Interview: Chris Reyes

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Riders and skaters getting into ‘street photography’ is nothing new. Anyone who’s crammed a hand-me-down SLR into a Jansport in a bid to document dope manoeuvres will have, at some point, tried their hand at snapping candid shots of pigeons, run-down shop fronts and pissed-up vagabonds with no teeth.

But snapping a photo of a complete stranger is a fair bit dodgier than getting a picture of your mate doing a wallride — so not many get beyond shooting sneaky Bart Simpson spy-cam shots approximately 50 feet away from the back of someone’s head.

One rider who bucks the trend is New Jersey mix-section master Chris Reyes, who ditches the usual low-end social commentary in favour of up-front portraits that are actually in focus.

Here’s an interview with him about photography, his new zine and the time he tried to eat 24 hamburgers…

Camera portrait by Jake Heid, riding photos courtesy of Evan Nutt, street photos by Reyes. Interview by Sam.

First question… how many burgers did you eat in that Skapegoat video? And have you any advice for someone wanting to get involved in the bulk-eating scene?

I think it was 20 or 21, and then I smashed two together to try to eat two in one, but I couldn’t finish it. Scerbo thinks I could have finished ‘em off if I didn’t add cheese to them, but who doesn’t want cheese on their burger? It was a rough night after all that.

If anyone else is trying to do some shit like this you’re gonna need to train a bit. I thought I trained my whole life for that moment but I was dead wrong.

What other food are you into outside of the burger realm? You know any good recipes? 

I eat a lot. Burgers, fries, cheese fries, mozz sticks, wings, cheese-steaks… I eat all that. I also love veggie burgers, veggie wings and vegan cheese-steaks. I also enjoy clam chowder, pork belly, bread pudding, grilled romanesco, basically any root vegetable, charcuterie, breakfast sandwiches or burritos, water ice, any kind of Japanese food, fancy cheese plates, pan roasted salmon, eggplant, Wawa hoagies, bánh mì, Airheads, Sour Patch Kids and Olive Garden to name a few.

I do have a good cheesesteak empanada recipe out of my own personal stash:

1 pack of Goya empanada discos 10ct

1 pack of Steak-Umms sliced steaks 24ct

1 16oz pack of shredded provolone

1/2 tablespoon pink Himalayan sea-salt

1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon butter or 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Defrost the Goya discos. Pan fry the Steak Umms ‘til rendered to a color, or greyish brownish perfection. Then add salt and pepper, and stir. Load empanadas with steak and cheese. Fold empanadas and seal shut. Pan fry empanada shells or bake ‘til crisp. Enjoy with ketchup.

Serves 1-3 people depending on how hungry.

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Cheers for that. On a different subject, you’ve just made a new zine. When did you get into taking photos?

I got my first SLR when I was in high school. I didn’t really know how to use it, but I used it a lot.

I really got into a lot more about 4 years ago though. I used that same Canon SLR from high school and bought a nice lens off my buddy Navaz — after that I was addicted.

Do you go out specifically to take photos, or is it just something that happens?

There are definitely days when I load up a bag with every camera I have and specifically go out to find interesting subjects in specific areas.

Usually it depends on how I’m feeling and how far I wanna ride, but I would say the majority of my photos just happen naturally. It’s an even split though, I put in just as much time thinking about shooting a photo whether I’m on a mission or not.

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What sort of photos are you into? What do you think makes a good one?

I love seeing photos that showcase the grittiness of a person or a situation. I’m all about the surroundings or the people involved.

I love portraiture. I love seeing people out of the ordinary documented — not necessarily an ugly face or someone with a deformity, but I would 100% rather see a photo of someone who has character than a photo of a model posing in front of a statue or some shit.

A few of the photographs were taken in Camden. What’s it like over there? And is stuff ever ‘too grimy’ to photograph? 

There’s definitely parts of Camden that are worse than Philly. I saw a woman in an abandoned building once and I tried to go over to photograph her. It ended up being a hooker fixing up her bloody face after getting beaten by someone. I was like 10ft away and decided to leave her alone.

Shit like that happens every day and you gotta pick and choose when to get in someone’s business or not to try to make a photo. There are definitely places that might be too grimy to shoot, but just like riding or skating you know it comes along with consequences.

