JEFF Zielinski.
Interview by Nuno
Photo captions by Jeff Zielinski


Jeff Z. has been filling the pages of RIDE BMX with excellent photos and interviews for a long time now. It's not to often that the people behind the lens and the questions get thrown in front of them, so i figured that Jeff would be a great candidate for my second interview.

Seriously, can you blame me? That's a hot car.
Jeff, how are you?
The same as always, super-busy and stressing, yet content and happy.
Tell us where you live, and where you came from.
I currently reside in Long Beach, CA and I grew up in Rutherford, NJ. Rutherford is basically a suburb
of New York City. I had the best of both worlds, suburban home, with a big city always a short bus
ride away or 15 minute drive (with no traffic). Long Beach reminds a lot of NJ minus the palm trees,
of course.
You are probably about to leave for somewhere or have just come back from somewhere, which is it?
The last time I stepped off a plane was when I returned from England for the Backyard Jam in
Brighton, which was almost a month ago. I‚m not going anywhere again until Xmas, when I go back
to NJ to see my family. That trip is going to be the first time I ever flew somewhere without any
camera gear. That's right, no cameras...Well, maybe just my digi point and shoot.
With all the traveling you do to document riders at incredible spots, how often are you able to put down the camera to ride a bit?
It's all about the mindset for me, if I leave the house with a camera bag then it‚s a photo day, without it, a riding day. As for trips, whenever we roll up to a spot or park that I would like to ride I try to ride for as long as I can until I see someone trying something that's worth shooting or if someone asks me to shoot something. Sometimes that happens in a matter of minutes and other times it may take an hour. However, in the end, I usually don't ride too often on trips and even when I do, it's just messing around, nothing serious.
Is it possible to pick one of your trip's that's been the most memorable and why?
They're all memorable, but I think the most fun was the Fit trip to Puerto Rico. I was with a lot of
close friends who I don't get to see often, the weather and ocean were great, the spots were plentiful
and virgin, and everything just worked out smoothly, I hardly stressed at all on that trip.
Is it possible to pick one of your trips that you wish to forget?
Not really, life is a collection of memories and without bad ones you wouldn‚t appreciate the good
Do you have a specific style/mood of riding that you enjoy shooting most?
I enjoy shooting street riding the most because I grew up street riding and I've always loved it. I also think it looks the best in photos, the scenes, spots, and overall feeling in the images. Besides, cruising the streets, exploring, and interacting with random people usually leads to some great stories and memories that can't be matched by sitting in a skatepark or in the middle of the woods. But don‚t get me wrong, I have no hang-ups with shooting parks or trails, I'm down for whatever. Aside from street, flatland is my second favorite riding style to shoot, most of the flatlanders I've worked with are such free thinkers and they're always down to search out a cool spot, and they're patient, personal, and just a joy to work with. Finally, as far as films and time of day are concerned, I guess I slightly prefer black and white over color, but I choose which film and format I shoot according to the trick, spot, time of day, and bust/setup time factor. The magic hour is my favorite time of day to shoot when flashes are involved, but some tricks/spots might look best with midday sun behind my back, so there‚s no set formula.
I‚m sure you've had to shoot photos at some shady locations, how stressful is that while your carrying thousands of dollars worth of equipment on your back?

More often than not, I'm shooting in a sketchy spot; after all, the best spots are almost alwaysin the ghetto.
This is a good example of non-BMX photos I take, even though I was on a BMX trip. I was in New York City for Red Bull's Mean Streets and I woke up early one morning and shot some street photos, including this alleyway flag shot. Click photo enlarge.
It‚s stressful, but I think that's one of the things that separates both BMX and skate photographers from most other photographers, we‚re setting up flashes and pulling out medium format cameras to document people doing stunts on someone else's property, illegally, in a shady neighborhood˜it keeps you on your toes and forces you to setup and break down fast. However, if it's really sketchy then I'll spare the fancy setup and shoot with natural light if the conditions permit it. I also have real deal photo gear insurance, so I'm not stressing as hard as I used to, but I still practice just as much caution as I always have because even if I got reimbursed for all of my gear, I really can't afford to be inconvenienced without it for even a little while.
What was the worst situation?
Mexico City. Because the cops could even end up robbing you˜or so I‚ve been told. If you‚re not even safe from the cops then you know it‚s a sketchy scene.
