“What camera you using right now?” is the last thing I recall Edwin De La Rosa saying to me when we saw each other at Max Fish a few months back.
I pulled out the same model of camera I have been shooting with for nearly 10 years and he responded with a grin, pulling up his pant leg to show me a tattoo of the same camera. Without a doubt, Edwin has a love for photography and he’s always where he needs be to get the best photos: in the streets. My initial encounter with his work was from a zine I found at a shop we both used to frequent and the place we met. I later realized that he had access to a world others did not when I saw his action photos of both Adek and Lewy, two prolific and elusive graffiti writers. Over the last few years Edwin has begun to show his work in various galleries and garnish attention online, but he had already amassed a huge following as a highly influential BMX rider. He was named number 9 most influential rider in the last 20 years by Ride BMX magazine and the legitimacy of that status has been backed by others I know who ride. For the occasion of the 2016 Los Angeles Art Book Fair, The Flopbox will be releasing a new zine entitled Private Property featuring the photography of Edwin De La Rosa. Today we caught up with Edwin while he’s on the road and most likely in the streets, wherever that is.
You grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, which for those who are not familiar, is a very ethnically diverse place that can have its grimy moments. What was growing up like there? Was there a lot of West Indian food being eaten?
My experience growing up in Flatbush was a great time. Of course it was grimy, but to me it was regular shit. When I was going to junior high is when the Blood and Crip gang shit was really starting to flourish in the streets. That was a site to see, razor tag was the game that was being played heavy in the streets. But besides the grimy shit, it was a beautiful place to grow up. Prospect Park was right there and of course, the food. Flatbush was where I was introduced to jerk chicken at a very young age. And luckily, I grew up right next to, in my opinion, the best jerk chicken spot ever, which is called Peppa’s. Real cats know about it. I love Flatbush. Every time i go back I feel so comfortable.
All the native New Yorkers I know can’t spend too much time away from the five boroughs without wanting to head back, but when we last spoke you said you had been out West for a while now and you were enjoying your stay. How’s the Left Coast treating you and would you ever consider residing there?
That is true. I can’t leave for too long before I want to head back. I just think it’s the greatest city in the world. It’s where I grew up, my family is there, the homies are there. I can travel all around the world when I’m in NYC. I can go to Flushing, Queens and be in Asia, go to the Heights and be in DR, North Bronx and be in Jamaica, Author Ave and be in Italy, and go to Jackson Heights, which is the most diverse community in the world. It’s endless. Trains run 24/7. But at the same time I love to travel. The West has been treating me good. I’ve been thinking about moving out here for a little bit just to change it up. I think need that. I never had the opportunity to move somewhere and try to figure out a new town. Who knows, though. I’ll see what happens.
Can you recall when you realized that you wanted to start shooting film and taking photography seriously? And was riding BMX sort of your gateway drug into shooting photos?
I’ma answer the question a little backwards, but BMX was the gateway drug; bikes were the reason I started shooting in the first place. I’d already been riding a couple of years so all I’ve ever seen was NYC and a little bit of Jersey, so to be going on my first trip out the tri-state was a big deal for me at 15. My Moms for some reason gave me a few disposable cameras to bring with me and I ended up using ‘em all and remember when I came back and got the film developed how happy I was and that always stuck with me. So after that I started going on more trips and I bought more and more cameras. And at first it was just riding but then I liked the stuff that was going on when we weren’t riding. In terms of taking photography seriously, I just started within the past few years with showing work and making a zine or two, but nothing crazy. I just care about shooting.
We use some of the same compact cameras for shooting photos and I’m wondering if you break a lot of cameras because you’re out late night and partying with them?
Oh yeah. I break ‘em and lose them all the time when we’re out kicking it. It’s getting expensive. But it’s all good. Shooting and developing makes me really fucking happy. I could be going through a shitty time in my life where everything sucks. Going in and out of jail. But photography always makes me feel good.
You predominately shoot in black and white which, in my opinion, is your strongest work, but occasionally you will shoot some color. Is that decision based solely on what is available at the time or do you like using both?
It’s basically solely on what’s available at the time. I might buy a bunch of B&W and run out and end up going to Walgreens to get some bullshit color film. It’s seriously random.
That dude, Hoder, is someone I used to always see by your side and is one of your most photographed subjects. It seems like when you two are together it’s ruckus.
Yeah, he ended up moving to NYC in 2011 from Seattle and we just ended up kicking all the time. I’d show him all the spots that I could think of and after riding all day that would lead to some wild nights, getting into shit and I would for the most part have one of my cameras on me so I would just shoot everything we did. I’ll like to do a Hoder zine one day.
Was there a particular zine you remember seeing that inspired you to make your own?
Yeah, back in ‘08 I bought a zine that the homie Massan made and it just got me hyped. It gave me insight to life in SF. After that, I wanted to make my own and show some NYC life. If someone that’s never been to NY can look at my photos and feel like they’re there, I like that.
I heard that you’re a harsh personal critic when it comes riding BMX, photography and other endeavors. How true is that rumor? Haha
That is true. I pretty much don’t like too much shit I do. I always feel like it could be better. When I would film a video part I would just watch it once when it came out then not watch it for years. Same with photos; I won’t really look at them too much after I get them developed. Of course, there’s photos I’m hyped on. Pretty much I like other people’s shit more. Looking into others people’s lives.
There’s a photo of your booking card that we wanted to use for the cover of the Personal Property zine, but because you’re traveling these days we couldn’t get a hi-res file of it. Was that in a way a type of celebration photo for the last time you were released? Ha
That definitely was a celebration photo. I was fresh out of 850 Bryant.
Is it true you saw Bobby Shmurda while you were locked up? He’s also from Flatbush, right?
Yeah, I saw him twice in the court pens in The Tombs. Yeah, he’s from the East Flatbush, the wild ‘90s.
You have action photographs of many of the most prolific and wanted graffiti writers in New York like Lewy, Adek, Malvo and Darks. Does anyone ever stress on your having those types of photos or is it all good because there are no incriminating features, aka faces?
No face, no case.
Private Property will be released at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair on February 12, 2016 and available online soon after.
*Interview by Austin McManus