You could grind a rail and not wear a helmet and possibly land on your head, or you could go onto a real bad block and already know there’s a chance of getting into a bad situation and possibly getting robbed.

When I know I’m in a rough neighbourhood I got a million things going thru my mind, especially since I go out and shoot alone most of the time. I just try to blend in and not be a cameraman. I’ve been chased on my bike and have felt cornered in certain scenarios and have luckily gotten out of these situations. Gotta say thanks to Fairdale Bikes for the quick escape bike on that note.

It seems a lot of riders take up photography. Why do you reckon this is?

I think they go hand in hand. When you think about it, you always want to shoot a photo or film your friends do something, whether it’s on your phone or a real camera. So if you end up playing with a nice camera with a nice lens, it becomes more appealing and more fun.

I’m older now and I still want to get out as much as I can, but shooting photos is an inspiration to get off my ass and go out more than anything. There’s also a less possibility of getting hurt when you’re behind the lens instead of in front haha.

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What’s better… grinding a rail or taking a sick photo?

You can get hurt doing both so it depends. I would love to grind a rail again soon, but to be honest I’d rather be shooting photos.

Changing subjects a bit… do you still work as a bartender? What makes a good barman?

I do still bartend. I’ve been at it for years. I work at a craft beer bar a couple nights a week and also at a music venue bartending as well. What makes a good barman for me is someone who is constantly keeping your drink filled — no one wants to wait around for a drink.

You should also be able to entertain your customers, which is something I have spent a lot of time working on. I have all sorts of supplies and shit that get laughs out of people. I’m like a prop comedian behind a bar, getting you all sorts of hammered. I’ve got a flame torch that I set stuff on fire with, I have special pint glasses for special people, I play records while I bartend on brunch and I use that same torch to melt peoples butter for their pancakes. It’s hella stupid.

I think a good barman should be a good drinking companion as well. I love to drink and do shots with my regulars and have a good time like we’re just hangin’ out in my home or some shit. There’s a lot of weirdos that come in that don’t get this kind of treatment but I’ve met some interesting ass people from this line of work and I also get to see all my homies at work all the time.

I’m grateful to be a somewhat decent barman and I have a blast doing it, but at the same time I am also currently apprenticing to become a barber in South Philly. It’s another art I’d love to pursue and I’ve had an interest in since its rebirth a few years ago. I also got this opportunity through a good friend of mine that I met thru working at the bar. So if you’re in Philly come find me for a shot and a beer or a skin fade.

The barber thing sounds good. It’s hard to find a decent one. On that subject, what’s the best haircut you’ve ever had?

Probably this sick mod mullet that I had a couple years ago. I told my girlfriend Audrey I wanted to look like I was Tod Stewart or whatever and she laced me up proper.

Going back to the bar thing, you see much weird stuff working there? You ever have to lay down the justice? 

I see weird shit all the time — every weekend. I don’t ever lay down the law unless they directly disrespect me.

At this Young Jeezy show I bartended once, there was probably 50 people smoking blunts at once and security couldn’t do shit. I’m pretty sure I got a contact high, it was awesome. The worst I get is drunk bros at the other bar.

I gotta say I’m lucky, I work on the second floor upstairs bar and me and the homies hold it down up there, so we keep the pests out. Shout outs to the Exit crew and Choco Truck/A Town Trash crew for making weekends inevitably fun for a long time.

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I think Lino covered a fair bit in your 90East interview, but what was it like riding in Jersey back in the 90s? What was an average day back then?

It was awesome. It was a tight crew — there was a lot of driving and taking the train. We all lived close to trains that took us to NYC, Newark, Princeton, Philly and Trenton for real cheap/quick too.

I remember missing the last train from NYC to NJ at like 3am and just drinking beer at Union Square when I was like 15 and staying up ‘til the next train at 5:15am. That was fun, but I probably pissed my parents off.

An average day was just riding around Metuchen, Edison or New Brunswick with our crew. I was real young when I started BMXing so I didn’t know shit until I got my first BMX magazine called Tread. Before I had that I thought you were good if you could bunny-hop over a pile of sticks. I remember learning a smith grind on a metal bleacher and not even thinking it was possible. I was probably 12 or 13.

Who were the top dog Jersey riders back then? 

