20th Century Summer: An Interview with Greg Hunt on Rediscovering a Golden Age of Skate and Art
“I think that’s one of the things I really love about film, you have to sometimes work to find the pictures that you love,” photographer and filmmaker Greg Hunt told Juxtapoz. “They don't always jump out at you, you have to spend a little bit more time just because sometimes you might get that contact sheet back from the lab and you're looking for something else on it.” That a renowned documentarian such as Hunt has released 41 never-before-published photographs from his first camera and the subsequent 12 rolls of 35mm black-and-white film gifted him by another photographer, Gabe Morford, feels like a very special release indeed. The elegance in the photos of 20th CENTURY SUMMER is parallel to their raw moments as well.
The work chronicles a skate tour of America in 1995, where both Hunt and Morford were in charge of the cameras. And the camaraderie is palpable, the intimacy of friendship and revelry creating a bit of respite that in 2020 and 2021 feels a bit lost and of a different time. Hunt teamed with famed skateboarder and actor Jason Lee on the publishing of 20th CENTURY SUMMER, another nod to how pivotal that era was to the trajectory of skate photography as an art form. In conjunction with the book release, Thrasher's Joe Brook sat down with Hunt to discuss the making of the book, the era it was borne out of, and the beauty of film.
Joe Brook: Let's talk about Jason Lee as a skateboarder and you as a teenager living and growing up in Michigan. I suppose you were a fan of his skateboarding?
Greg Hunt: I was, one hundred percent. I was a huge fan of Jason's skating and everything around him at the time.
We met skateboarding in Michigan. I don't remember if we met at a contest or at a skate spot? But, I know we would end up going to Chicago to go street skating. Do you remember going to Chicago for the Chicago Shootout contest?
I definitely remember that contest. I don't remember seeing you there but I do remember going to Chicago with you at another time and your friends and sitting in that rear middle seat for the entire five hour drive. It wasn't a soft seat, it was like some sort of divider. I also clearly recall how miserable that drive was, even though that type of thing doesn’t bother you as much when you’re 16. I also remember getting there and it was 20 degrees and we went skating at night. Do you remember that?
I do! It was freezing cold and we were so excited to skate Chicago in the winter, ha ha!
I also do clearly remember the Chicago Shootout contest. That was a big deal at the time. I forgot that you were there.
We might've run into each other. It’s a bit hazy to me too, but I just remember going to Chicago with you skating. It was my friend Dennis’ car, and I think it was an Audi or a Saab or something. You were definitely in the middle seat and were not stoked on being there. It was December or January and it was freezing cold.
So, that was kind of what our weekends were like as 16 year old teenagers in Michigan, Instead of going to high school parties, we were going skating in Chicago.
I was just talking about that with someone. As a skateboarder, especially at that point in my life, if it were a Friday or Saturday night, there was no question that I was going skating. I wasn't thinking about anything else.
Totally, and then at the Chicago shootout contest, Mark Gonzales and Jason Lee had just started a new brand called Blind skateboards. Mark had red hair and Jason had blue hair. For me, it was very impactful. Mark left Vision skateboards to start Blind Skateboards.
I definitely do. I remember in practice Mark was yelling at Jason to get his attention because he’d just learned switch ollies on the quarter pipe, which was a trick that to me just seemed kind of funny. It was almost like, “Oh, wow, that’s weird he can skate the other direction.” It was so far ahead of it’s time.
Another vivid memory I have is from the hotel that evening. I'd gone down to get something from my car and was in the lobby waiting for the elevator. When the elevator doors opened, it was Ray Barbee, Tommy Guerrero, Mark Gonzales, Jason Lee, Mike Valley, and maybe Matt Hensley. I want to say Cab also, but I’m not sure. They all must have been going out to dinner or something. I'll never forget that feeling of seeing all those guys standing there in front of me. That was a monumental weekend for me, and probably to so many other kids in the Midwest.
