By Robert Brink
Photos: Allen Ying, from the 43 media kit.
Allen Ying is a Brooklyn-based skateboarder and photographer who discovered skateboarding at age 11. At 15, he borrowed a friend’s camera to take some pictures …
“At the time I was looking at skate mags a lot and was really impressed with the quality of the photos in them,” Ying says. “This was probably ’98 or ’99, when Philly was in TransWorld all the time. Seeing that stuff in the magazines kind of sold me on the idea of shooting skate photos.”
Shortly after came a leg fracture. With his newfound free time, Allen’s began shooting more. Then, at age 18, came the move to Manhattan to attend F.I.T. for a degree in photography.
Fast-forward to July of 2011. The entire skate community was introduced to the concept of Allen’s new baby, 43 magazine. And for the next month, we watched and donated in suspense as he, with the help of Kickstarter.com, attempted to raise a minimum of $20,000 to get the mag up and running.
305 backers and $23,583 later, on August 29, 2011— the mission was accomplished.
First off, congratulations on getting 43 funded.
Had you tried traditional funding for 43 before Kickstarter?
Yeah. I pursued all the advertisers. I spent a month in California visiting all the companies. I never knew this, but people plan their entire year’s budgets two months before the year even starts. It’s crazy. So I was coming in March trying to do something for mid-year and their entire budgets for the rest of the year had already been planned.
We got a couple advertisers in there but it wasn’t enough to put out an issue. I almost gave up, then decided to give Kickstarter a chance. That was a mission in itself, but it all worked out.
Before something like Kickstarter, if you wanted to start a business, you’d have to take out a big loan or find an investor, which, for one thing, who do you start asking? And the other thing is, what are they gonna want out of it?
Kickstarter lets you keep your vision and do it the way you want to. You don’t have to return the money, you just have to pay a percentage to them when you get funded and offer a reward or incentive for anyone donating.
Going into it, did you think you’d get the $20,000? It’s all or nothing funding, right?
Yes. If you don’t reach $20,000, you get nothing. I kept going back and forth in my mind. Some days I’d be like, “I don’t even know if this’ll work.” And other days, “No, this will work. People are gonna be psyched.”
People donated pretty generously it seems.
I’m pretty sure the majority put in $25 to have the first issue mailed to them. I think that’s pretty rad. it’s not just pre-ordering—it’s a donation with a pre-order. There were some prints were for sale as well so those got bigger donations.
So why a print magazine right now? Seems a bit risky.
I think it’s probably more important now than when there were too many magazines. Not to talk shit and not just referring to skateboarding, but there are so many magazines that are just terrible—they just shouldn’t even be around. And everyone looks at them anyway. But the ones that should be around should be a little more worth your while—worth keeping and having something decent to look at.
As far as I’ve seen, skateboard magazines play a huge role in the culture. It’s changing so much and a lot of the real essence that makes it awesome is kind of slipping away, skateboarding is so amazing, so to me, skateboarding deserves something better.
I think 43 is special. The minute you look at it and hold it you realize it’s more than just a monthly skate mag with the hot rider on the cover, the tour article, whatever dude with an interview inside because he’s promoting whatever video he’s in or just turned pro.
Yeah, that was just the media kit. A little 28-page thing we sent out with the photos we had available at the time. I really love those photos. There were only 200 of those media kits printed. About 100 were mailed out and the rest I gave to people that I need to show 43 to. Hopefully the copies that I sent out have an impact.
Reading the skate forums and stuff, it seems so many kids don’t even get magazines these days. Someone will scan a cover or interview and post it and kids will be like, “Oh sick, maybe I’ll go and buy that issue!”
Pondering buying an issue of a skate mag, versus having a subscription or definitely buying it, to me, is crazy. In my world you were supposed to have a subscription to every skateboard mag or somehow get it at the shop every month. Seeing this change was when I really began accepting the decline of print.
Yeah, it’s definitely sad. That’s a big part of why 43 is a free magazine. It’ll be there at the shop and you’ll see it and hopefully get a copy.
Mike Anderson’s recent interview in TransWorld was talking about how kids don’t have that experience of going to the shop and getting the local history from the older dudes and stuff anymore. It’s sad. And maybe that’s part of the problem.
I noticed a lot of skate footage in the Kickstarter clip. Is there going to be a digital component to 43?
My plan is to just focus on the print element and the gallery shows. So instead of a digital component, there’s an in-person component.