Everyone Animal related was the best from back then. Bob, George, Vinnie, Grimaldo, Ralph, Dolecki… just the guys a little older than us that we would see at Hackettstown skatepark or maybe one day luckily run into on the streets. The list of those guys is endless.

It’s crazy to think of how many crews we had all chillin’ together and riding. Great times back then and I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends.

It seems that New Jersey has fostered a high proportion of intriguing styles over the years, from Jesse Susecki to Gary Byrnes. Why do you think it’s such a hotbed for left-field bike-style?

It’s gotta be the spots. There must be something in the pork roll too.

What’s your all-time favourite Jersey spot? 

All-time favourite jersey spot has gotta be the black rail in New Brunswick. Couldn’t go a day without riding that thing for years.

Who made Shitty Angles? You’ve got some pretty mad clips in there. 

It was Jared Washington’s idea. We all filmed each other with a crummy camera and our old friend Tyrell Jason AKA Woodchunk ended up editing it I believe.

I was in my teens when we filmed that. My ender in that was a crooked grind down a rail. That clip ended up in Can I Eat?

You’ve cropped up in a fair few videos over the years. Can you give us a brief run-down of your discography?

Man that’s tough. Here goes: Shitty Angles, Jersey Riding 1-3, The Day is Over, Standpoint 4-6, Left Right, Animal Can I Eat?, Animal All Day, Animal Cuts, What Goes On 1/1.5, Skavenger, Butcher’s Random 1-2, Status Quo, Skapegoat 7, Rodeo Peanut… I’m sure there’s more but that’s all I’ve got right now off the top of my head.

Quite the portfolio. What’s the hardest trick you’ve ever done on a bike? 

Trick? Probably a 540 and landing fakie. If not a trick and we’re talking rails, then probably that long white curved rail in Troy, NY. It took a couple of visits to get that one. Either that or the rail with seven kinks in that I did in Rodeo Peanut. Those took the longest.

Who do you ride with these days? Do you still get out much?

I usually ride alone. My schedule is ass backwards so when everyone that rides is at work I’m off, and when everyone is off on the weekends, I’m working. I cruise around with the A Town Trash guys more than anyone.

I used to ride with Wiz a lot ‘til his neck and back gave him too much trouble. I go on trips from time to time usually with Ratkid, but when I’m at home it’s usually a solo mission. I ain’t disappearing or going anywhere though, I promise that.

A lot of people like to talk about the ‘good old days’ and all that. As someone who has ridden for a decent amount of time, how has riding changed since you first started?

There’s a lot more people into it now, especially in the city I live in. I feel like Philly is the new Austin. It’s sick — people are always in town and there’s always people out riding.

There’s also street jams constantly happening everywhere. It’s not my thing — too many people to be around — but I do wish they were poppin’ like this when I was younger.

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What modern riding stuff are you into?

I’m into seeing familiar faces and old heads putting out new stuff. The most recent Elf video was sick. Everything Bob keeps doing with Skapegoat is the best thing in BMX.

I’m being biased, but seeing how tight things are in Philly is sick. Berks St. is the best thing that’s happened to the city for BMX for as long as I can remember. I also like those retro Haro completes — I fuck with those heavy.

Going on from that, what modern stuff aren’t you into?

I kind of black out all the shit I don’t care about. If I see someone’s riding that I find to be utterly tasteless, or some corny bike part company from the middle of nowhere making kooky parts, I see it once and I move the heck on.

I don’t care about people tryin’ to get rich off riding either. I think that shits corny, but I try not to let it bother me. I stay around the people that I support and stick with my friends and that’s that.

But ohhhh… there’s plenty of shit I do not support.

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Do you think people took all that Rodeo Peanut stuff too seriously? It’s funny how angry people get. 

Of course they did. You take BMX too seriously, and the next thing you know you can’t take a joke. Now you’re the joke. It’s just BMX — step back and look at yourself.

ATTENTION ALL BMXERS: you’re sick, but you’re not that sick. That’s goes for everyone that couldn’t handle the humour from the past as well.

Haha – I think I’ve pretty much run out of questions now. Any wise words of wondrous wisdom for our readers?

In the wise words of one of my mentors named Asmar Thomas, “Treat yourself, don’t cheat yourself.” Peace.

Face Value from Chris Reyes is available from Central Library now.

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