That was such a treat for us. Just to be in the presence of the pro skaters and see them skate, it blew my mind. I feel like that kind of broke down a barrier. Of course, they were our childhood heroes, but they were also more accessible than it seemed when seeing them in person. So let's talk about you moving to SF. What year did you move out?
I moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1991, the day after my 18th birthday.
So when you moved out, did you have an intent of going to college?
Yeah, I was going to college part-time, at SF State and I had a job.
Oh yeah, what was that place called…Brother something?
Brother Juniper’s Breadbox!
Brother Juniper's Breadbox, that's it! The bread was really good and fresh. I remember you bringing home the leftover bread ends from Brother Junipers, and us putting the butter on the bread. It was like the best bread in the world to us because we had no money.
I mean, I literally would live off that bread, Country Crock, and potatoes. Do you remember the potatoes? We were making potatoes for the longest time by boiling them whole for an hour or so until our genius minds realized that if we actually cubed them and put them in the boiling water they'd cook a lot faster.
Ha ha… that is amazing. It’s just funny to look back on it now at how simple life was and how we didn't really have much. I mean, you probably had enough stuff in your apartment that you could put it all in a duffel bag and just walk away.
I think all of our furniture was found on the street. I don't know where we got it from. We had no money. We had a couch and a TV. I had a bed and that’s about it. I was working six days a week, from 7am till noon. In hindsight, I'm glad I did that. It gave me an appreciation for having money and it was the first time I'd lived on my own. It kept me motivated.
I remember once you asked if we wanted to go skate the hills in San Francisco. When I first moved to SF, I said “Sure”! I never had skated hills before, other than just like rolling down a hill in Michigan, which wasn't much of a hill. I remember you going out the front door of your apartment and then just going down the hill and kickflipping sewers and ollieing up curbs and manualing sidewalks and power sliding. I was just behind you foot dragging the whole way. I couldn't believe how insane it was just to watch you skate hills like that , it was a very humbling moment for me, ha ha.
That's partly because I was really infatuated with San Francisco skateboarding before moving out there. As a kid there was one decent hill by my high school that I would go skate every day on lunch break. I'd go to there by myself and walk up and skate down over and over.
So that was your training grounds for San Francisco.
I guess so, but I wasn't trying to be a great skater. I just wanted to skate like all these people that I saw in the videos and magazines. I was so inspired to skate like that. So skating that hill a lot made the transition to San Francisco a lot easier because I think just I got comfortable going fast.
So when you were in San Francisco, you were getting flow boards from Real Skateboards and riding for Venture Trucks. Was that something that was happening before you were in San Francisco?
Yeah, the summer before I had driven out to SF with Sean Sheffey and my friend Goose, we stayed at Jim Thiebaud’s house. While there, I’d met Greg Carroll, who’d just started working for Venture. So Greg hooked me up, that was my first sponsor. I don't remember exactly how everything happened once I came back out, but Jim started giving me boards pretty quickly. Luckily I’d gotten my foot in the door during that trip the year prior.
As someone looking from the outside in, what I remember most was you had an ad doing a kickflip front noseslide and there was just such a huge buzz around that. Did that help your career in skateboarding?
I remember going into the old Real warehouse before it was Deluxe and Jeff Klindt walking up to me with that sequence on individual 5x7 darkroom prints. Jeff was like, “Hey look, what I’ve got!” He was really excited. I clearly remember looking at that sequence by shuffling through those black and white prints. And yeah, then it was in a Thrasher ad maybe a month or two later. I was definitely excited to have a picture in a magazine. I felt like I’d been accepted to a degree, and it just made me feel a little bit more like I was doing the right thing.
Exactly. That was really cool to see that sequence of you in Thrasher. So were you traveling much at that point? Or were you just working and going to school at that point still?
For the first couple of years that I lived in San Francisco, I was just skating and working and going to school. I think I fully got on Real around the spring of ’93 because that’s when things started to really pick up and that summer was the first proper skate tour I went on.
Was that the trip you brought the camera that Gabe Morford gave to you?
No, that wasn't until 1995!
