| PHOTOGRAPHER | WORDS BY RACHAEL FLORA
If you’re itching to RIDE A WEST COAST SHOVEL HEAD, don’t visit Collier Ott’s Instagram.
The 27-year-old Long Beach photographer captures his friends skating and building their bikes—all set against the California sky.
And it began with a knee injury.
“I grew up skating around Orange County with my friends,” recalls Ott. “We’d skate everyday after school, pretty much until it was too dark to see or the neighbors started hassling us. …Anyway, when I was around 16, I blew the fuck out of my knee. Pretty much did everything you could think of.”
Because of that blown-out knee, Ott doesn’t skate as much as he used to. Thanks to his mom—who used to ride a 750 Commando with her brothers—he switched boards for bikes and film.
“I always thought that if I were to ever own a bike, it would be some kind of old pre-unit or something,” says Ott, “but I ended up getting super into Harleys. All of my close friends were buying bikes before me and I was just watching them do cool shit to ‘em.”
Having lived both subcultures firsthand, Ott’s familiarity allows for precise candids with a consideration for light and movement—or lack thereof.
“I really think my friends just look cool and build interesting stuff,”
Ott shares. “I’ve kind of always thought in the back of my head that, whether shooting skating or motorcycles, I’m pretty much just taking the easy way out. Not saying that I don’t get involved in building, but these dudes do all of the work; I just capture it in the way that I see that work being done.”
Ott does a pretty damn good job capturing that work. He cut his teeth on a Minolta SLR back in the early days, but now shoots on a Mamiya 645 Pro for color and an Olympus XA2 for black and white. While he also shoots digital, film lends him that vintage, fuzzed-out feel we all know and love.
“Film’s the way to go for sure. It definitely tests my patience too,” says Ott. “We are so set on instant gratification now. It’s nice seeing the wait pay off in the end.”
That same principle, it turns out, applies to working on bikes. Ott learned all he knows—which he admits isn’t a lot—from watching his friends.
“To tell you the truth, me admitting I didn’t know anything led me to meet some of the best friends that I have today,” he says. “I got to hang out with people that knew motors in and out and some of the best fabricators ever. To this day, I still don’t know an insane amount about motors and my buddy Tracy just let me weld for the first time the other day. I’ll get it eventually.”
“If I could collaborate with anyone it’d probably be Jason Jesse or Max Schaaf. I have looked up to them since I was little. Just seeing the love of skating carry over to motorcycles gets me hyped. They both seem like super humble guys. And they have badass trucks.” -Collier Ott
For now, Ott’s work exists online, in his studio, and on the pages of a few keen biker magazines—but he’s always looking to grow.
“I’ve just recently started getting all of my work enlarged and framing it up. Kinda trying to put a show together,” he says. “I probably have enough work to fill a couple galleries, it just hasn’t happened yet. But I do have some pretty solid ideas for a future show.”
At this rate, his inaugural show oughta be soon; one we undoubtedly look forward to crashing. Until then, catch Ott lane-splitting up the coast with a heavy crew and camera in tow.
“There is definitely something to be said for good work. Whether you’re building a bike or sitting behind a lens. It’s all perspective.”
Stay humble, everyone. -FS