BMX is a crazy thing. If you really pay attention, it can lead you to some incredible places and some incredible people. I can’t remember the first time I saw Wes McGrath’s name pop up, but if you remember the BIO edit we dropped featuring him a few months back, that was when I really started taking notice of him, his riding and his photography.
Then, a little while back, Mark Noble and I were talking about a feature we were working on, and the photo for the feature was shot by Wes. It was a rad photo and it definitely was the tipping point to where I needed to get ahold of the dude to take a closer look at his photography work and find out more about it. Luckily, we were able to get in contact with him and we started working on this new Photos: interview along with an incredible PHOTOGALLERY to accompany it.
I know Wes’ work has appeared in a few places before, but I honestly don’t think that many people understand how good it really is, so take a little time to check out this interview and then take a closer work at his work in the photogallery. You won’t be disappointed!
Name: Wesley Philip Robert McGrath
Location: Long Beach, California and beyond!
Years riding: 10 years
Years shooting photos: 5 years
What was it that first got you into BMX? Any early memories come to mind?
I played soccer from when I was five to twelve years old, and when the game became more about what my coaches had in mind for me, rather than what I wanted to see for myself, the decision came quite easily in my mind. I quit soccer and continued my passion for BMX. That was in the sixth grade, and the one instance I remember that changed my mind for good was when I went on my first road trip in 8th grade to an Arizona contest held on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation in late 2003. To put it simply I went on that trip with a huge crew of friends that were many years older than I, after that I was hooked indefinitely…
What was it that got you hooked on photography? Was it because of BMX?
Well yes, I can say my love for BMX is what gravitated me toward my infatuation with photography. I think back to my first BMX roll of film, Kodak Tmax 400 B&W, throughout the whole development process I remember having sweaty palms in anticipation of what made it through my spotty exposures and inexact chemical temps. When I saw my first print of my friend Mitchell doing a fakie wall ride in Downtown Albuquerque I nearly yelled out in happiness, ever since that magical class period my outlook on life has never been the same.
What was your first camera?
Nikon N80 35mm with your typical 18mm-35mm 3.5-5.6/F zoom lens.
What are you working with these days?
I currently have a Nikon set up, Nikon D300s plus body grip with a Nikon 10.5mm fisheye, accompanied by only two other Nikon lenses, a fixed 35mm 1.8, and a 80-200mm 2.8 zoom. As for my radio slaves I use the trusty Pocket Wizard system, which never seem to fail. My lights are my favorites, I have a pair of Paul C. Buff 640 ws Einstein strobes, powered by a pair of the Vagabond mini power packs, also one Sunpak 555 flash followed up by two Nikon SB-24 speed lights. I use Manfrotto light stands and tripods to support all my investments, I am fortunate enough to be using Mac computers with Adobe CS6 software along with a few fancy plug-ins. I have a whole darkroom in a box that I can’t wait to find space for out here in California, to utilize my film bodies, Mamiya 645 and Nikon F5. All this equipment I trust Tamrac to hold securely on my back!
Do you have a dream set up or are you pretty content with what you are working with right now?
I love the combination I’m working with right now, but we all love to dream big right? I have a near future set up in mind that I can’t wait to own, but when that happens I hope photo viewers will be able to tell the upgrade in my work!
So you grew up in New Mexico, right? What was the scene like around where you grew up? Was it pretty easy to find riders to go out and shoot with?
Yep! The land of Enchantment, or what the locals call, “The Land of Entrapment”! It’s a beautiful place to live and an amazing city filled with spots to ride, our scene was far from huge, but the impact it made on me was monumental! All the kids I rode with growing up, were then, and still are my best friends. I grew up in a scene with a wide variety of personalities, riding skill and styles which gave me an oppurtuntiy to practice over the years. So when it came time to shoot, my friends and I were progressing simultaniously, and that is what drove us as a crew to stay riding, all day.
Who are some of the people you enjoy shooting with the most?
Well,. I really love to shoot with anyone who wants to put in work and make things work out for the sake of the trick. If I had to name a hand full I would say, Gil Montoya, Chris Brocamante, Alex Gonzales, Tom Villarreal, Joe Poisson, and Dan Pedersen.
Care to list a few guys you hope you can shoot photos with at some point?
I’ve always thought it would be a treat to shoot with Garrett Reeves, Gregory Illingworth, and Dakota Roche. Just to name a few.
I know in your video we dropped a while back you mentioned that Jeff Z. was a huge influence and mentor to you. What is it like having a guy like that available to ask questions to? Would you say you have an unfair advantage over other photographers?
I feel that Transworld Ride BMX has always been my point of inspiration, with the magazine being my main visual influence over the years I have strived to meet that standard for my photographs to reach the pages of Ride. In doing so I have built a business relationship with Jeff first and foremost, I wouldn’t say I have an advantage over anyone, because when it comes down to what images get the final say, the photographs speak for themselves.
Who are some of the other influences on your photography?
There are people who teach you the basics and principles of photography, which I would award to my Uncle. Then there are the people who make it a tangible reality, and that person would be Sam Adams. My Uncle was a professional photographer in Hollywood back in the 70’s and 80’s he taught me my photographic morals. Sam Adams was a young photographer from Albuquerque who was the first person to put our scene on the map, I saw him working with digital cameras and strobes even before I had digital myself. He was the one that I looked up to the most when I was growing up, his images were my standard to work toward.