So you were riding for Real and then Jeff Klindt offered a few of you guys to start a new company at some point?
Yeah, well Jordan Richter somehow came onto the scene and Deluxe was growing pretty fast at that time. Jordan wanted to start a new company, “Family” and I ended up on that with Eric Pupecki. But it didn't last long, maybe a month or two. I remember Jeff Klindt calling me at our old apartment and saying, “Hey, Jordan's gone. We don't know what happened to him, so the company's not happening. Do you want to ride for Real or do you want to ride for Stereo?” I instinctively just said Stereo because I’d recently met Jason and I was good friends with Matt Rodriguez, so it was sort of a no brainer. Stereo was something new and fresh and it seemed like there was a place for me there. So that's how that happened.
So did you know Jason Lee prior to getting on Stereo or not?
Well I only knew him from when he came up and stayed at our apartment. Do you remember that?
Yeah. I came home from work and Jason was playing Dave Metty’s guitar in our living room and I was just like, “What the hell is going on? Like, seriously.” I couldn’t believe it.
Yeah, that’s when I first met Jason. He’s since said that he remembers seeing me skate Embarcadero and that's when he knew that he wanted to put me on Stereo. I don’t remember that, but it must've been that same weekend.
And that was 1993 or 1994?
That was 1993. Stereo started in 1992, I wasn't one of the original team riders. I got on maybe six months later.
Around that time, you were waiting for the Family thing to blossom and it just never happened. So that was almost like a blessing in disguise?
One hundred percent. I would have honestly been really stoked to get back on Real too.Going back to Jason, I honestly don't know why he would have come to our house?
Probably because of Dave Metty. He was the team manager at DLX at the time.
That’s right and that's when I met Jason. So, luckily I’d made enough of an impression that he wanted to put me on Stereo.
Yeah. I mean that was like a match made in heaven. I feel like with Stereo, and your common interests in jazz, film and photography, you were kind of already in that realm. I always remember you having National Geographic’s and just being super-stoked on the photos and just being really into it as a teenager, where I feel like most kids didn't want to read Nat Geo magazines. Not that it was a bad thing, but I was always impressed, Greg's got like really cool taste, you know?
I was into jazz a bit through my dad. He would give me Miles Davis CD's and things like that for my birthday. So I had some exposure and some understanding of what it was about. I immediately thought what Stereo was doing was really cool. I honestly don't remember much about myself then, but I know I was into films and music and I drew a lot. I think I really identified with Jason and Chris Pastras, just because they were into other stuff too and I think that's what Stereo was all about. It wasn’t just about skateboarding. It was about exploring all sorts of creative things, design, music, photography and film. That's what those guys were just naturally into, and they sort of shaped Stereo into that. So, it was great for me because I think that was a part of me that I’d never really tapped into, I’d never really identified myself as a creative person. Also, I didn't have anyone who I looked up to bring that out of me, you know, and encourage those things and that's what Jason and Chris did. They identified that in all of us and really supported us in that way. So, I'm pretty fortunate because prior to that I’d essentially been a one dimensional skateboarder my entire life, and it wasn't until getting connected with Jason and Chris that they brought this other side out of me.
Let's talk about the influences that were around you at the time. You were living in San Francisco and you were around some of the best skateboard photographers. There was Tobin Yelland, and Gabe Morford, Lance Dawes, Mike Blabac, Bryce Kanights. Seeing these guys work, was that a big influence on you?
I mean, I was always interested in the process of what the photographers were doing much more so than the video end of things. Just seeing them work, their prints, going to the photo lab. I didn't really know much about photography, but I was always super interested in everything those guys were doing. Gabe and I were roommates eventually, so I was with him all the time. I think I just became very tuned into his whole process and just what it’s like to be a photographer.
I remember seeing you and you showed me a proof sheet. I think Gabe let me shoot a few rolls of film and he got them processed for you and you were just so blown away by the proof sheets. You were like, “Dude, look at these things. This is insane.” it made your photos look so professional.
