Theories: Rob Dolecki & Maintain Zine

[18 Jul 2017]

Intro/Questions: Lino Gonzalez

Few people in BMX have traveled more miles and really lived the BMX lifestyle the way Rob Dolecki has. Following the release of the third zine in his independent “Maintain” series, I asked Rob some questions about the zine and BMX in general. Rob is a very interesting person, always has a refreshing perspective, and is not afraid to speak in depth on issues. Enjoy..

-The Maintain series involves a heavy amount of traveling and a wide variety of people. Do you plan all the traveling out ahead of time and know who you want to shoot or do you sort of wing it?

I’d say about 80 percent of the photos in the Maintain series are byproducts of trips I planned directly, and the rest are from trips I was invited on. Almost all the video footage is from trips planned and funded by me and my frugal ways. I enjoy experiencing different riding communities, especially in other parts of the world. Some of the purest enthusiasm for riding exists in places I never would have thought about going to 10 or 15 years ago. Not to mention the amazing riding architecture in many of those locations. But since most ride-able architecture is a limited resource at best, I’m not one to consciously blow out any particular cities (other than Mahwah, New Jersey). I try to let what I capture speak for itself and hopefully inspire those who like traveling for the right reasons.
As far as whom I want to shoot with in the Maintain series, photo-wise I’d say more often than not I’m just winging it. Video-wise, it’s pretty much the same. I try to seek out riders, scenes and crews who seem to present, in various media, agenda-free intentions and add them to my list of places to go and people to meet. All of those trips are really only possible due to the ridiculously amazing hospitality of the locals I meet or already know. When I do visit, I usually just document whatever comes of it; first and foremost, the priority is documenting the natives before anyone else.

-The drawings by Jeff Martin in the new issue are awesome, what gave you the idea to include that in there?

I’ve known Jeff for years, and have seen him really progress as an artist. He posts so much great stuff daily on Instagram. I always wanted to add some type of art to the ‘zine from day one, but I doubt my horrible stick figure drawings that look like they were drawn by a three year-old would enhance anything. So when I was starting Chapter III, I hit up Jeff about some ideas, and he was down. He put in so much work on the drawings; I can’t thank him enough. He also drew up the newest Maintain sticker, which came out amazing.

-Do any funny or interesting stories come to mind from the travels in this issue?

There’s some sort of story behind every photo that was used. I’ll try to keep it brief and pick out a few:
Chris Silva, Newark, New Jersey: in the mid- 2000s, during the post-9/11 security lockdown era at many buildings and landmarks in the NYC area, I had started setting up to shoot a riding photo at a rail in front of a federal building in Newark, New Jersey one evening. An officer patrolling the building walked up, started confiscating my camera gear, and put me in cuffs, with not a word said to me. 15 minutes after seating me in front of the building, he realized I wasn’t plotting to destroy the building and let me go. It was the first and only time I’ve been arrested for shooting a photo. Ten years later, I’m at the same building one summer evening with Chris Silva. It’s under construction, has this crazy wood wedge structure out front, and I’m climbing up the second-story scaffolding in front of the building in order to shoot that fufanu photo. It was kind of surreal, and pretty funny to me how chance, and the passage of time can significantly change the same experience at the same location.

Martin Ochoa, New York City: That was the first time I had ridden the Banks since they had closed 7 years earlier. They were (and technically are) still closed, but apparently the bridge repair work is now complete so it’s been a ghost town there, and sort of a free-for-all. Riding those red bricks was just as good as I remembered, even in the freezing temperatures that were upon us when I shot that photo. Martin wears shorts no matter how cold it is.

Jonathan De Loa, Mexico- That structure appeared to be a makeshift home for a few people, as well as doubling as a toilet with no plumbing facilities. You can sort of make out the piles of shit in a few corners. It smelled like roses.

Eddie Grabert, Philadelphia- I shot this less than a mile from where I live at about midnight. Under the El can get pretty grimy with all kinds of characters lurking, but I guess we caught a quiet night. The long exposure captured a ghostly image of one lurker standing in front of a parked minivan, though.

Trey Jones, Longwood, Florida- Burning coals and plywood isn’t a good mix. Road flares have a tendency to litter burning coals pretty frequently, so when we did the light trail photo at Trey’s backyard ramps, a hose was positioned close by to avoid any unintentional bonfires. Fortunately it was never needed.

