1. The skateboard culture is often the inspiration for many young photographers, I included. What part of skateboarding made you decide to take up photography? Do you think you will return to the skate culture photographically?

Back in those days, magazines were a huge part of the skate culture and I used to buy almost everyone that I could get my hands on; Thrasher, Transworld, Slap Sidewalk, Document etc. Some of the mags would focus primarily on well set up trick photos but some, especially Slap, would publish documentary-style pictures of the lifestyle of skaters. I was instantly drawn to this type of ‘behind the scenes’ photography and found it incredibly interesting and I was inspired to start doing it myself. And as for returning to skate photography, well, I never really left it and occasionally still shoot. I’ve recently become involved with something called Unloved Heritage, which is an archaeological group that focuses on and documents skateboard ‘spots’ around Wales and archives them within the Welsh archaeological trust’s official archives. It was crazy to find out that such an initiative existed!

2. Your project Sglefrio really feels like the early 2000s vibe that skateboarding once was, when it was sort of on the outskirts of society. Of course, now, that’s all changed as it’s now become far more mainstream, multi-billion-pound sport. For the first time ever, there will be a team GB skateboard team, do you see a difference between the skateboarding you documented and the sport now in Bridgend?

The scene in Bridgend has undoubtedly evolved in lots of different ways but I’m not sure if I’m familiar enough with it these days to comment fairly. I have noticed that the kids don’t seem to skate the streets as much these days, so I presume they are at the skateparks most of the time. 20 years ago in Bridgend, there were no skateparks so for us the streets were the only place to go. It was always inspiring being out and about, especially at night. There would be a crew of about 10 of us that would skate almost every night. You don’t see things like that these days. The kids are missing out.

3. Being self-taught, you are one of the rare few who haven’t done a photography degree (correct me if I’m wrong – I didn’t see it on your website). What do you think of the academic path of photography? Did you ever find yourself doubting your work and comparing your work to others?

You’re right, I don’t have a degree, I left school after my GSCE’s and went straight into full-time work, which was 60 hours a week at my Dad’s business, and that’s where I stayed for the nearly 20 years. It was in 2007 that I decided to get out of there and actually do something with my life. In hindsight, I really wish I had worked harder in school and gone onto university but my path would have been completely different then and I probably wouldn’t have ended up studying photography anyway. The academic path of photography seems like it’s flourishing and the universities are churning out some great students who make amazing work, the only thing is: will there be enough work out there in these changing times to sustain them all? And yes, I am completely at war with myself over my work a lot of the time, but that’s what keeps the fire in my belly burning!

4. How did you break into the industry and get your work noticed? What was your approach to getting your work seen?

I wouldn’t say that I have ever broken into the industry properly, I just think that I’ve been doing this type of stuff for so long (25 years) that it’s inevitable that the work would be spotted at some time I guess. I’ve done a fair amount of exhibitions too which do help but the effort that goes into them and the return you get sometimes seems like a waste of time and money. Credit has to be given to social media as it definitely had a big part to play. Twitter has been the most useful in terms of getting work seen and making good connections in the photo world.

5. How do you make a living? Do you work as a photographer full time or do you work on the side? What do you make of the current state of the photographic industry?

Since last year I’m now a full-time stay at home Dad, which is not as easy as it sounds – I have a 5 and 2-year-old. On the plus side, I do get more time now to concentrate on photography related things, although the lack of money is always a big problem for me, especially as I shoot film. I sell photobooks via Ebay and have sporadic print sales on Instagram. It raises some money, but never enough.

6. 2018 was a great year for you photographically, you launched your most recent book, Gap In The Hedge, published by Another Place Press at the Martin Parr foundation alongside Robert Darch. How was that as an experience? How were you treated as an artist?

2018 was a very good year! As one person put it ‘You’ve Peaked’ haha, which is probably right but also good timing as 2020-21 I plan to take time out of projects to sort out my archive, which is going to be a massive job. Martin Parr has been incredible to me and I am truly humbled and eternally grateful – the organisation of his personal archive has been the trigger to organise my own! The experience of speaking there was very surreal and I can’t really remember anything I said but the welcoming nature of the whole team there made me feel very relaxed and it’s certainly something I will never forget. The Foundation really is the most fantastic place and I genuinely feel at home there. I wish we had something similar here in Wales.