So those are the first two rolls of film I’d ever shot. That was right before I left onto this tour in 1995. That was probably early summer 1995. Gabe had given me a camera, a Minolta X-700. It had a a 50mm 1.4 and a fisheye, which I believe was Tobin’s first fisheye. He gave me that and I think those two rolls were given to me for me to sort of get the hang of it and test the meter. I remember when Gabe brought those proof sheets back and just being like blown away that I’d actually made those pictures,. I’d never thought I could do that. I think also, because they were proper proof sheets from a professional photo lab, they just looked really good. That was just before we were leaving to go on a summer tour.
Yeah, that's really inspiring. You went on a DLX summer skate trip, but you weren't a seasoned photographer by any means. So basically, this was like your beginning photo 101 into photography, so to say?
I really had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn't consider myself a photographer. I had no intention of doing anything with the photos. I was just excited to have a camera. I was just taking pictures purely for fun, often just because I was bored. It was really pure, you know, just me taking pictures of my friends in a very unassuming and innocent way. That’s where this book comes in, it’s from the 12 rolls I shot on that trip. It's funny because I still consider them be some of the better pictures I've ever taken.
For instance, one of the images was used on Tommy Guerrero's album.
Yeah, that’s one of them. It’s a picture in the book that a lot people might recognize. It’s funny because I don't remember shooting it. Sometimes, I think that by not being aware of what I was doing, I was actually shooting photos that were a lot more interesting. I wasn't following any rules.
Of course, I didn't realize it at the time, but that trip and those pictures are what completely changed my trajectory in life, to eventually become a photographer, and a filmmaker. I had no ambition to do anything like that prior. Shooting pictures on that trip, and then coming home and seeing the photos is when I really fell in love with photography and started taking it seriously.
I remember you had a dark room in your apartment on Bush Street in San Francisco. You were showing me a few prints and I was like, “Oh, these are okay.” Like, they were just average prints. Then I think you took a class at City College of San Francisco and literally a month later you showed me a print and it was so gorgeous. The printing, the contrast, it was just so beautiful. It was crazy. It was like you learned switch 360 flips. You really got the knack of using the darkroom really quick.
Yeah, I fell in love with photography really quickly. It was right after that summer skate trip when Gabe and I set up that darkroom. Pretty soon after that, I was as into photography as I was skateboarding, if not more.
I don't ever remember skating San Francisco with you where you had a camera. I felt like you kept it kind of separate in a way?
I did. I'd walk around at night and on rainy days or even nice days and shoot pictures but I would never bring a camera skating. I don't know why, it's probably just because I just didn't want to carry it around. I always liked to go skating with nothing, just a jacket. So I'm sure that's why.
So how did this book project come about with Jason? What's the name of the book again?
20th Century Summer.
How did you and Jason come together to make this book?
We've been keeping in touch a little over the years, but we really reconnected within the last few years. Once he moved back to LA, I started going to his house for birthday parties and stuff like that, seeing each other more.
It’s neat how things come full circle. From Jason Lee being one of your childhood heroes to you skating for his team Stereo, how long was he pro on Stereo before he left to go into acting?
I think it's actually only three years he was active on Stereo, he and I were just talking about this. He basically stopped skating as a pro skater, during that same summer I shot the book, the summer of 1995.
So when you and Jason had been hanging out recently, how did the subject of your new book come up?
Yeah, we were at a birthday party and I told him I’d made a book during the COVID shutdown. He asked me what it was called and I told him, "20th Century Summer" and I remember he said, “Oh, that's a really good name!” and we just started talking about something else. And then then a bit later it came back around and we started seriously talking about it. The cool thing is, Jason was enthusiastic about the book before ever seeing the photos. I think he was just genuinely excited about us making something together. But, when I sent him the photos I think that’s when it really clicked for him. I'm not quite sure what he expected, but there’s no skateboarding in the book and it's much more akin to the type of photography that I think resonates with him.
It's just, you know, like very candid moments with my friends and just things that I was seeing and experiencing while on the road.
