An interview with Chilly-O
Chilly-O (@chillyolovesyou) is an OG of ATL Creative Urbanite Scene, a photographer, and a freelance graphic designer. He loves BMX and adventure and curates Ello’s LeRadicale category.
Interviewer Mark Gelband Interviewer Mark Gelband (@markgelband) is Ello’s Chief Marketing Officer, an expert in container home construction, a long-time writer, and a local everywhere he goes.
Mark: What is it about BMX and skate that transcends race and makes everyone just a person?
Chilly-O: I would probably say we all fall on our heads the same and that has nothing to do with race. But seriously, it’s an addictive feeling, flying through the air defying natural human physics. There is no feeling like pulling a trick or just flowing through the streets, park or dirt. BMX and skate teaches you how to take risks, the ultimate risks because often your health is on the line, something most people won't compromise. BMXers and Skaters are natural outcasts to rest of the society; they feel misunderstood and don't view life in the manner of typical programming ploys that are projected on the psyche on a daily basis. I focused on diversity with "LeRadicale" because I feel like people need to see how the sports are being increased and sustained from their traditional origins, and that all communities have input. My hope is that more resources will be attained to add skateparks, bike parks, and dirt parks outside of suburban neighborhoods and into more urban communities as a tool to keep kids actively engaged in the sport, community and out of trouble. Such a simple human concept.
Mark: Your photography moves fluidly between fashion and your artistic eye and skate park and the street. What thread, what story connects these images? These seemingly different worlds?
Chilly-O: When you see skateboards and bmx bikes on high fashion catwalks there is a sense of accreditation to the culture even though it may come across as "poserish." My goal was to show that low fashion is also high fashion. Style starts within the streets and because action sports is so street-oriented, the same ideals with progression of a new trick is relative to progressing within one’s own fashion and artistic progression. I have always felt like if I was able to document this expression and that it will be very important in the future. Why? Because the person that usually has the media outlet usually gets the most credit, and often that accolade goes to someone outside the culture. The term "Culture Vulture" is a term that is often heard amongst Creatives, Skaters, BMXers and Creatives are tired of being taking advantage of, so my goal is to show the origins of the "Cool" before it gets manufactured for the masses.
Mark: You've told me that you traveled around a bunch as a kid, were raised by your grandmother for a bit. How has that nomadic childhood influenced your approach to photography and art?
Chilly-O: As a kid, my Grandmother had images of art around the house from all five continents and my Father's home looked like he was the Black Indiana Jones. Pre-internet they both collected huge amounts of books ranging from history, spirituality, art, fashion, and philosophy; so pre-internet that was my form of surfing the net. I'm glad I had those visuals and opportunities because it made me more open minded to other cultures and more importantly, adventure. When kids are on Ello and other cool sites they share creativity and spark adventurism and consciousness, I had those opportunities in the 70s, 80s and 90s. It was not always an easy ride but they say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger or at least wiser.
Mark: Was the BMX bike an escape or a path to freedom or a little of both?
Chilly-O: I was exposed to BMX because when I lived in Pittsburgh, PA they were one of the last cities to actively incorporate integration in the school systems in the 80s. There also was a resurgence of BMX culture in middle America. So I was selected to go to a magnet school in a predominantly all Caucasian, working class neighborhood called Mt. Washington in the 7th grade. I previously met my best friend in 4th grade who would later introduce me to BMX in a real way. He was one of several Caucasians selected to attend school in my neighborhood which was all African American because we led test scores in the city. As I matriculated to middle school, my Grandmother would buy me things as an incentive to stay motivated towards positive interests and also to avoid trouble like my peers. So I worked really hard around the house so my grandmother would upgrade my "piece of shit" Team Murray X20r to Hutchinson Pro which was unique between both neighborhoods because kids on the Black side and White side had either Mongoose or Redline BMX bikes, no one had a Hutch. One day I was in Mt. Washington riding with friends and I hopped of a big curb and cracked my frame. I think my Grandmother noticed how depressed I was because I couldn't ride and bought me the Hutch for X-mas. So to answer the question: BMX was a tool to keep me out of trouble and not be peer-pressured to gang bang, steal cars and sell drugs like most of the kids in my neighborhood. Also, the bike gave me a badge of honor in a mostly dangerous neighborhood full of bullies because I was good and the gangsters liked seeing me do tricks so they left me alone. So, both.
