A while ago, we sat down for a pizza and pint with Jacob Harris to chat about his Pieces of Palestine edit, Atlantic Drift and his ongoing work with Isle Skateboards. Interview by Chris Jones and Theo Krish.
T: Let’s start at the beginning - what got you into filming skateboarding?
I don’t know, I think I just wanted to copy skate videos that already existed, but I would alway envision more skits and stuff and I was always excited about that. The first skate video that I ever made was when I was 12 and it was all like kung fu fights and I was editing little lightening bolts coming from everyones faces and stuff.
TK: What were you influenced by at the time? In my head I’m thinking videos like Mouse or Goldfish.
At the time I hadn’t seen anything like that. It was just influenced by shit films, just wanting to create narratives with your friends.
TK: Who was in that first video?
Josh Cox was in that video but no one else that anyone would know the name of.
TK: What about these days, where does your current inspiration come from?
It's kind of hard to say because sometimes when you put sound, music and footage together you just know that it works and that it's probably referencing something you’ve picked up from somewhere else, but you couldn’t necessarily say what that is.
TK: Would you say the stuff you’ve done since Vase has been more 'you being you' rather than you doing things for Isle?
Yeah totally. Not having to worry about selling boards or keeping within the consistency of an image means that you basically have complete freedom and I try to take advantage of that. But Pieces of Palestine is still meant to be in line with Isle output.
CJ: So whilst it fitted in with the aesthetic of Isle, did Pieces of Palestine feel more like an independent project, like the Atlantic Drift series?
I wouldn’t say that I borrowed from Atlantic Drift at all apart from using a lot of 16mm but that's kind of my set up normally now anyway. It was skewed slightly anyway because it’s a video that's in collaboration with you guys (SkatePal), so it had to be useful in different ways compared to a normal Isle edit. I would say that there are more audiences to address.
CJ: What was your process for fitting it in with SkatePal?
I wanted to give slightly more of a voice to the people of Palestine. I didn’t want to give too much of a voice to anyone in particular because I didn’t want to create too much of a narrative, but I just wanted to show the place. Obviously we are making something non-political, so the tack I took was to show a little bit of the place and the easiest way to do that is to have somebody from there talk about it.
Palestine is a place where it’s much more about the people that are living there than rather than the space itself. It's a place that doesn't exist in the global imagination of skateboarding that much. So it’s about showing that skating does exist there, just in a different way to what we're used to.
It’s definitely going to be similar in a lot of ways because anyone who creates things has their language. I don’t think that I’m a craftsman in that I can choose to work in a lot of different ways, it’s more like I have a territory that I patrol. For me they are all very separate but I can see that to someone whose not inside my brain they’re definitely similar, but that's just because they come from me.
CJ: One thing that I’ve always liked about your edits and maybe this is me reading too much into it, but there's perhaps intentional hidden references or messages in your videos. Were there any hidden messages in POP?
I totally get what you’re saying and I agree. I think that ‘messages’ is the wrong word because when you make something you can try and explain it using other examples or a similar feeling or idea. I figured out that I try and make things feel a lot like a memory and feel like you’re watching something that has happened before or maybe happened to you. So I try to create these kinds of archetypal images but that's perhaps over analysis, it’s probably a bit more instinctive than that.
I know Palestine is a very complex place and region politically and socially and I didn’t want to try and put my own narrative over the place. I was only there for 10 days and I knew that any attempt to do that would be offensive and would probably fall short of the complexities of the place, so instead I just tried to let the place speak for itself.
CJ: Did you have any idea what things you wanted to try and focus on before you went to Palestine?
I watched some other videos and looked at photos of Palestine but I didn’t really know what I wanted to represent beforehand. I’m always interested in places that are less visited and where global capitalism has crept in in strange ways and I enjoy looking out of for that.
CJ: That cultural cross over is something that's interesting in the very nature of skateboarding existing in somewhere like Palestine.
Yeah it’s something that's a bit surreal at times. It's really fun doing what we're doing but at times it's easy to take skateboarding too seriously and for some guy in the street it may seem absurd - and it is absurd! You obviously question 'what are we doing here?'.
Throughout the edit I would continually ask myself ‘what is the purpose of this film?’ And I guess it was to encourage people to visit Palestine.
TK: Do you feel happy with the outcome of the film, do you think it does that?
I don’t know because I don’t really think one of my skills is to make a place look attractive. That’s not what I naturally lean towards when I look at things, but I hope so! It’s a beautiful place so it kind of speaks for itself.
TK: We chatted the other day about how you don’t read the YouTube comments about Atlantic Drift and stuff, but how do you think people will respond to this edit and do you care?
I did imagine an audience quite a few times whilst I was editing but I don't know. It’s way less skating and it’s a bit more indulgent in a lot of ways but I hope that it’s enjoyable to watch.