Awesome! So, this is your second book, correct?
Yeah. My first book was Ninety-Six Dreams, Two Thousand Memories, a 17-year document of Jason Dill. That was released in 2018 though Paradigm, and also last year a Japanese edition was released through Super Labo.
Let’s talk about the process of making the book with Jason. What was it like?
So, when everything shut down during the summer of 2020, one thing I did during that time is make this book. Just conceptualized and designed it. So once it became time to actually start building the book with Jason I sent him a PDF which was pretty close to a finished design. I think he initially had some ideas on how to make it flow differently, but I kind of said I liked it how it was because it was in chronological order. There are some narratives within the photos happening from the beginning to the end of that trip. I felt it was the strongest way to sequence those photos. Jason was cool with that.
Then, we went through everything and he had some great input. It was really interesting to have him give so much feedback and get a sense of what really resonated with him. I wanted a classic design, almost like a portfolio, and Jason had some great ideas just on how to sequence the photos within the spreads and things like that. He put a lot of consideration into everything, and he spent a lot of time with the pictures. There were some photos not initially in my design that Jason loved and we added.
But once it came to technically making the book, Jason’s process was completely different from anything I'd done. I mean, with my first book, I really didn't know what I was doing. I designed it myself and would make digital perfect bound dummies at a lab here in LA, just to see the book in physical form. I would then make changes off of that and print an additional physical copy until I was really happy with how the book felt in my hands. Then, the final PDF was sent off to Germany and went out there to be on-site for the printing.
But you know, in hindsight that's not really the best way to do it. Jason is very meticulous, so we proof printed everything at his studio in Pasadena. He had the process completely dialed– the calibrated color space on his monitor, the calibration of his printer, a matching paper that we’d be using, etc. It was all just to make sure that the proof prints that we were making were accurate before sending them off to the printing house to match on press. Also, we had duotones made. So, before that, I’d been missing this whole step in the process which ensures control. It's pretty labor intensive, but so much more controlled and that required a lot of Jason's time. But it was awesome, because we were able to hang out a lot while doing that.
How many books are you guys making?
Only 750. Film Photographic is a small operation so we wanted a number that would sell through relatively quickly. 750 felt like everyone who really wants a copy would be able to get a copy and we could get some in bookstores as well.
This whole story of you and Jason making a book for Film Photographic is a really cool story of your friendship and the work that you have produced. It's beyond the book, it's just you guys growing up together and being pro skateboarders and Jason moving on to be an actor and you becoming a filmmaker and photographer. Just the way you guys have bounced back and forth into each other's lives over the years. This is a new chapter and it's really cool to see Jason, putting out all this incredible photo work and publishing books through Film Photographic. It’s just very inspiring because I feel like, you know, when we were teenagers, we just had blinders on, it was like skate all day, and now it’s just cool to see everyone grow as we got older and fall in love with different stuff and have families and just keep on being creative. I think that's the most important thing, you know, and just seeing you guys work together is very inspirational.
You know, it's funny, I revered Jason as a skateboarder when I was young. But he was on such another level that I guess I never even considered that I would ever be friends with him. Then we ended up skating for the same company and became friends but that was a different time. I wasn't very sure of myself back then. I think Jason really did bring a lot out of me, but still, I was pretty insecure and I wasn't fully able to be myself around him. And then, ironically that summer of 1995 was a crossroads for both of us, when he quit skating and I started shooting photos, and through those paths we would end up reconnecting twenty-five years later.
And now that we're sort of past a lot of that stuff, we can just kind of just hang out and be friends. Sometimes I'll bring my kids over there for a birthday party or just a dinner to hang out or whatever it might be. It’s really amazing that we were able to just make this book just because we wanted to, just as two people who share a history. I would say that that's actually just as much a part of the story of this book as the actual book itself. I think I've been so wrapped up in the process of making it and all the technicalities that now that it's finished, I’m finally able to step back and appreciate how it actually came to be. And I think that will actually be the most special thing about the book once I hold it in my hands, is that we made it together.