EMULSION BOOK: The stories behind 5 classic Ride cover shots | Ride UK BMX

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EMULSION BOOK: The stories behind 5 classic Ride cover shots

Every UK BMX rider of a certain age will be well aware that Mark Noble (founder of Ride magazine / 4130 Publishing / etc) released a BMX photo book recently, called Emulsion. Documenting the UK scene from 1987 to 2004, this was a HUGE project.

I’ll let Mark explain all about the book in the interview below, but there’s more here to unpack. We decided to pick out five Ride covers that appear in the book, to talk through them, see what was happening at the time, and find out how they ended up on the cover.

As Mark says, these photos take on a totally different look and feel when you see them full frame, uncropped, without graphics and titles. Let’s get into it…

Photos by Mark Noble

Q&A with Mark Noble

– Congrats on the book project! For those not fully in the know, can you explain what it’s all about?

Thanks – it’s definitely been a project! Emulsion is a BMX Photobook featuring the mid-school era of BMX, mainly focussed on the UK, and it covers the years from 1987 to late 2004. This was a really influential time in BMX, when the craze days from the 80s had just collapsed, the scene and the industry went totally underground, and the riders left took charge of everything. Those of us who loved and stuck with BMX had to make our own bike companies, our own product, run our own events, build the scenes, run the magazines, film the videos, open bike shops… it was a time that really helped turn BMX into what it is today, the people, the places, and the events that shaped BMX. I was there to document it all for Freestyle BMX, Invert and then Ride BMX (UK) Magazines, and I covered anything that moved – I kept all my photos, and in 2021 decided to go back into the files and boxes to create a Photobook. It’s all shot on film, there’s no digital imagery, it’s all full-frame, no crop, scratches left in the scans, real and down to earth. Looking back now it was an amazing time in BMX for sure.

– What were some of the key decisions you made when approaching the project? How did you decide to structure it, who would design it, what format it would take, etc?

I guess mainly, deciding which photos to show – I bought a decent scanner, then went through boxes and boxes of negatives and slides. I reckon I went through something approaching 10,000 photos? But I started at the early days, went through everything methodically, I scanned anything that caught my eye and told a story or showed a moment. Named, numbered, identified each scan and tried to make it as organised as possible – the book itself is in chronological order. Then I asked a few key people if they’d like to write something personal about a certain person, or time, or memory in their life – and that helped to add context to the book, different angles. And then Chris set-to and nailed it all together – apart from me nudging sizes of photos here and there, the design is all his, he’s a photoshop maestro and creative genius, so who better to bring it to life. Also, Chris obviously designed the magazines back in the day. Perfect. In the end I wanted something that was high-end, coffee-table style, with quality print, hard-back, superb paper, the works. Yep, the print bill was kinda steep…

Cover shots just jump out at you, somehow.”

– How long did it take to put this thing together?

I started selecting and scanning photos at the end of May of 2021, going through everything, scanning, filing, naming, editing text and sorting out the printers etc… in between doing freelance jobs and other projects and looking for work. For both me and Chris, it was a real side-hustle for months. The deadline date was forever moving! But that’s okay – we got there, it was worth the wait. The first editions came back from the printers in April and they all went out, and now we’re on a reprint – the second edition. I never thought it would go out so well, ever. But people seem to like it, bought it, and now more people want copies and were gutted to miss out, so we’re printing again. It’s all taken me by surprise to be honest, I never thought it would go like this!

– How does it feel to produce a BMX publication again?

It’s a different feeling for sure – working on magazines was amazing, turning out regular print issues was so good – working with a tight team on all our mag titles… the best times. Now, with a Photobook like this it was the same, but different… the schedule wasn’t as tight, the pagination was flexible, the print run significantly smaller but the print bill higher, but the feeling when actual finished books arrived at my home was so fulfilling. Unloading boxes of books out of a van gave me flashbacks of unloading boxes of magazines from back in the day… but the book is so different! It’s a good, good feeling. It made it all worth it. 2021 was really difficult, personally a very tough year to be honest, but having the book is somewhat of a silver lining for sure.

A1 covers poster released with Ride UK issue 200

– Who’s it aimed at?

Anyone who loves BMX! If you rode bikes through the nineties, you should enjoy seeing the old photos, the people in them, the scenes, the spots and places featured, the tricks being done, the vibe, the gear, the bikes, the whole atmosphere of what it was like to be at an original Backyard Jam, or King of Concrete, or somewhere in Europe for the Worlds, or when someone pulled something nuts for the first time… you were probably there. Also, anyone who understands BMX and what it means. And it’s for the old-schoolers, people who hung up their Burners in the eighties can see what they missed out on in the nineties. Mid-school riders can relive the glory days. If you’re new to BMX, then this will give you an idea of what it was like to ride back then.

– You watched and documented UK BMX from its infancy into, I guess, adolescence… right? Do you have any thoughts about the scene and progression now, having watched it evolve all this time?

I love the scene now too, and obviously it’s evolved so much. So yeah, the Photobook features the adolescence of BMX, like you say, that’s a good term – and the progression now is wild. The level of tricks being done now, no doubt, is nuts. If there’s something within BMX you don’t like, just do or watch something else, just go ride – we should all ride on our own terms really. It’s fine.

– You must have a few favourite covers from the early days. How did it feel seeing the legacy of the mag laid out on our issue 200 poster?

That poster was an eye-opener for sure! All those covers, all those mags, all in one place… crazy to think of the sheer quantity of work there, really. It was quite the legacy, when you see it all there. Humbling, and proud at the same time…

– Where can we get a copy of the book?