CJ: How did the edit change over the period of time you were making it?
To start with I didn’t try to structure it. One night I just went through the footage whilst listening to a Roy Orbison song and thought that it was sick. Whenever I get 16mm back I usually watch it whilst listening to Roy Orbison just because it goes really well. I didn’t edit it for a long time because I was busy and we were waiting for an opportunity to bring it out, and then when I came back to it I found it really difficult to structure.
I didn’t really know how to structure it because I was editing it almost a year later and I couldn’t really remember what had really happened, so I thought it would be good to structure it around people's memories of the trip. So that was a turning point really, I got everyone in and asked them questions about what they remembered and I was like, 'okay this now makes it easier for me to understand the edit'. Even if it still doesn’t make that much sense it makes a hell of a lot more sense than it did before!
TK: Your recent films delve more into sound, which is still quite unusual within the format of a skate video. Is that a direction you're looking to keep exploring?
For me it comes from shooting film and most of the time when you shoot film you don’t record sound simultaneously. So that’s where it came from. Basically when you first try and do that you do it badly and that sounds really interesting and amazing because when things don’t quite match up it creates this interesting effect. And that interests me as I’m always trying to explore ways in which that can work and that's fun.
TK: Is there anyone else who influences you in that respect?
I don’t think so. I know Pontus (Alv) has done stuff with sound before but I don’t think it came from there. I think he was one of the only people doing it really, he didn’t take it too far but I remember really liking what he did.
TK: Yeah I remember watching Strongest of the Strange and it felt very different to everything else at the time (2005).
Yeah I loved that video.
TK: It created another world that you don’t usually get from a skate video and I’m personally really interested in seeing how people take this direction.
I would hope that if there’s ever a time where you could do something different it would be now. Like obviously we are over saturated with content that's all quite similar, but I feel like people should really enjoy someone taking things to another dimension.
I mean 50% of video is sound really when it comes down to it and if somebody is trying to engage you in a way that is relatively unexplored I feel like there should be a lot of mileage in that. A skateboard video is about bringing people into this sort of world and if a part of that world is lacking then it's going to be less powerful.
TK: Did you feel more pressure with Pieces of Palestine as a result of the popularity of Atlantic Drift?
I made a decision to do what I want to do as it seems to work better that way and I don’t really feel the pressure. I feel that if I like something then I’m happy and there will always be people who are like ‘what the fuck are these jelly fish?’ And then there are always going to people that are into it. But if everyone started slating it then I’d probably hide in my shell.
I’d be lying if I said that when I made Atlantic Drift I didn’t imagine an audience because there are still certain things that are kind of my duty to do, which is make a video that's as entertaining and dynamic as possible so that people who spend time skating in front of my camera get the shine they deserve. If I went on a complete flight of fancy then people would probably switch off and wouldn’t see people like Casper (Brooker) and Tom (Knox) skating. So I have to keep within certain boundaries and sometimes I work on edits and I’m like 'this is too much' so I have to reign it in.
TK: Do you think Palestine fits the aesthetic of the Isle guys skating?
I would say yes because no one was forcing themselves to skate things outside of their element. There were plenty of spots we didn’t skate and the ones we did skate reflect the things the guys usually skate.
CJ: How was your experience with 16mm film going through Ben Gurion Airport?
I mean usually airports are fine with it. They’ll put it through the scanner and fob it all or whatever they do but in this case they were like 'no we're going to open your camera up to see what's inside'. And I still had half a roll of film inside, and I was like ‘please could you not expose it because it’ll destroy the film’ and they said ‘you can either finish the film or its going to be destroyed’ so I said ‘great what can I film?’ and they were like ‘this rainbow wall over here’.
So I pointed my camera and filmed about a £100 worth of rainbow wall and I was like ‘is there anything else I can film’? And surprisingly they let me film the air field which I actually used at the end of the New York Atlantic Drift episode. The security woman next to me thought it was very funny and said ‘is that what you use to film instead of your iPhone?’ I was so fuming at the time so I didn’t really respond (laughter).
CJ: Haha. Is there any connection between the Isle x SkatePal board and Pieces of Palestine?
I had nothing to with the board so not intentionally, but I’m sure Nick (Jensen) took a similar approach in making the board. The film is called ‘Pieces of Palestine’ because I didn’t want to cast my narrative over the place and I couldn’t make an edit make that much sense if I did. I’m sure the same applies to Nick in that he wouldn’t want to try and represent a place in just one or two images, it’s better to take archetypal objects and just have them be there.
TK: OK last question - what keeps you filming?
I don’t know, I would like to say that it's to push my friends but I'm not sure. I guess I get some sort of validation and gratification from it. It’s fun! I’m lucky to be able to make things how I want to. But if I really wanted to make my own things then it probably wouldn’t be skateboarding (laughter). But within a certain framework I’m very lucky and I still love skateboarding.