Brandon Perez, Philadelphia- Grimaldo Duran was staying in Philly, and gave me a heads up that Brandon Perez wanted to try something that day next to the monumental Van Homan rail. A few tries later he pulled it. It’s such a huge drop; I don’t know how Brandon’s body put up with trying that truck driver more than once. Easily one of the crazier things I’ve shot in Philly. Grim also has a cameo, if you look closely at the photo.

Mariano Buzzalino, Buenos Aires- Due to a shitty economy and failing city infrastructure over the last few years, there have been random abandoned/ burnt out cars sitting all around Buenos Aires, Argentina. It reminded me of late 80s NYC (Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, specifically). There were so many, that I was able to film a full section of local friends riding them in Maintain II.V.
 


Steven Hamilton via @Doleckivisuals
 

-You’ve weathered the change in the photo industry from film to digital, and now from just digital cameras to cell phones. How have those changes affected your approach to photography?

I feel like my approach to shooting photos is still the same as it was 15 years ago (pre-digital), regardless of the medium being used. Whatever tool fits best for the situation, be it 6X6 film, or an iPhone. Obviously digital has made it a lot easier overall since that era.

-Back in the day you used Canon 35mm/digital equipment, then switched to Nikon. What equipment do you use now mostly and are you loyal to a brand or will you switch in an instant?

Ha, ha, I think we talked about that back in the day when I was contemplating switching to Nikon due to the superior DSLR offerings they had compared to Canon during a span of a few years. I’m glad I didn’t. Making a switch like that would have been a very, very expensive pain in the ass. Once Canon released the 1DX, I stopped thinking about changing to Nikon. That, a 5D Mark III, IR-converted 5D, Hasselblad 501CM, some random film point and shoot cameras, and a good old cell phone camera are my main tools. I don’t really care so much about which company is making the equipment, it’s primarily about what they are producing. Which is a lot different than bikes, where both are huge factors to me.

-You’ve been involved in all sorts of BMX media over the years from magazines to videos, and websites. What do you think about the current climate of BMX media (vlogs, twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc), and what changes can you see coming in the near future?

This is going to be a long-winded answer, ha, ha. It’s kind of crazy how much BMX media, and media in general, has changed over the years, even in the last three alone. Communication is easier than ever, which I like personally. But there is so much shit to sift through to find anything remotely of quality (a word with a broad definition) that is not also a simultaneous advertisement. Media “trends” seem to be changing so fast. In two years, ask the average 15-year-old what Vine was. It makes you think, what’s going to replace Instagram or YouTube in 10 years? And if they do end up going the way of MySpace, what was the point of all the insane amount of time and effort some people put into getting “likes and followers”? There is a possibility that “Like, Comment and Subscribe” might not mean a thing to anyone then.

There are plenty of entertaining things being put out on YouTube and Instagram. And Instagram is really the only social media platform I personally use regularly. I do find it strange that they’re becoming the hubs of BMX media for the average rider. Anytime a media platform is not controlled by riders (even if the content essentially is, based on who you follow), and the main priority is about potential revenue through views, you can’t help but question the integrity of so-called statistics that deem a video “popular,” especially when there is ad revenue generated from auto-plays. And Instagram … the algorithm-driven feed is kind of bullshit. I don’t believe Instagram should be deciding for me what’s priority viewing, as opposed to the old way of chronological appearance. I won’t get started on the sponsored posts.

On top of that, in the BMX world, the industry seems to be increasingly motivated to use these platforms as their primary avenue for sponsored rider exposure, more often than not via regurgitated content. Instead of some companies providing tools of promotion to the riders who represent them, it’s now mostly put on the rider to promote themselves. The balance is off, in my opinion. With Twitter, some riders would really benefit from having a content filter before posting whatever randomly pops into their head. But then again, this is Trump’s America, ha, ha. I don’t necessarily love or hate vlogs; for the most part I just don’t watch them. I have heard people make the comparison that the modern-day vlog is like Road Fools. Whether you love or hate the Road Fools series at it’s various stages, it really doesn’t compare at all for one point only—Road Fools trips were about the riders who were invited, not the people who made the videos. But I could be just some jaded old guy who has a disdain for overt narcissism.