I put together a simple Big Cartel, nice and easy – right here.

Cover Stories

Issue 2 – Steve Geall

– Where was this taken?

This was on a private mini ramp somewhere in Hampshire, I forget exactly where – but it was a great ramp to ride and shoot photos…

– Was there a buzz around Gilly at this point?

Kind of – I mean, it’s Steve. Steve can ride anything, anywhere, and has that classic style that just is so timeless. Still does even now!

– What did you think when Steve started to get into riding MTB and did you ever think that 4130 Publishing would ever have its own MTB magazine (DIRT)?

A few BMXers were venturing into MTB back then, checking out something different – and Steve took that style to MTB like no-one else. It was great shooting MTB bike tests with Steve for DIRT magazine because he could ride multiple bikes, all completely different, all in the same couple of hours and get amazing shots on all of them. DIRT Mag was proper cutting edge for the time as well – we had a great crew, we applied our attitude to it, our focus. MTB mags back then were so bad, DIRT was a breath of fresh air for sure.

– When you shot this, did you know it was the cover shot? Why? / Did you go out to shoot this as the cover or was it the best one on the lightbox?

Well, I felt it was good at the time of the shoot – and then when we put the slide on the lightbox in the office some days later, it felt even better. Cover shots just jump out at you, somehow.

Issue 10 – B-Roll

(not the photo of Stu, but a photo of Ian Morris taken about five mins later on the same wallride)

– STU: This is by the Asda at Brighton Marina. As I remember this was one of those days that Ian was on one doing all kinds of rails.
– Robin: This, for me, is one of the most iconic early Ride covers. Further immortalised in the first ‘Brighton Ain’t Ready’ video with Ryan Sher. Would you agree?

Yep – I’d agree, it was definitely one of those days. We were doing an S&M bike test feature, and Ian was just sending it all day long – rails, Brighton mini ramp, streets, the bank to wall here, everything. The red handrail on the marina that made the poster in the same issue was so big… and yet, the slide is missing somehow along with the original slide of Stu on the wall. Otherwise, that would’ve been in the book.

– When you shot this, did you know it was the cover shot? Why? / Did you go out to shoot this as the cover or was it the best one on the lightbox?

It was just rad. It looked great – and yep, the cover photo just jumped out.

Issue 18 – Mat Hoffman @ Backyard Jam, Hastings

– STU: A lot of people had left because the ramp was so wet, Mat and a few others had dried the desks by igniting lighter fluid. Those who stayed got to witness some amazing riding from Mat.

Just another one of those legendary tales from a Backyard Jam – just pure BMX gold. The ramp was definitely wet, it did not look promising, it was a cold, drizzling Sunday, a lot of people just bailed and left. But we stayed… and then this madness happened. Mat just piled through, rode like Mat does, kept the crowd stoked, and nailed it.

– When you shot this, did you know it was the cover shot? Why? / Did you go out to shoot this as the cover or was it the best one on the lightbox?

The photo of Mat just stood out and summed up the whole weekend really – the grey nature of it, the grainy B/W film, the crowd, the scene… it had to be really.

Issue 29 – Darryl Charles

– STU: I think this could be Aliano’s but I’m not sure. Is it?

Nope – this is Slades Farm Skatepark in Poole, one of our local parks from the seventies. Such a classic spot, and admittedly we did ride there and shoot photos there a lot. Perhaps too much. But the locals are rad, the scene is so positive, the jams were always good, and you get stuff like this. Why not eh!

– When you shot this, did you know it was the cover shot? Why? / Did you go out to shoot this as the cover or was it the best one on the lightbox?

Not at the time, but when the slide dropped onto the lightbox – there’s something about a flash light bouncing off a chrome wheel. The sun was out, the scene and the riding was a good time, Darryl has that style… it all came together.

Issue 43 Gerry Galley @ Urban Games

– What made Jerry’s riding so special?

It’s so… raw. He was on the edge, but never in a sketchy way, ever. Just bio, you kinda never knew what you were going to get, but what you got was so, so rad. Smooth, dived in, incredible riding, just the fundamentals of what he did on a bike – I absolutely loved watching Jerry ride, always.

– Why is the front wheel cropped?

Just how the cover worked out in design stage, how his front wheel is laid over the magazine logo, it worked out perfect up top. In the full frame and uncropped as it features in the Photobook, you can see everything… it’s almost a completely different photo without the cover design stuff on it.

“On the face of it he’s not doing much, but deep down it’s everything. That’s the beauty of BMX really. When you know, you know.”

– Do you have any way of summing up the vibe of those Urban Games? I went to one and couldn’t believe it, every rider I’d ever heard of was there.

It was so pro. It was one of the first kinda big events that were bankrolled by a drinks company that took care of everything and drew us in, but riders were running the BMX and skate event side of things with the course build, the contest elements, and the overall direction, so it was very much on our terms and it worked out so well. It ticked all the boxes so drew a lot of riders in from everywhere, it was nuts. And it all took place in the middle of London no less.

– When you shot this, did you know it was the cover shot? Why? / Did you go out to shoot this as the cover or was it the best one on the lightbox?

If any rider’s style is cover-worthy, it’s Jerry. The scene, the sunshine, the crowd, the timing, the event… and THAT invert. I mean, on the face of it he’s not doing much, but deep down it’s everything. That’s the beauty of BMX really. When you know, you know.


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