical for road trips. So I not only bought a car, but I also bought a dialed bike rack, a brand new bike, and a video camera… then I loaded up and hit the road. For that first trip with my brand new traveling setup, the plan was to go to Chicago with my good friend Brock Gomez and film a little video along the way. Unfortunately, on the second day of the trip I crashed at Ramp Riders in St. Louis, Missouri and had to get stitches in my groin. It was disgusting. They actually stuffed gauze inside the gaping open wound and stitched it up inside. Can you imagine what that smelled like after a week? And how painful it was to pull out? Yeah… sucked! We actually still drove up to Chicago after I was stitched up, but I definitely couldn’t ride—I could barely even walk. We did a little sight-seeing and such, but we cut the trip short and went back home so I could heal up. Throughout the rest of college I was on the road every chance I got!
Fat in Australia.
First professional job for BMX photography or video:
I think the first photos I ever got paid for was a road trip article in Ride UK from a trip called Savage South. That trip was wild… there were like 30 dudes all caravanning around the Southern United States. After that was published, I did a few articles and interviews for BMX Plus, Cream, and Offline, but my first actual job in the BMX industry was as Associate Online Editor at Ride BMX Magazine. It had been my goal to work for Ride ever since I was a senior in high school, so it was literally a dream come true. I am proud to say that I worked there for five and a half years until I left in December of 2011 to chase that freelance hustle. And nowadays I’m living my new dream… complete freedom!
First mess up:
I never make mistakes. Haha, just kidding… I really can’t remember my first fuck up even though I’m sure there were plenty early on. I always look at mistakes and shortcomings as a learning experiences though, and not as failures. With all that said, I definitely remember nearly blowing a photo by chopping off Johnny Devlin’s head when I was shooting him jumping a huge gap in downtown Los Angeles. Lucky for me he blew a foot off and wanted to do it again, so I had a second chance and was able to get the proper photo.
First photo in print:
The first photo I had printed was part of that Savage South article in Ride UK that I mentioned in the question above… The opening spread was a photo of Andy Seehausen doing an ababuca on a fence in a parking lot with a handful of riders sitting around watching him. The first photo I had in Ride BMX was after I started working there. It was a portrait of Chad Kagy sitting on top of the very first Mega Ramp at X Games. It ran pretty small in the news section, but I was still so stoked. For some reason it meant a lot more to me to have a photo in Ride even though I had already had stuff published in the UK, France, and Hungary.
First video published / featured:
I didn’t do a lot of video work before I started working at Ride, so before that my only videos were super crappy edits that I posted on the local site I ran, louisianabmx.com. I also helped film and barely helped edit the Louisiana DVD that I mentioned, Chronicles. Once I started working at Ride I was forced to learn how to film and edit since I had to do them on a weekly basis. It would be cool to look back and find out what the first video I ever made for Ride was, but I don’t have that hard drive accessible right now, haha.
No worries – so, where are you going next?
I’m in Australia right now and I’ll be here and in New Zealand for the next month. I’m traveling around to do fun stuff like scuba dive and go white-water rafting and whatever else I can find. And while I’m here I’m riding a lot, and hanging out and filming/shooting with the locals. I’ll also hit up the Unit Farm Jam in NZ. Then I fly straight to Toronto to announce the CFO flatland contest and a Fox demo at Joyride 150. Then I’ll drive to Cleveland to ride Ray’s MTB Park. I may film or shoot some stuff along the way in Toronto and/or Cleveland, but I don’t really plan that kind of stuff. I just let it happen for the most part. Then I’ll go home for a few days before flying to Florida to film the first of 11 amateur contests in a series that Mike Spinner is hosting called Recon Tour. I’ll be the official event filmer at each stop throughout the season—six east coast stops, and five on the west coast.
Any other things?
I just launched a new Web site that I’m really stoked on. It’s geared more towards the type of clients I go for, so it is more like a business web site as opposed to a portfolio type site like most photographers in BMX have. – FatTonyBMX.com
Seth Clinger by Fat Tony
“I took a trip to shoot photos with flatland BMX rider Justin Miller in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan. While I was there Justin took me to his camp for what would end up being one of the most memorable photo shoots of my career. He loaded up a trailer with supplies and his bike and towed it with a snow mobile down to a frozen lake. It was around -6 degrees Fahrenheit so he set up a tent and heater for us to jump in when it got too cold then proceeded to nail a few sheets of plywood into the ice and rode on it while I shot photos and made this quick video.”