Speaking of, what do you normally carry in your equipment bag? You can be specific.
I have three bags, "big guy", "medium guy", and "little guy", Big guy contains; a Quantum Qflash X2 with a Qpac 400ws battery, 3 Vivitar 285hv, Minolta 1VF meter, Pocket Wizard transmitter and four receivers, tabletop tripod, a Hasselblad Xpan with a 45mm lens, Canon 1D Mark II body, and Canon 15mm, 50, and 70-200 f2.8 lenses. Medium guy contains; Sunpack 622 flash, Lumedyne Megacycler battery, an extra module for the Qpac battery, Canon EOS 1N body w/booster, Lensbaby, and a Hasselblad 501cm body, 30mm and 80mm lenses. And little guy is full of chargers. I also carry two tripods and one light stand.
How many tripods have you had taken out and by who?
I've had a flash knocked over at least a dozen times, which I think isn't too often considering how often I shoot. The riders who have hit them include; Van Homan, Scott Malyon, Tony Neyer, Ralph Sinisi, Jim Bauer, Josh Stricker, and Blackman, he literally threw his bike over a handicap rail directly onto my Qflash!
Outside of BMX, what are some of the things you like to shoot?
If I'm not shooting BMX, then I'm in the office or out riding, so I don't have too much time left over to shoot entirely non-BMX stuff. I do shoot a lot of portraits of riders and random things, sights, and landscapes while on BMX trips.
Do you try to experiment a lot (with different techniques) outside of the BMX realm?
There are so many affects, techniques, and ways to manipulate an image just by using the given settings on a camera and with flashes. I try to incorporate all of them while shooting BMX photos, anyone who has the basic understanding of photography and is critical of their work can shoot a sharp BMX photo, I want to go beyond that, just like riders who find new ways to manipulate their bikes, I try to find new ways to manipulate film while documenting a BMX image. It goes so much further than just documenting the riding, I'm not just a journalist.
I'm no Vic Murphy, but my tables really are better than this, but considering the circumstances, I'm quite happy with it. Click to enlarge.
We asked you for a riding photo and you ended up shooting the photos yourself. Why did you decide
to do it that way and was it hard to do?

This interview isn't about my bike riding, it's about my photography, so the least I could do is shoot all the photos myself. Besides, one of my favorite things about photography is thinking of something new to try and then going out there and making it a reality. I welcome the challenge. Although, this wasn't the first time I‚ve shot myself riding. I shot photos of myself icepick stalling a bank-to-ledge and grinding a straight rail a few years ago. Shooting a stall is actually quite easy, because as long as you get into the trick before the shutter fires and you can hold it for a while then you‚ll get the photo. Of course, I had to make things extremely difficult for myself and I chose to shoot a tabletop on a bank. Actually, I shot a footjam nosepick as well, but I went to that spot with the tabletop in mind. For the record, I really can do "old school" tabletops pretty well, and the one in the photo was executed properly as well, but the timing was a little off. The trick is to basically start counting "one
Mississippi, two Mississippi," as soon as the shutter is pressed and then I have to appear in front of the lens, in a flat tabletop, exactly at "10 Mississippi." Needless to say, it's a daunting task, so even though this one wasn't caught at the right moment, I could've been there all night trying to get a better one, especially since the peak of the trick is really quick anyway, there isn‚t much airtime, so it's a split second snap and the trick is past.
Most people know you shoot photos for RideBMX magazine, but fill us in on how you actually got to
where you are?
I took a basic black and white class in high school and I was instantly hooked. I would get ahead in my other elective courses just so I could go use the darkroom more, I even stayed after school to print! Back then I hardly ever shot BMX stuff because I just wanted to ride and carrying a camera around was a drag. When I graduated high school the only thing I was interested in was riding my bike and shooting photos, so I opted to go to art school, The School of Visual Arts, in NYC, to be precise. Three months into my freshman year I dislocated my foot while riding my bike and had to wear a cast for two months. That accident kept me out of school for the reminder of the semester and I basically started fresh the second semester and continued in the summer so I would be caught up the sophomore class come next September. My passion for school quickly fizzled because I just wanted to ride and it killed me knowing that my friends were out riding and I was missing out. Once I dropped out I stopped shooting photos almost entirely for two years and I just rode and shot BMX video. Eventually I got hurt again and I couldn't ride and I shot some riding photos out of boredom and I thought they were pretty good so I sent them to Ride. Of course I didn‚t realize it at the time, but the photos sucked, and Mark Losey (the editor at the time) sent them back and gave me some pointers and I just continued to shoot and submit and always made sure to improve each time around. Once my work was good enough I started contributing to all the BMX mags with the exception of BMX Plus! Ride, Dig, and RideUK were the mags I sent work to the most and eventually Ride had a staff position open and I was fortunate enough to get the job. November 1st 2005 marked the fourth year I've been shooting staff for Ride.