7. What was your experience in publishing a book? What implications were there both physically and financially? Would you recommend publishing a book?

I’ve been very lucky in terms of publishing, I didn’t have to go through the whole routine of pitching/submitting to different publishers etc. Publishing a book had never really crossed my mind and out of the blue Iain, from Another Place Press sent me an email asking if I’d like to work with him on bringing Suicide Machine out as a small photo book and it’s been a pleasure to work with him ever since. There are definite highs and lows that come with publishing a book and it can be extremely stressful but a very rewarding end result.

8. Gap in the Hedge reflects a journey that you use to make with your mother through the Rhondda Valley in Wales. In that time, you have witnessed change both at a local level and global scale. What was the biggest change to the area that you noticed when undertaking the project?

Actually, very little has changed in the area and that’s no exaggeration either, it really does look exactly the same as it did 35 years ago. It’s a testament to how little money/investment/interest these areas receive. It’s like going back in time.

9. As a spectator, if and how do you think Wales change with the United Kingdoms expected exit from the EU? Do you have plans to document this change?

I have no plans to document, but I do fear for the future of Wales in general. A huge chunk of the money that came here was from the EU and it’s almost certain that Westminster will not be obliged to match that money. Already there are signs of uncertainty with local Councils on the verge of bankruptcy and the closure of Ford’s Engine Plant in Bridgend with the loss of 1700 jobs. A depression looms.

10. The majority of your work incorporates people. How do you find the people documented in your work? What is your approach for asking strangers for their portrait, especially in smaller rural towns where its often a much more secluded, private community?

My portraits happen in all sorts of different ways: Sometimes I will find a ‘fixer’ who can help me out in the community and other times I will find a connection, however small, that will lead to people who fall within the narrative – the latter is usually someone I know or someone who knows someone. There are cases of me stopping strangers randomly and I suppose I do do it quite often, but the success rate of those portraits can vary as people are often confused with what’s going on and can be a bit rigid. Some do work though when the photographic gods are lending a hand!

11. What’s your advice for young photographers?

Work hard, take your time, be patient and put your phone down.

12. Do you plan to continue making work closer to home similar to Suicide Machine and Gap In The Hedge? What are your plans for the future?

I’ve been working on a new series, Black was the River, you see, for the past 10 months and it’s recently started to take shape and grow into something cohesive. The narrative hasn’t fully formed yet, but it’s basically following the River Ogmore from the source at the Bwlch (Gap in the Hedge) through Bridgend (Suicide Machine) down to the sea. I felt that there needed to be a link between the 2 former projects and that this will connect them both perfectly – thus completing the trilogy.

13. Do you feel that the photography industry could be improved or changed in any way to provide more opportunities both physically and financially?

To be honest I really don’t know much about the photo industry and I’m not that interested either. There definitely isn’t enough support or money being invested in documentary photography that’s for sure and the institutions etc seem more concerned in box-ticking these days. But I do feel very fortunate that the Martin Parr Foundation has opened just 1 hour down the road as it’s specifically a home for documentary photographers and their programme of events and exhibitions is just wonderful. Here in Wales, there is very little opportunity for people like me who have no degree/formal training – the struggle is real!

Dan Wood

“Born in Wales, UK, 1974, I’m a self taught documentary and portrait photographer that discovered photography in the early 90’s through the skateboard culture. My work has been featured in many publications including The British Journal of Photography, CCQ Magazine, Ernest Journal and Jungle Magazine. I’ve participated in over 45 exhibitions both nationally and internationally; including 6 solo shows. In 2018, I was announced as one of the winners of the BJP, Portrait of Britain prize.”

“Several pieces of my work are held in the permanent collections at the MMX GalleryLondon and Film’s Not Dead Print Room, London. Suicide Machine/Gap in the Hedge books & prints are held in the collection at the Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol.”



Interview by Collective Founder, Samuel Fradley

If you enjoyed this interview by Sam, check out another Collective interview with Photographer and Founder of Another Place Press Iain Sarjeant: https://thesouthwestcollective.co.uk/ian-sarjeant-discusses-publishing-and-photography/


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