Mark: BMX and skate are individual sports but they create community? How does that happen? What does that say about becoming an individual and being part of a community?
Chilly-O: BMX and Skaters actually hate each other from a traditional standpoint. But in the hood, they get along with each other because the rules are different, so you often see skaters and BMXers getting along in harmony. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that in the past there was not much diversity at skateparks so there is a natural respect because we have always had to deal exclusion in anglo-communities, at least until we get good on our deck or bike. I really feel like Millennials have gotten past the skate vs bike thing and understand the importance of co-existing and encouraging each other, especially if someone is really good. Again, music and fashion has a lot to do with breaking down those barriers. It’s all about earning your respect like any other sport.
Mark: You're a dad and your daughter is attacking her creative pursuit - how does that make you feel? What's it like to be the wiser, older dude in a community of creators?
Chilly-O: I am extremely proud of her. Our deal was you can skip college and pursue your dreams. However, she has to vigorously pursue her dreams like attending college. My parents never gave me that opportunity, I wasted a lot of money attending school to pursue a profession that I would eventually be unhappy with. I helped a lot of people in my career but ultimately I had more finite interest in my career. I don't want her to make that kind of investment if she is unsure what path she wants to take. She has the internet, a 24/7 learning tool that I think can compensate for education meshed with experiences, internships and apprenticeships. For her to be featured in magazines and cat walks with Kim Shui, Upscale Mag, Jeffrey Campbell and Sav Noir is a positive sign that she is serious about her dreams and going in the right direction.
Mark: Talk about how you came to Atlanta, the Atlanta creative community, your transition from graphic design to photographer?
Chilly-O: I came to Atlanta from Stamford, CT to pursue a career or perceived career in Social Services. I was young and ambitious and I was following in the footsteps of my Grandmother and Father. After 10 years in the business, I decided Social Services wasn't really for me I was just following a family blueprint. I wanted to do a t-shirt line because in college I sold graphic tees and got into the psychology of urban fashion and why people liked buying clothing. So I started a t-shirt Brand called Chilly-O Clothing, stemming from my nickname in college. In the beginning we sold to a lot rappers who very quickly gave us mainstream appeal. I felt that I was losing a little bit of myself in the brand because of this mainstream attention so I started incorporating my core values from childhood with skate and BMX. It took a very long time for our mainstream following to grasp what we were doing, so I shut the company down and pursued photography and videography. I noticed Atlanta had a very small creative scene, so I invested much of my time, even until today, in developing a creative culture so that locals can sustain from their brands and talents. I did sliding scale fees on music videos to help struggling artists get noticed. I also got burnt out on that because it was a poor business model and many artists don't understand the work or the process. They have much more respect for the process when dealing with a label or endorsement, which I think is corny. “Be serious about your career early on” is my philosophy, don't wait for confirmation from a higher up. However, content is key so a lot of those artist are on Fader and Billboard now. As of today, I brought the brand back which most locals say never went anywhere because I feel like people are more open minded to creativity than the aughts. So all the hard work landed me in a position to not only be a creative culture leader but I take responsibility in grooming and mentoring the next group of progressives that will add on to our creative mission for Atlanta.
Mark: We talked before and after the election, and neither of us were terribly surprised by a Trump presidency - disappointed, yeah, but not surprised. What now? How do artists and individuals confront and transcend the base hatefulness and divisiveness and build the community we want?
Chilly-O: Fuck Trump. Everything they taught us in school about professionalism is out the window. The only thing him being in office means is there is gonna be more cocaine in the streets and shady covert operations. As creatives, now is the time build up our own institutions by being smart with whatever resources you have by accepting a business-oriented mind frame along with the imaginative right brain. The psychology starts with us, time to lose the sarcasm with no actions and execute on our "gifts." We are only in the beginning of new "millennium" and anything can happen with good risk taking. Don't be fearful. No one is going to save you except yourself, align with like minds and people who support and encourage you. Hire yourself, to empower others and help if the time permits. A good movement can influence a lot.
Mark: Why Ello? Can Ello help?
Chilly-O: Because Ello is the Shit. Of course.