A retrospective celebrating the career of Anthony Van Engelen through the lens of Mike O’Meally.
Limited to 150 copies, this zine was commissioned by Vans and published by Welcome Skate Store to mark AVE’s 15th anniversary of riding for Vans.
Concept, words and design by Farran Golding.
SINK YOUR OWN BOAT
In 1998, Mike O’Meally moved to New York City. Immediately, he began photographing and skating with Jason Dill. Meeting his other half was inevitable.
“Anthony still doesn’t, but he never really talked too much back then. He’s the type of guy that will talk without saying anything – either with his eyes or through a laugh. I’ve always said: “He lets you sink your own boat,”” says Mike, recalling his earliest memories of AVE. He speculates the first photo they shot together was an over-the-back 5050 at the Columbus Park handrail in Chinatown, Lower Manhattan. It’s a spot that Anthony has revisited throughout his career and Mike hazards AVE was the first to tackle it head on.
Throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Mike continued to hang out with AVE, whenever he visited Dill in New York, and he became friends with Rob Pluhowski and Anthony Pappalardo over the course of trips to go shooting in Philadelphia. Quickly, he became acquainted with the Alien Workshop and Habitat teams but, even by the standard of their riders during the ‘Photosynthesis’ era, “Anthony had an extra gear on him that nobody else seemed to have,” which was amplified by his energy around Dill.
“They were kids and he was in his mid to early 20s. He was just more physically powerful and confident. You could tell he’d taken more slams over the years. Not that those guys hadn’t but he just had more grit and salt in the game of skateboarding,” says Mike.
“Pappalardo, we had this nickname for him: Mr Burns. Because he was kind of meek and not physically imposing at all but when he’d get on a board he would really come out of his shell. Whereas Anthony had the appearance of a cowboy. We always joked that he looked like a Marlboro Man. That’s [when he was] walking around and then the same thing applied to his skating. He was just a strong guy. He’s not a big guy but he’s built for speed and power.”
Offering some first-hand insight into witnessing Anthony’s drive, Mike flags up a folder on his computer titled ‘Board Throwers’ – a glimpse into the countless meltdowns (or “Kerry Getz type situations”) he’s been present for. “I’ve certainly got a few of those of Anthony,” he chuckles.
“I don’t think he’s one of those self-critical perfectionists, he’s just honest and has a very open outlook of how certain tricks should look, how fast you should be going or about popping out in a solid manner. He held himself to a really high standard and that would often lead to doing things again or until he couldn’t walk anymore.” Further dismissing unreasonable perfectionism as part of Anthony’s nature, Mike deems that if AVE’s battles for tricks aren’t due to his self-imposed standards then it’s purely “a matter of trying something so hard that even to land it is enough.”
“I have this one picture where he’s bleeding through his socks and that kind of sums him up. He would just keep going. He’s had problems with his toes and feet where he had to tape them before every session and he would be skating with a lot of pain. Cortisone injections, stuff like that… So, on top of wanting to do things well, and being powerful and stylish, he’s a tough guy. I would not want to get into any kind of trouble with him,” says Mike. A bold claim considering O’Meally is built like a heavyweight boxer.
“You watch him do a switch crooked grind, on say a two or three foot high ledge, and it’s like watching a truck come down the street. It might be really simple, but it’s really loud, and it’s really fast and you better not get in the way,” laughs Mike.
Before moving the conversation on to a selection of Mike’s photos of Anthony captured throughout the ‘Mind Field’ years – there’s a lingering question. Throughout their two decades of shooting together, has Mike ever had any inclination that Anthony takes some enjoyment from the suffering required to do what he’s done on a skateboard?
“Never verbally,” says Mike. “Maybe just a wry smile, or a sinister grin, here and there…”
The first photo I wanted to talk about is Anthony’s frontside bluntslide around the curved ledge. I originally saw this on the cover of Alien Workshop’s Fall 2006 catalogue. Does that help jog your memory?
That’s in Texas, at a bus station in Houston, and that was hot. We were there around July or August, skating at two or three in the morning because it was too hot to skate during the day.
It was quite hard [for him] to get all the way around but he got it. It’s nice when somebody is trying something for a while because, as a photographer, it allows you to think, “I’ve definitely got one from this angle.” It allows you to slowly experiment. It’s sort of scary when people land things first try, [laughs]. But that one, I was like: “Oh man, this has to be shot from here,” just because the curved bench looks so cool from the top. I was happy with how that photo turned out because of the glass wall. It looks cool and Anthony looks super solid on the bluntslide. That was a good one and I’m pretty sure it was shot in the middle of the night.
That was my impression. I’ve never seen the footage of this trick so I’ve always thought it would have just been you two guys in the early hours of the morning. The way it’s lit really evokes a sense of isolation and late night ambience.
I’m sure there is footage as Greg [Hunt] was there and definitely filmed it. But, yeah, nobody else was around other than some crackheads and maybe a sheriff would drive by. It was a ghost town.
Anthony is no stranger to manhandling curved ledges. How long was he skating this bench for?
I don’t remember him battling too hard for it. He probably landed it more than a few times. I don’t think he landed it straight away but I don’t remember him having too much trouble with that one. It was just making it all the way around, every time, then getting a nice clean pop off of the end. That’s how that one went.
Was this taken on a Hasselblad?
That’s correct, yeah.
I’ve heard Hasselblad fisheyes are notorious for being so wide that even if the flashes are placed way out of the shot you can still get lens flare. Was that any issue here?
That glass wall might have helped me. Also, you can see there’s a pillar to the left, some kind of wall. So, without getting too neeky about it all, I didn’t have too many problems. The toughest thing was that I had to stand up on top of the glass brick wall to shoot that photo. It wasn’t very wide so I probably toppled off a few times, [laughs].
The geometry of this photo has a very ‘Workshop’ feel to it. Did that occur to you at the time?
For sure. I was working for those guys so I knew there was a sort of unspoken aesthetic with Mike Hill. I knew what he was looking for but I would have shot it like that anyway – being that it was Anthony and they were filming for ‘Mind Field’ at the time it was just hand in glove, basically.