Honestly, all that doesn’t really matter to me. Regardless of what’s next on the BMX media horizon, most likely I’ll still be riding and hanging out with and documenting the people I see representing the most real agenda-free sides of riding. Any media, and any representation of culture/community outside of showing bike tricks, will always be secondary to real-life experiences and interactions in culture/community. A healthy BMX future to me is one that involves a network of independent media and continued gatherings and events in the grassroots BMX communities. And I could see a new paradigm taking hold where the next wave of BMX companies avoid the more common models of operations that can include pushing gimmicks, fads, fake culture and/or self-promoting machines in order to sustain an unrealistic lifestyle today, for a different model that reinvests in and facilitates the growth and promotion of actual communities, the realest riders, and true culture for a universally prosperous tomorrow. Regardless of whether the media and industry evolve or disappear, real BMX culture will continue exist. Neither are essential components for its existence, no matter what anyone tries to say otherwise; history has repeatedly proven that.

-You have always killed it on the bike, but your footage in Maintain I.V is on another level. How do you stay healthy and continue riding well into your 40s?

Thanks man. For a number of years now, I’ve tried to make it a priority to take care of myself in the best way I can in order to help ensure that I can do the physical activities I enjoy for as long as I choose, be it riding for hours on end or hiking up a mountain all day. I feel as good as I did 20 years ago; I actually feel more comfortable on my bike and ride local terrain better now than ever. Maybe that’s just in part due to the compounding effect of consistently riding for years. I’m not really some health guru, though some things I choose to do or not do may not necessarily align with the prevailing notion of what a stereotypical bike rider is. I’ve been eating a primarily whole foods vegan (plant-based) diet for 20 years, don’t drink alcohol, and try to be active multiple days a week. That’s what I’ve found works for me. I do see real scientific evidence pointing to this, even when you read between the lines of so-called evidence proving something else. I’ve seen the signs of crippling aging in people 10 years younger than me, and have seen the destructive results of negative daily habits in people 20 years older than me. I don’t want to be living in a nursing home thirty years from now; I want to still be doing what I do now. Some have proven that true health can be a reality in your 60s, 70s, and beyond via a good diet/supplementation and exercise, regardless of pre-disposed genetics, and free of prescription meds and all the other conventional, yet debilitating so-called options to slow the onset of what could be potentially preventable and at times reversible, degenerative disease. For me it’s not really about trying to live longer; I just want to live the fullest active total life possible, regardless if my time is up tomorrow. If skipping out on McDonald’s burgers and weekend blackouts is one way to achieve a full life throughout the twilight years, then I’m going to continue doing what I do.

-Being that you are vegan and travel a lot, what restaurant and dish do you look forward to the most in your travels?

Too many- Austin is Mr. Natural’s Taco Salad and Snow Cake; Salt Lake City is Sage’s pizza night; Orlando is Ethos’ Coconut Curry wrap; Terri in New York City; Vegab in Krakow, Poland; Vegano Hooligano in Kiev, Ukraine; Pizza Vegana in Buenos Aires; Veggie Heaven in Teaneck, New Jersey; any falafel and hummus spot in Tel Aviv, Israel; and Ananda in Managua, Nicaragua, to name a few.

-What’s in store next for the Maintain series?

The II.V video will be dropping in the next month. It has 7 sections: abandoned/ wrecked cars in Argentina, Argentina/ Santiago, Chile streets, Philly mixed in with random NYC to DC, Salt Lake City snowbiking, Grimaldo and George Duran father/ son split section, a New England transition excursion in Henry the VW van, and a Ukraine/ Poland section centered around my longtime Ukrainian friend Anton Kutafin, who has a classic no-frills 2000s-era riding style that I really appreciate. The video is about 30 minutes long, and will be available as a small-run DVD/digital download/ zine combo. After that, I have a rough idea for chapters IV- VI, but they never really seem to come into their own until the previous chapter is finished first. I also have this idea for a documentary-style video, and possible print books of sorts that I’ve been compiling photos for over the last few years, but who knows. Ask me again in six months, and it may be an entirely different answer. The only absolute is that there are things in the works.

-Into any conspiracy theories?

Of course. I love them all, usually for the entertainment factor more than anything else. I do think some people like to label ideas which differ from the prevailing status quo that they align with as “conspiracy theories”, especially when they ignore facts and/or get overly sensitive when said ideas challenge their belief systems. So I’d rather not mention all of the ones I find to be more truth than hoax. A few theories on human genetic origins and time travel/ illusion of time are some I subscribe to the most. For anyone who’s experienced the wormhole that is my tardiness, they already know about my continuous attempts to divert from the space-time continuum.

 

Thanks Rob