Do you remember the first photo you had featured in a magazine (that you took)? Who was it and where?
I think it was Joe Milioti doing a fakie x-up at White Boy‚s mini ramp. It was in a Jersey/New York scene article in a German BMX mag, Freedom. It must have been 6-7 years ago. There was also a photo of me riding in the same article, so you could imagine how psyched I was at that time.
Give us your version of how you got into riding.
Like most kids, when I rode a bike around I would ride down steps, try to jump stuff, etc. Eventually I saw older kids actually bunnyhoping stuff and doing tabletops and I was hooked after that. I basically tried to imitate them every time I got on my bike. I guess not much has changed because theoretically I'm still trying to imitate riders, only now they're usually younger than me and much better.
Everybody has some people they look up to from their younger riding days, who are yours?
Joe Tiseo, Dave Parrick, Vic Murphy, Keith Treanor, and Brian Castillo.
A large part of your time must be bike related in some way, but is there something outside of BMX and photography that someone would be surprised that you are in to?
I don‚t have any other hobbies. I buy lots of music and I try to eat well. I guess you could say I keep it simple.
Whenever I see you around town you are either coming from the health food store or looking through cd's at the music store. What are some non-bike related go-to spots east or west?
Generation Records, Kate's Joint, Atlas Café, and Angelica‚s Kitchen in NYC, Veggie Heaven in NJ, Finger Prints (Record store) and Open Sesame in LBC, Mother‚s Markets in Orange County, Amoeba (record store), Paru's, California Vegan, and Native Foods in LA.
You recently sold your Volvo, and got another Volvo. Whats the deal?
I'm not a car fanatic, just a Volvo fanatic. But not all Volvos, I'm talking specifically about the DL models from the 80's, once the 90's hit the body styles started changing and they lost the "brick" look. A lot of people make fun of me for liking Volvos so much, but I don't care. I honestly think they're the best looking cars on the road and I feel that it's the car for me, I'm a Volvo guy. The wagon I just got rid of had over 285,000 miles on it and the transmission was beginning to slip so I traded it in for 87 240 DL Sedan. I still like the wagons the most, but I needed a trunk, having my camera bags visible in the back seat was too sketchy and I was tired of stressing about it and getting inconvenienced all the time.
I wanted to show a never before seen riding photo, but I also didn't want to give anything away that might appear in the magazine in the futuer. So I dug up this out take from the Josh Stricker interview. I really like the lighting and the caution tape flapping around in the background. We opted not to use it because the next day Josh built a different wallride and did better tricks, so this photo was buried, pun intended. Click photo to enlarge.
Ok, some quickie info:
3 bands you like.
Cat Power, Belle and Sebastian, and David Bowie.
3 websites you visit frequently.
Craigslist, ridebmxonline, and Google.
3 photographers you admire.
BMX: Rob Dolecki, Ricky Adam, and Jeff Allen.
Skate: Jon Humphries, Mike O‚Meally, and Oliver Bartok.
3 magazines you read.
I honestly don‚t read any magazines cover to cover, but three that I look at/read regularly include; BMX: Dig, RideUK, and Twenty. Non-BMX: Skateboarding Mag, Colors, and American Photo.
3 people you call to ride with when your home (cali).
Eric Cuiper, Jim Bauer, and Glenn PP Milligan.
3 people you try to shoot with when you head back east.
The three people I hear the most hype about what they're doing and what I'm missing out on shooting. Obviously, that list is always changing, so I guess it's just whoever is riding good at the moment when I go back and is down to shoot stuff. Otherwise (and always), Edwin DeLaRosa, Tyrone Williams, and probably, George Dossantos.
Thanks Jeff. Any last words?
Thanks for this opportunity and I wish I had a finished website I could plug here, but I don't because I'm a slacker.