By Maurice Cacho
Second-year photography student Andrew Norton has plenty of reasons to be nervous.
It’s 2 a.m. and he’s outside a Mississauga Silver City theatre setting up a remote flash. But Norton isn’t going to snap pics of the giant alien-like theatre.
His friend coasts on a skateboard along an upper walkway, leaps up, then grinds down a waist-high concrete ledge, arms spread apart for balance while flashes of light illuminate his figure in the dark.
Some shots turn out, but plans are thwarted when an employee runs out of the building and tries to kick them out. He grabs Norton’s remote flash from the ground and turns towards the closed cinema.
“I guess for me, it’s kind of like an everyday thing,” he said.
But the risk was worth it. One of the photos he took that night was published in a Canadian skateboard magazine and is currently on display at the “Get Rad” exhibit, Norton’s first photo show at the Adrift skateboard shop in Kensington Market.
Lounging on a couch inside Adrift, the 20-year old reveals he’s a skater at heart. Dark hair curls out from underneath his hat, a plain white shirt hides under his denim jacket and tattered black Nike skate shoes lie beneath his jeans.
While the sound of wheels landing on concrete echoes in the shop’s indoor skate park, Norton suggests students think beyond traditional nature shots to capture unique images.
“I think people don’t imagine that realm when they’re just a regular student. They think, ‘Oh, I’ll just take my camera outside and take pictures of scenery,’” he says.
“But when you’re a skateboarder you’re hopping fences and going to spots. It’s two in the morning and you’re laying down at the bottom of stairs. You have the mentality that it’s not a big deal to go out of your way for a shot. You get down and dirty.”
Norton didn’t even consider photography until he messed around with his father’s old camera in grade 12.
“You know how everyone’s dad has an old camera in the closet and it’s like, ‘don’t touch this?’” he says.
So the boy who spent summers beating video games and grinding in skate parks set out to take pictures of, well, practically everything.
“Then my birthday came and my mom got me Photography for Dummies,” he says. But before he tried to take pictures like the ones in the skateboard magazines he read growing up, he needed the right equipment.
“It was kinda like a sacred thing, taking pictures of skateboarding, because you see all these amazing photos,” Norton explains. “So I felt that if I wanted to take skateboarding photography, I wanted to do it right.”
At the time, he was in his first year of an academic media program at the University of Western Ontario, but he realized it was too academic for his practical mentality.
“Ryerson is so much cooler in terms of being downtown,” he says. “The people seem more approachable. At Western, it was a bit of a fashion show. What I notice at Ryerson is that there’s just so many types of people.”
He never intended to have his work published at first. But since Western, he’s had photos published in skateboard magazine Concrete Powder and the SBC Photo Annual, where one of his night time images graced the magazine’s centrespread.
“When you picture a show, you think of pretentious people in a gallery,” he says. “The skaters really enjoyed it and a lot of people who didn’t skate came by to check out the photos and really respected them.”
Norton doesn’t know when his next show will be, but he has a spot lined up in the next SBC Photo Annual.
“Get Rad” ends in late October, sothe Oakville native is gearing up to get out and take advantage of Toronto’s photographic prospects again.
“It’s like little fish in a big pond.” And for Norton, swimming in a world of skateboard photography is what he likes best.
“If you enjoy what you do, it’s never work.”