There’s definitely gonna be a website to let people know what’s going on, but it won’t be like a skate magazine’s website where they post about other stuff all over the Internet. It’s the kind of thing that I’m not just gonna force myself to do because that’s what other people are doing. I hate going to a site and seeing 20 things to flip through since the last time I was there. It’s like, “I’m not coming back here because I can’t keep up!”
You have on “old soul” mentality. You use film instead of digital; you started a print mag in 2011 …
[Laughs] Maybe. Obviously I use a computer for many things. A lot of things I see happening don’t really make sense, but everybody’s into it because it’s the new hot thing. But if you stop to look at it you’re like, “Wait a minute … this kind of sucks.”
To me, being on a computer all the time sucks. Computers are supposed to make everyone’s lives easier, but now most people are sitting in front of a computer all day in an office. In terms of life, that seems like a terrible way to exist.
Even in making this magazine—I’m not out shooting photos all the time like I used to be and it kind of sucks. Staring at a computer screen isn’t that dope.
Who inspires you in skateboarding photography?
Back in the day, Ryan Gee and Atiba really stood out to me. Probably because I only had access to TransWorld and they were covering so much of Philly. All that medium format film in those days—the 35mm and the square fisheye. I don’t know if I knew at the time that that’s what made it look so sick, but that’s what I think back to now. Like Wenning’s switch back 180 cover.
Does your affinity for that sort of thing lend itself to the very square nature of 43?
Yeah, that’s kind of a factor. I’m really into Mike O’Meally, Dave Chami, and Brian Gaberman. I miss when those guys were shooting film. But they’re doing a decent job with digital. It’s a new thing to get used to and I think it’s actually harder to have digital look as magical as film. Film is what made a lot of those photographers special for me.
Oliver Barton, John Bradford and Zander Taketomo are holding it down with medium format film. That extra thought process really helps a lot of photographers’ work and gives it a more magical feel and does the skateboarding more justice.
So is it harder to have your work stand out with digital than it is with film?
Probably. I don’t know. I try to not shoot digital anymore. I think it’s just a different thing; it’s learning it differently. I’m really impressed with all the European skate photographers. Generally speaking, I feel like European photos and magazines kind of make a lot of the American skate photographers look embarrassing. I look at their stuff and I suddenly don’t even like my stuff anymore, [laughs]. That’s why I hit them up to be part of 43.
There’s a strong eco-focus to how 43 is produced, correct?
It’s been this personal venture of mine—paying attention to things and making little life changes here and there to help the environment. So I was like, “Fuck, am I really gonna produce and pay for and redirect money towards this many thousands of pounds of paper?”
To me it’s kind of obvious to be conscious about and it’s another thing that hopefully shows that thought was put into 43. I’m pretty sure most of the people working at other magazines don’t really have the option to make those changes. They’d probably have to battle with some bureaucracy to do it. And there’s a certain amount of research that it took to figure out a lot of this stuff.
When can we expect issue #1?
I’m aiming for mid-October.
How do we get a copy? The local skate shop?
Yeah. It’s bi-monthly and going to about 500 shops across the U.S. and anybody who can’t find it can always write in and ask for a copy.
So you got this initial $20,000 to start 43, but what about maintaining down the line without another huge lump sum?
I don’t expect it not to be a challenge at this point. Everything worthwhile seems to be a challenge. But yeah, the $20,000 is to print a limited edition run of the first issue. I would have loved to do a lot more copies and everything but I think the $20,000 might be just enough to kick start the whole thing for the rest of the year or longer.
It’s funny you mentioned the “media risk” before, because in the art and fashion and photography worlds, I keep seeing new publications that are a lot more refined and people are super into it. And it’s sick. It’s not like you’re looking at W magazine or something full of ads. There are way thicker mags that seem fairly independent and people are paying $20 a copy for them, which is ridiculous. So I don’t know what part is a risk. It’s not like I’m the only one making an indie magazine in the world.
I’m referring to the shift from print to digital content. I think the gut reaction to seeing someone start a print mag right now is like, “Whoa! That’s sketchy.” We all have a special place in our hearts for print mags and we all want them to stick around, but there’s a reality to it as well and much of the industry is struggling.
That’s another reason 43 has to be extra good. To me, when somebody does something to please an audience or do what the audience wants … that’s a backwards approach to doing something. I think it makes a lot more sense to do what you believe in and what you can influence people with as opposed to just giving people what they want.