I recently contacted Tom Quigley to discuss the workings of his history skateboarding and shooting, Varial Magazine and DIY in the East Midlands!
All photos by Tom Quigley
Hi Tom, could you give us your history in Skateboarding? (pre Varial)
Let's see, I started skating in the early 2000s – and began snapping photos of mates skating almost immediately. That's what prompted me to get my first camera, learn the basics, and then go on to do a photography degree a few years later. I only knew a few skaters in Nottingham during those first few years, so didn't have any concept of the “scene” and what was happening in the wider skateboarding world, other than what I read in Document or Sidewalk. It felt more like our own little world, skating the Old Market Square and Broadmarsh Banks without any idea of the history embedded into those slabs and bricks! While at uni I was living in Northampton, unfortunately right after the closure of Radlands, so it was very quiet there at that time - the Radlands plaza would still be a long way off, and I barely met any new people through skateboarding. Moving back to Nottingham was the best thing I ever did, as around that time, 2010/11, Notts gained Clifton skatepark and Forty Two skateshop – 2 key factors in pushing our city's skateboarding to what it is today.
Broadmarsh Banks, 2007
A few years ago you started Varial, what made you initially want to do it, and how did you make the first issue happen?
I actually had the idea whilst I was in Northampton, but knew so few people and was shooting so little as a result, that it just remained an idea. A pipe dream, almost. When back in Nottingham, I spent a good couple of years shooting, meeting new skaters, and also started seeing more photographers documenting the growing local scene – which was perfect, as I always envisioned the mag being a group thing showing as much variety as possible. This would also be the time when Grey was pretty much the only alternative magazine to Sidewalk, Kingpin etc – and it showed, as did North Mag a little later, that making it a free publication was a good way to get something out to lots of people without it hinging on whether they'd part with their cash for it. So I began contacting a load of photographers who I knew personally, or whose work I had seen online, talking about the idea of putting a small mag together, and they were naturally pretty keen to be involved and see their work in print. I covered the cost of taking issue 1 to print myself – I only did 120 copies at this stage – and then distributed it to a handful of Nottingham venues.
Why East Midlands-only coverage? Have you ever thought about opening up submissions to a wider area?
Well initially it was only Nottinghamshire, which must be a testament to the number of skaters and photographers that were producing images here around then! After the first 2 issues I realised it would be better to cover the whole region, so that if I got the mag out around the country it would show more than just one city's skateboarding. By the time I was working on issue 3 I was getting a better feel for Varial's identity as well, and I wanted it to have a unique focus – something to give it a different theme from any other skate photography mag. Plus, as much as I love seeing skateboarding from around the world, I think it's great to be able to get our local people and places a bit of coverage, and show that there's a lot going on here! So we currently take no submissions from the rest of the world unfortunately – there may be some minor exceptions when it comes to articles about East Midlands people, but for the most part the location is one of the most important parts of each image.
Having said that you seem to have a good number of contributors from a wide area, are there any particular areas of the East Midlands you’d like to get more contributions from?
Rutland! Officially part of the East Midlands, it's one of the smallest and sparsely-populated counties in the country – I don't think I've seen any photos of skateboarding from there. Past Varial contributor Patrick Sampson actually grew up there, and we used to joke about driving down just to shoot something Rutland-based for the mag. But yeah, the range of contributing photographers has been great so far – and of course I'm always keen to receive submissions from new people; there must be so many spots and parks yet to be photographed! I'm also aiming to have a few key contributors based in Derby, Leicester, Northampton & Lincolnshire, to help keep Varial moving with regular content and fresh ideas.
Ian Rees, Crooked Grind, Nottingham, 2015
I know you get various advertisers in for each issue, how did you approach each one, and does the fact that you’re East Mids only affect what advertisers you attract/want?
Yes, we’ve had some great support and I’m really grateful to everyone who’s helped the magazine by paying for an ad. The biggest hurdle for each and every issue is affording the printing and distribution costs – but with the mag showcasing some incredible local skateboarding and the work of some exceptional photographers; it feels like it’s my duty to get it out to as many people as possible around the country! Varial is stocked in over 40 independent skate shops and parks around the country now, so I’m confident the advertisers are getting their business/company seen by the right people. There’s no regional restriction for advertisers – as long as we have the shared values of independent, skater-owned projects, I’m stoked to support them and spread the word of what they’re doing, and hopefully they’ll feel the same about Varial. All of our advertisers so far have been independent, skater-owned shops, companies and businesses – people doing great things for UK skateboarding who I want to see do well. Naturally we’ve gained plenty of local East Mids support since we started – shoutout to Forty Two, Milk skateshop & Nonstop (R.I.P.) for backing us from the beginning.
Any plans for Issue 5 yet? Do you have an intended theme for each issue or is the content decided by what is submitted?
Winter’s been tough, as ever, but I’ve already got some great shots set aside for issue 5. There’s not usually a theme, the “Shots” photo section is certainly based on what submissions come in. With the past couple of issues I’ve been putting together “photo articles”, which tell more of a story with the images – documenting an event, a particular spot, or focussing on a local skater or photographer. I’ve got a list of potential article ideas I want to do, so they just depend on which I can shoot first - but again, submissions of all kinds are welcome and I’d love to see some other photographers pitching article ideas.
In both your own photography and the submitted work for the magazine, you seem to favour the more artistic side of skate photography (particularly David Wallace’s shots from the latest issue). Is this a conscious decision?
I guess it’s just my own taste with the stuff I shoot – but I certainly keep an open mind with any and all skate photography submitted for possible use in the mag. If we all shot fisheye on the bottom step it’d be a pretty boring magazine to put together! I like to see as much variety as possible; however you might be documenting our local skateboarding. (Although I guess I should say I don’t keep a completely open mind…I can’t abide sequences!)
The Tunnel Spread, taken from Varial Issue 3
In the last two issues, DIY spots seem to have taken a more prominent place in the magazine, with Footitt’s Tunnel spot featuring heavily in Issue 3 and the Notts DIY in Issue 4. I know there’s been an increase in DIY spots in the East Mids over the last year or so, do you think there’s a particular reason for so many springing up at once?
Yeah, I'm not too sure really – I guess everyone just got pretty hyped on the DIY attitudes of making something from nothing and carving out a spot of their own. I loved shooting The Tunnel in Grantham for issue 3 – such an interesting spot to photograph. I'm definitely keen to see more East Midlands DIY photos going into Varial, as they’re not just the documentation of a spot; those images show the result of the locals' well spent time and effort!
Unknown, Feeble Transfer, Nottingham, 2015
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve personally been involved with the build at the Notts DIY, how do you manage your time between skating yourself, shooting and creating the mag, building and actual real life activities? You seem very productive!
Haha, cheers man – yeah I like to keep busy, always with a few projects on the go at once. I suck at skating anyway so that helps me manage my time! I've always prioritised shooting photos, at weekends and any other given chance around the 9-5, so I skate after the photo missions when I just want to relax a little. Can't wait for them long summer evenings again! Most of the work for each issue of the mag is done in the few months preceding its release, so for the time being I'm just putting aside photos and speaking with people about submissions. That does give me chance to think about building more at our Notts DIY, Trentside - especially now that winter is on its way out and the puddles are drying!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Cheers Paul for the interview – looking forward to seeing the first Hangup zine in printed form! And to anyone reading - throw away your television and go out and create something!