If you ever drank at the original Max Fish on Ludlow street New York, you might’ve had your ID checked by Tino Razo.
For over a decade Tino was as integral to the LES watering hole as the bright lighting, blue-on-red spotted walls, and the disfigured portrait of Julio Iglesias that loomed over the patrons. Another ever-present fixture of the Fish was the beautiful girl behind the bar, Desiree Zondag, who Tino fell love with and married in 2006.
In 2010, after a few years of wedded bliss, the couple split New York to start a new life in Los Angeles. ‘It was a tough transition for both of us,’ says Tino, ‘going overnight from being full-on New Yorkers to having beautiful, happy, healthy Californians all around us.’ As anyone who has made the cross-country move knows, it’s a major overhaul, and while Desiree eventually embraced their new home, Tino, being a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, struggled to find his way. Over time their paths slowly divided, and resentment seeped in. In 2012 they separated.
To keep his spirits up and his mind in the right place, Tino focused on his first love: skateboarding. And, with the help of some friends, he got himself hooked on the LA skater’s favorite pastime: pool skating. By and large, pool sessions are a short-lived bust, so Tino began taking a camera along for posterity. Before he knew it, a project began to emerge, and now there’s a book of his awesome photos–dedicated to Desiree–entitled Party in the back.
Monster Children gave him a call on his porch in Silverlake to talk about his budding photography career and the healing powers of skateboarding.
How’s LA, you loving it?
I’m into it, but I don’t know if I could say I love it. I don’t hate it. It’s definitely where I’m at and the thing that I’m doing.
Why the move?
I ended up here because of the Fish closing the first time; remember when they were scared they were closing the first time?
Yeah, I remember. But it stayed open.
Right, but I thought I had two more weeks left at my job, and I didn’t have any other plans. Then A-ron (Aaron Bondaroff) hit me up about a job out here in LA, so I just jumped on it because I didn’t have anything else lined up. So me and Desiree came out, and she linked up with her friends and started doing styling and costume design, so that all worked out. But the whole thing happened overnight.
How long were you at Max Fish?
I was there twelve fucking years, had one day off, and then started working at Supreme the next day. It was an instant life change.
Must’ve been a massive culture shock.
Yeah, well my life until then was this routine, you know what I mean? My every day was kinda Groundhog Day for so long, and then stepping out of that into this exact opposite world was just…weird. Before living here, I’d hardly even visited.
And there was a lot of Spandex. I read the epilogue you wrote in Party in the Back where you said there was a lot of Spandex and sunshine, which was a bit much for you.
Well, it’s definitely a thing you notice. It was kinda like, ‘what the fuck?’ Especially at the beginning when I was still living exactly like I did in New York. But as time went on I realized, Jesus Christ, this is not how I should be doing it. I gotta switch it up.
Is skating pools a new thing for you?
One hundred percent. Like, I’ve always been skateboarder, it’s my main love, and over time I’d gotten progressively worse and worse at skateboarding, you know? But since I moved here it’s become a major part of my life again. All my friends in LA are skateboarders, so my shit just went back skateboarding because that’s what everyone I knew out here was doing. I got back into it. And it just felt really sick to be using my body again, sweating, feeling healthy, and just being out and feeling like I did something with my day.
Yeah! So, I just got more and more into skateboarding again, and then pool skating just kinda happened because of my friends Rick Charnoski and Buddy Cohen – Cohen Nichols, is his real name. And it was all around that exact same time… you know when you’re in a relationship and there’s downtime and stuff, and how shit just goes fucked up and you’re just grasping at anything,
Like, if you have money you can get out of town and go away for a while, or something like that. But I was stuck here and those guys were very in that scene, and it was super-new to me, but skateboarding has been a part of life forever, so it was exciting, and also something to hold on to, something to clear my mind, I guess. And thank God for it, you know? I don’t know, I’m just rambling now.
You’re not all. So when did the camera come into it, when did you start shooting pools?
Well, kinda the whole way through. Desiree bought me a (Yashica) T4 for my birthday one year, but after the second pool I was like, shit, I’m just gonna bring this out with me when I go. It also happened at the same time as my separation from Desiree, so it gave me a project to focus on, you know?
It was something to help me look forward and keep positive and stuff.
They’re great photos for a dude not known for his photography. I think you might be a bit of a natural.
I don’t think so. You know what it is? I just really shot a lot. If you saw everything I shot, you wouldn’t say that. I shot more than I skated, you know what I mean? I skated every pool, but every pool I shot like five or so rolls of film.
Holy shit. How long did it take to edit it all?
A year or something? I thought I was just going to do a show at Max Fish, but then randomly I got tied in with Johan Kugelberg, who does that thing Boo-Hooray. He’s done a bunch of books, but he’s like a photo editor and archivist; he edited that Peter Beste Black Metal book (True Norwegian Black Metal), and he edited the Spot book (Sounds of Two Eyes Opening).
Yeah, it’s crazy because I actually have some of his books.
And now he’s done your book.
That’s rad. How’d did you get with Johan?
Through friends of friends, and my brothers, and Matt Sweeny, he was in on it, and they all got me tied in with Johan. I was in New York and I had a pdf of the book on my phone, and I showed it to him and he was like, ‘We got a book! We need to change it a bit, but let’s keep going with it,’ so that pushed me to work on getting it done.
Are you stoked on the book?
I’m really stoked. I mean, I’m surprised; I didn’t think I’d do anything like this. The whole thing happened organically. Like I said, I was just ‘break-up guy’ working with that energy, and just trying to stay positive and focus on a project. And the film would come back and I’d see one or two photos that made me happy, and that pushed me more and more. Also trying to find good photos to give to my friends, whoever was skating, you know? And also, selfishly, so I could go out and be experiencing and seeing California in a different way, and skateboarding in a different way than I’ve ever known. That kinda stuff.
What are you gonna do next?
I have ideas but I don’t wanna say anything. I definitely wanna stay busy working on projects and being creative. But right now it’s gotten me to a place where I’m really happy about spending all that time on the project and seeing it all come together.
Yeah. You know, it’s like throughout the whole thing, life, whatever, skateboarding has been there for me and my friends and people like us.
Skateboarding has always been there for all of us during our weird times, you know?
And I’m very grateful that I still have that.