Did you ever go to school for photography or has it been all self taught?
Unfortunately I haven’t had any traditional long term schooling. I attended one full year at a community college in Santa Fe, New Mexico studying strictly in Darkroom techniques. Besides that I have been all self taught, next to watching and learning from other photographers working in the field and studying multiple magazines.
Do you have a preference on what you like to shoot? Street, trails, parks, events, etc.? Is there anything you wish you could shoot more of but haven’t had the chance?
I have to say I have the most fun shooting street, mainly because the allure of the city keeps me intrigued photographically. In general I love spending time riding street, it has so much to offer with surprises around every corner. I definitely want to shoot more trails, but I haven’t been graced with the dirt California has to offer.
You have done some traveling, right? Where are some of the places you have had the opportunity to shoot photos at?
Yes, I have been so lucky to move about the western part of the country at will for the past few years. I like to stay mobile by visiting friends and family and shooting all along the way, I’ve shot photos as far north as the Washington State coast line all the way down to the great city of Austin Texas. No matter where I’ve shot in between I always find myself in the strangest of places in and outside of the city.
Where are some places you would like to go to ride and shoot at that you haven’t had the chance to go to yet?
I have been putting a lot of thought toward traveling in the next year to New York City, Barcelona and Vancouver.
You shoot a lot of stuff other than BMX, right? What else are you snapping photos of these days?
I always keep my camera close so I don’t catch myself missing those Kodak moments. I have been recently working on some projects here in Los Angeles that is keeping me excited for some upcoming gallery shows I have planned, mainly just natural light street photography.
Have you had any of your work published anywhere before?
I have been recently working with Dig BMX Magazine and have had the honor to be published in their past two magazines, issue 93 and 94. Also Transworld RideBMX has been good to me, I had my first spread with Transworld and continue to strive to have my images appear in those awesome magazines for issues to come.
What is the weirdest thing you have been asked to shoot photos of?
Back in Albuquerque I had a photo studio complete with coved wall and a bunch of goodness, but in turn I had some wild requests when it came to studio work. One day I was asked to rent out the studio space to some friends for a shoot, then their photographer didn’t show up so the models ended up ordering fast food hamburugers. No big deal right, well all my lights were set up so they were anxious to shoot something, if you can envision two semi-hot half naked girls dripping in burger grease, mustard and ketchup wearing only pink duct tape! That is definitely the weirdest photo experience I have fallen into!
Alright, so you get this massive budget to take any 5 riders anywhere in the world to shoot photos. Where do you go, who do you bring and why?
I have always been inspired by Brad Simms’ ambition to travel the world so as far as a team of riders would be Brad Simms, Van Homan, Vidal Vigil, Gil Montoya and Nate Richter. I would choose NYC, it sounds cliche but it has always been a dream of mine to ride in that city and what better crew of street riders to experience it with.
Do you ever get burned out on shooting photos? What are some of the things you like to do to keep things fresh?
I guess the only time I find myself regretting carrying my camera around has been at music festivals, such as SXSW. I love carrying my camera at events like that but when I’m out all day and night it gets a bit tiring and can drain the fun at times. What really keeps me fresh is when I begin to feel bogged down by my bag and lighting set-ups I just pack a simple bag with one body and two lenses, I stick with natural light for awhile and it keeps shooting simple when I can just pedal with friends and not feel so obligated to be on a photo-mission!
Is photography your only job or are you doing something else to help pay those bills?
Thankfully photography has been keeping me off the streets for the past year or so, but I have a hand in other investments that helped me get to California and haven’t dried up yet… So I plan on keeping active in business ventures to keep things moving!
Do you have any good stories from a time you were shooting photos? The sketchier and crazier the better.
I honestly can’t think of a situation that would make for good conversation but there was one instance in downtown Albuquerque where I had to raise my tripod to a homeless guy who wasn’t so happy when he thought my test flash was directed toward him.
Where would you like to take your photo work in the next 5 years?
I’m in search of a location to start up my new Gallery space… I can’t wait to see what lies ahead, I would very much like to land a job with a magazine and/or find myself working with companies that I can travel the world with and spread my photography to as many people as possible!
What kind of advice do you have for up and coming photographers out there?
Always keep shooting no matter how badly you might have messed up the last picture!
Do you have a portfolio website? How can people keep up with you these days?
I have a website that is currently under construction, www.irisimagery.com. On the other hand I love Tumblr and I have been using that frequently to showcase images that fall through the cracks of magazines and websites, SouthwestLove.Tumblr.com. I am on Instagram @wesmcgrath, Twitter @wes_mcgrath_ABQ, Facebook just search my name, Wesley McGrath.
Do you have any shout outs or thanks?
Definitely my friends and family who have always supported me, and never told me to give it up and get a, “real job”! Of course I want to thank BMX as a whole, with out our sport pushing our limitations to the fullest I wouldn’t have gotten to the place I am at today. All the riders who have given me the chance to shoot their crazy moves, without you guys believe me this interview wouldn’t be possible!
Anything I missed you want to say?
Thanks to you Kurt I really appreciate this!