Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
There’s no money in skate photography. The glory days of magazine jobs and company retainers have nearly completely vanished. The perks of being a skateboard photographer are fame and glory, without the fame or the glory. There’s a lot of sitting in the gutter, going back to a spot ten times for one photo, chasing $50 invoices and seeing your hard-earned work get scrolled over in an Instagram feed. But you don’t always get to choose what you fall in love with, and photographer Dakota Mullins pulled the short straw and found himself behind a camera, pointed at dirtbags on four wheels. Now he is stuck, forever chasing the decisive moment.
Where are you from?
Did you start shooting skate photos in Ohio?
Yeah, actually the first skate photo I shot was of Justin (Henry). Probably around 2012, nollie over this rail into a bank. Before that, I just shot people and random things I saw on the street; so, mainly street photography. I kept it separate. I would skate and I would shoot photos but not shoot photos of skating because I didn’t want them to be intertwined. I don’t know why I thought like that back then… I guess I was pretty dumb. I shoulda done it.
Did you start shooting skating with film cameras?
Nah, it was digital. I didn’t even have a 35mm film camera then. I was out skating, and my friend let me borrow his 5D MarkIII and after that I was like, ‘Fuck, I should probably buy a camera,’ so I went out and bought a camera.
When did you move to LA?
I moved to LA five years ago.
Were you moving to LA to be a ‘Skate Photographer’?
I wanted to shoot photos, but I was assisting for this guy Noah Abrams; he shoots a lot of music. I just came out here on a whim, and to work with him and see something new outside of Ohio. I think subconsciously I did want to work in the skate industry and shoot skating, but that wasn’t the main goal. I just wanted to see what I could do, and see if anything was even possible at all.
What were you doing as an assistant?
Well, right when I moved here in 2015, we shot all the Olympians. But after that first job I was just his personal assistant and I sold all this stuff on eBay (laughs). Yeah, it wasn’t the sickest job: putting stuff up on eBay, editing photos for him, if he sold a print I would run and grab it and ship it off, watching his dogs while he was on trips. It was not glamorous. But when he was away, I could stay at his house in Venice, so I would just kick it there. Then I eventually started working at HUF. Ryan Allan posted something on LinkedIn about this guy Ryan Lusteg, who was the e-com photographer at HUF. He’s dope. So, I started assisting him with all the flat lay stuff full time, Monday through Friday. I lived in Santa Clarita at the time, hour and a half there, hour and a half home every day. That shit sucked.
When did you decide to go out on your own and start shooting?
HUF’s marketing team needed more photos of people in product, so I would just shoot that stuff on the weekends and after hours in my spare time.
And then they just started to take you on trips?
Yeah, pretty much, that’s it.
Did shooting skating become your way to get by after that?
Nah, fuck no. You don’t make shit in skating. I figured out that I could go on trips, have fun and shoot stuff but I’d still have to do other stuff on the side to make a living. Shooting skating and going on trips was my main way to go somewhere new, see new shit and hang out with people. I definitely had a drive to be on more trips and stay on the road.
Have you ever considered your job as being a full-time skate photographer?
I mean, I guess so. You know what it’s like. I guess it is and it isn’t. You just don’t make a lot of money, that’s the reality of it. That’s a hard question, man.
I think when I was comin’ up in Australia, there was a still a few mags and you could actually make a living. I was much more gung-ho like, ‘I’m gonna make this my job.’ That may have been to some detriment for a couple of years, ‘cause making a passion like this your way of paying rent and eating can take away from it and stress you out.
I try not to rely on it, ‘cause it is stressful. Then it’s an actual job.
So, what other stuff are you shooting?
For fun, I’m just shooting nature and other street style photography. Other than that, the Justin Henry Vans thing. He has a shoe coming out and I shot this campaign for it. I’m trying to do more stuff like that, more in the studio. I loved it, they told us to do whatever we wanted between me and Justin. I flew to Ohio and banged it out in a day, sent it over to them and it seems like they like it. So, yeah, that’s cool.
Do you like being in the studio?
Yeah, I really like it ‘cause I’m uncomfortable. I’m so used to shooting skate now, it used to be the uncomfortable thing for me to do and now it’s shooting portraits in the studio; it’s a whole other world. Thinking of a concept to build inside of a studio is really hard. So, I think that’s the direction I’m going to head to. A lot of my inspiration lately has been from early 2000’s skate shoe ads, they’re so extravagant and crazy. There’ll be something like Muska sitting in a Cadillac, with his shoe in his hand. It’s all set up and planned out.
I love all of Blabac’s old portraits like that.
Yeah, old DC stuff is amazing.
You made a book, Paseo, with the help of HUF. How did you find the editing process? I find that harder with my own self-published projects, whereas if someone else is publishing I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, run that.’
With that project, I thought it was all cool and wanted to print it all ‘cause I shot it, so it made sense to me when I was looking at it all in the folder. It was harder to drop stuff, and we only had so much budget, so I figured we should max the budget out on more pages in the book and I’d pay for whatever else myself. I just wanted more photos and to make as many books as the budget would allow. That was fun though, I’d never made a book before.
Are you going to make a book again?
Maybe, but I’m gonna wait for the next one. That was all photos from one year, so I think more or less it will be like five or ten years next time—a look back.
Where’s the next place you hope to see your photos printed?
I wanted to pitch something to Patagonia or something for fly fishing. I’ve been really into fishing. I’ve been bass fishing and fly fishing, so I want to pitch something to a brand like that and work on a project.
Do you ever look at fishing magazines?
Yeah, every day. It’s like skating.
How’s the photography?
It’s terrible, it’s really bad. But that’s even smaller than skating. The YouTube guys have taken over that, it’s a lot of YouTube shit.
Did you try your hand in music photography after working with Noah Abrams?
My music photography career began and ended at Desert Daze. I had a media pass to shoot—from Monster Children actually—and I didn’t realise you couldn’t shoot Iggy Pop without a special pass. So, I’m shooting and shooting and there’s this guy standing there like, ‘YOU! Stop shooting right now!.’ I put my camera down and then Iggy Pop hops back up again in front of me so I’m like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just gonna do it.’ Next thing you know, this guy grabs my camera, grabs the straps around my neck, throws me onto the ground, my camera bounces off the ground and then he boots me out the back. I left and I was bummed. I’m not doing music again. Standing in this crowd and my shit’s getting more beat up than it would skating.