Senn Ozawa: Skateboard File IV

, 2010/06/04

The current issue of Sb, The 2010 Photo Annual, bears an attention-grabbing gold reflective font and runs the musing title, “A life with a piece of wood and four wheels.” More than a quote, this phrase is enough to adequately echo the Sb editorial ethos of portraying skateboarding. Featuring a series of thought pieces on the aforementioned adage from a diverse array of contributing pros and photographers such as Taro Hirano, Deshi, Anthony Van Englen and Honma, Ozawa establishes the issue’s tone with a pensive pen in the opening editor’s note, “Today, the fascination and power of print is endangered and I would like to restate the appeal and excitement of printing photos on paper, or should I say, printing skateboards on paper.” The last issue, The New Year Issue (2010), was in much the same vain, Ozawa seems to keep the same editorial stride asking, “What are you doing with a piece of wood and four wheels? It is indeed our initial impulse and everything for us….The answer can be simply skateboarding and it can also be something with a twist.”

Senn Ozawa, co-founder and editor of Sb for nine years now, runs the magazine almost entirely by himself, flanked by photo editor Taro Hirano and their designer who takes care of layouts. Previously, Ozawa and Hirano cut their teeth with an earlier skateboard magazine called Wheel. “Back when we were doing Wheel, which only existed through the boom years of the late 90s, it got to be too much, too hectic and just had to fold with the boom, and when we decided to keep going and started up Sb, we knew that taking things a bit slower, two times a year, would be the perfect balance.” With all original content, that means no client tie-ups, Sb exudes an independent feel with a decidedly minimal layout and even though its only released twice a year, the publication maintains enough of a static presence on Tokyo’s streets, skate shops and newsstands that it stays in the minds of skaters across town.

While Sb shows content from all over the globe, and a careful balance of about sixty percent of Japanese skaters, the publications words nor perspective are completely Japanese. Foreign correspondents, or pros with computers, report from their cities and scenes about the goings-on to make sure that Tokyo, Sb and its readers are plugged in. However, with the editor-in-chief in Tokyo, Ozawa chooses to portray his local city through a variety of photographs which for the editor means plenty of nocturnal shooting and rather rarely, “do we show skate park photos, it’s mostly, if not all, street style. Sure we can all enjoy skateparks but when you go out there, it’s just the feeling. Street skating is more challenging and not everyone can skate everything; people realize they have limits and strengths on the streets.”

With the year’s best in photos from their list of select photographers, including a few by our beloved Yuri Shibuya, the current issue is more of an artistic exposé on the life of skateboarding and what skaters actually do when they are not skating. The documentary-style reportage shows everything from abandoned, hard to reach spots to skaters pushing for the distance, traveling, in contemplation, recovering from injury or exploring in search of the elusive Shangri-la. The spread continues to show composites of what touring vans really look like as well as spreads of kids enjoying skateboarding with a kind of pure fun and innocence which not only remind of skateboarding’s next crop but as well as the sheer joy of skateboarding. With enough room to fit in art works related and influenced by skateboarding, the photo annual sums up the year in a deep breathe of one hundred and sixteen pages and it’s available for just 476 Yen. “When I would go skating, I wouldn’t usually bring my wallet because it would get in the way. I always just had coins in my pocket. Making Sb available for the cost of one 500 Yen coin was important so every skater could get it wherever.”

“I think one thing that people can sense from of the photos in our pages, in particular in Tokyo, is a sense of crowdedness. Readers can see that most things in Tokyo, such as in the background of photos, are cramped or small. There just aren’t so many big and wide skate spots in Tokyo, the city is just that dense.” Rather than see that as something negative, Sb and Ozawa are energized by a self-declared ethos of firstly going spot seeking, then doing a trick and then showing it in a clear and visual way. “As far as how the photo spreads work, we either call up a skater directly and tell them we’d like to show them skating at a particular spot. We ask them if they have a particular trick in mind for this particular spot and let it simmer. If there’s a particular trick we’d like to show at a spot, then we run down a list of skaters and call one up. Word on the street can play a role too. When we hear someone is up and coming or getting hot right now, we want to know. For the Monochrome spread with Deshi, one of our photographers, Iseki, showed me a black and white photo he liked and thought we should do a monochrome feature. When we called Deshi, he was excited to do it so we the spread of black and white photos came together nicely, which made us happy since it is seldom that we run black and white photographs.”

When pressed for where he wants to take Sb next, Ozawa answered with yet another pensive editorial goal, “well we’ve never done a tour-style issue. We’re always doing a lot of Tokyo-based content, which is great and all, but I think we’d really like to hit the road with four different teams, each made up of a photographer, editor and skaters, even a mix of some Japanese and foreign skaters and then map out different tour routes and all converge again in Tokyo. It’d be great, pretty epic for us and even better if it came out like a kind of guidebook too.”

Sb is available at skateboard shops and most major book stores throughout Japan.

In Ozawa’s twelve years of publishing, the Nihon Kogakuin building in Shinjuku, has been the most-photographed location.



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