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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ben "The Boog" Zales

There is a personal connection between humans and their two wheeled machines that when captured right by a photograph, can tell you a story in just one photo. Ben Zales aka "Ben The Boog" is notorious for this style of story telling one photo at a time and he does it masterfully. I've only met Ben a handful of times on the West-coast but every time I've seen him he's warm hearted with good spirits, a real positive guy. You have probably seen many of his photos over the years, from different social media outlets to magazines like Easyriders, The Horse, Wrench, Street Chopper, and even Hot Bike Japan. I am a big fan of Ben's talents and extremely stoked he's going to come out to Fuel Cleveland on May 28th to hang out with everyone and showcase some of his work. The other day Ben and I sat down via the Internets and had a little one on one interview to get to know him a little better and this is what came of it, enjoy.

-Mikey Revolt

Ben “The Boog" Zales Where do you call home?

B: Well, I live in Los Angeles. But home will always be San Diego. Some day I’ll get back there...

Where did “The Boog” come from? I have always wondered.

B: This goes back to the days of when I used to be a recording engineer for a recording studio in Hollywood! Probably about 10 or 11 years ago…I used to record the music of several pop, RnB, and Hip Hop artists of 2003-2005…(P Diddy, Backstreet Boys, Clay Aiken….ya know awesome stuff like that.) And one producer that I worked with a lot would come into the studio and be like, “Boogie Down Ben!” So after a while he would just start calling me “The Boog” and it just stuck. Pretty ridiculous, I know.

How did it all begin and how long have you been at your craft?
B: Well, my whole life I’ve always messed with video camera equipment, so I always enjoyed documenting things. But the real start was about 8 years ago, my wife had bought me a consumer DSLR for my birthday, and within two months, I had outgrown it and sold it to buy a Canon 5D. Now looking back, I was an ass for selling a gift that my wife had bought me. haha.

Are you a Canon or Nikon guy and why?
B: This is a really interesting question…ESPECIALLY given where the whole professional camera industry is at right now in terms of DSLR. So for the past 8 years, I’ve had 3 professional cameras. The Canon 5d, 5d MKII, and the 5d MKIII. And i’ve always shot with 3 different L series lenses. But going back to the original question….I’m neither now! I’m now shooting with a Sony A7RII with all Sony full frame Lenses. This decision didn’t come easy but here I am with both feet firmly planted in the Sony world….for now.

What is your favorite place you have ever shot photos at?

B: If we’re talking shooting just in general, the south island of New Zealand really can’t be beat. Driving around New Zealand for 10 days…I pretty much broke the shutter off of my camera. As for choppers, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is my all time favorite spot I’ve ever had the pleasure of shooting illegally at. haha

What are some of your favorite moments on a trip or shoot?

B: This answer ties to the one above. I knew I wanted to shoot at Walt Disney Hall because of how awesome of a location it is. But I also knew there was NO WAY they’d let me shoot a bike up on the 2nd level without a permit…which costs like 5k and up or something ridiculous. So the day before the shoot I scouted where I wanted to shoot the bike and looked for ways to get it up to the 2nd level. Once I figured that all out, the next day, I met up with Ryan Cox and his amazing Panhead out on the street. I told him that this was gonna be kinda covert and mostly illegal. We laughed and we started pushing his bike around the perimeter of the building. We got to an elevator and I pushed the call button. Ryan immediately asks what I’m doing. I tell him that this is the only way a bike is going to get up to the 2nd level and that the only other way up to that level was via the stairs. Which there were about 70 or so steps…so nope. The elevator door opens up and we push the bike in and maneuver it diagonally. It barely fit! And when I say barely…I mean it took the door few times to close and each time we had to push the bike in as far as it would go. 

We get to the 2nd level and we immediately run the bike to the hallway where we did the majority of the shoot. We were there for about 45 min unbothered. We were tucked away and people couldn’t see that there was a chopper in the hallway. But once I instructed Ryan to roll the bike out of that hallway to get some other types of shots, a security guard came up to us and asked if we had a permit. I gave him some BS answer about not having one. He then asks, “How’d you get that bike up here?” I wasn’t about to tell him that we shoved it into the elevator all while leaking oil everywhere. So I told him we took the stairs. He gave me a puzzled look and told us to leave. I pretended to pack up and once the guard left, we snuck back to the elevator and got it back down.

That was a fun day and the shot I have of Ryan kicking his bike in that hallway of reflective walls will always be one of my favorites. 

Who or what inspires you?

B: Films mostly inspire me. I watch a lot of movies and like to pick apart camera angles and and what lenses the DP/Director uses. Watch any David Fincher or any P.T. Anderson film. Every single shot in their films are so precise. You can take a still frame from any of their films and it is a perfectly composed photo as well.

Whoa…sorry for getting super nerdy on that….

What got you into motorcycles/choppers, is there any family history there?

B: Oddly enough, I have no family history in choppers. My brother rode sport bikes for a while and I never got into it. But years after that, I got into riding, and rode over to his house on my stock sporty. I saw that he had a rotting non-running 70s CB750 in his backyard. He had bought it from CL for like $400. He showed me some photos of some 70s 750 choppers and I was floored. I ended up pulling that rusty, spider infested bike out of his backyard and made my first chopper out of it.

Whats the most dangerous thing you have ever done?
B: Riding is pretty dangerous as is. Splitting lanes is legal in CA, so there’s that. One time, a bunch of us were up in Yosemite and we were splitting the middle section of a 2 lane road with oncoming traffic on our left and traffic on our right. And to add to it, I decided to film it with my DSLR. I ride a long bike too…so that adds to the whole thing.

If you could jump on a bike right now and just go where would it be and why?

B: I’m dying to ride my chopper in Bali! I was just there for about 10 days and it’s so gnarly. The roads are gnarly, the traffic is gnarly. And the whole time I was there, I kept thinking, “I wanna ride my long bike here and just eat shit and crash a bunch” haha.

I know that doesn’t exactly answer the question, but I guess it kinda does too.

I notice you take a lot of portraits with a bike and their owner. They all tell a story in their own little way, do you say that is part of your style or just something you like to do? Is there any meaning behind it to you?

B: I’m a huge believer that every single bike reflects their owner. I shoot a lot of bikes that belong to my friends and without fail, I can look at their bike and see the parts on there that reflect their personality. The meaning behind it to me is that in 30, 40, 50 years from now, I think it’s gonna be rad for me and the subjects to look back at these photos and just be stoked that this part of our lives was documented.

What’s your all time dream bike?

B: I already have 2 of em! My “twin” bikes The Crazy Boog and The Prismic Boog. I love those two damn things…But I am going to go for a quad of Crazy Frank bikes. haha. I now need a hard tail crazy frank fender and a prism style hard tail crazy frank fender to round out the whole family. 

What other hobbies or things are you really into that people might no know about you?

B: Most people don’t know I have a “day job”. I’ve been a Music Editor in television and film for the past 10 years…which I guess is not really a “day job” per se but I’m super into it and I love it.

Any life mottos or codes you live by?

B: Happy wife. Happy life. hahahha

Whats your favorite kind of coffee or are you a tea guy?

B: I don’t drink either. Well, I drink iced tea if that counts...

Anyone you would like to give a shout out to or thank?

B: Thanks to you, Mikey, and all the Lowbrow & Gasbox people for putting on a great show. 

Be sure to check out Ben's work at Fuel Cleveland May 28, 2016 and to see more of his work check out his IG: @bentheboog  or his website: bentheboog.tumblr.com

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