Photographer Robert LeBlanc has seen some shit. Most likely due to the fact that he doesn’t shy away from hi-jinx. Wherever skateboarding takes him, he portraits the everyday sketchiness – uncomfortably close and intriguingly personal. You can find him in the streets, having kind conversations with crackheads or alternatively in your nearest forest fire or whatever natural disaster comes along. Don’t bother looking for him where it’s comfortable, promise you – dude’s not there.

Hey Robert – quick intro: Shoot!

What’s up I’m Robert LeBlanc, a.k.a Bad Larry, a.k.a Larry Bird, a.k.a Larry.  I’m from the best coast (West Coast) of America and I’ve had a lifelong love affair with skateboarding and photography. 

Mandatory skateboard question: Varial flips. Yay or nay? 

Yay 100%. When you see a good varial flip you instantly want to go out and land one. At least I do.

Getting right into photography: Your personal work is raw – what draws your attention when shooting and why? 

I’ve always been drawn to the grittiness of humans and society. I don’t know particularly why but that’s what my eyes and brain like to see. There something so much more powerful about images that are not polished and truly in the moment. I try to find beauty in the most uncommon places and people. I also look for a good story, I think photographers have a huge responsibility to document our small time on this planet so further generations can have a better understanding of people and cultures that came before them, and so they can learn from our mistakes to make this world a better place. Humor is a big one for me too, life can be pretty fucking funny.

This was taken at one of my favorite spots to skate, Marginal Way in Seattle, Washington.  Everything there is sketchy but super fun. The homie Mexico is a ripper and he landed that backflip flip at least seven times in a row buttery as hell.

You often hear storys along the lines of “skateboarding saved my life”, but for you it seems like photography did the trick. How did taking photos affect your path in life?

Skateboarding shaped me as a person and I couldn’t imagine my life without it, but photography gave me a purpose. There was a moment in my early 20’s where I really felt that I didn’t have a purpose and I was just drifting through life. I know I wanted to do something meaningful but I couldn’t really put my finger on it, ironically it was right under my nose the whole time. I always had my camera with me while skating day and night, anyone who skates a lot in the streets knows how much crazy shit and interesting people you see throughout the day while you’re out skating. One day it just clicked how much I loved this thing called photography and how much it made me as happy as skating did, but with photography, I could make an impact on people and society. Now I had a purpose and once I really started to focus on making images I never looked back.

A lot of your work is shot on point and shoot cameras. What’s special about working with that kind of equipment.

You have to get up close and personal with a point and shoot. I like simple cameras where the equipment is not a distraction and you can focus completely on the creating a beautiful image. I strongly believe when shooting up close you get the most powerful images.

I met this dude hiding out in Montana, he was an ex-gang member from Montebello Califonia. We were burning some brush and the smoke in the background in front of his head tat was just too perfect to pass up.

Nowadays you also enjoy the ease of a digital camera. What’s your take on the film vs digital debate?

I started on film and will always have a huge part in my heart for shooting with film. The dark room is a magical place and I love the nervousness and anticipation of shooting film. Did it get the picture? Will it turn out? I also love the limits of only having 36 frames, so you have to be more selective and calculated with the images you create. But shooting with film can be very expensive along with the wait time that comes with developing. As much as I like simplicity, I also don’t want to cut out the power of technology and the huge advances we have made with cameras today. There is so much you can do with digital and the turn around time is amazing, plus the quality of the images are so much better. I was blessed to have an opportunity to team up with SONY and I couldn’t be happier with their cameras. I’ve been shooting a lot with the RX100V and that camera packs some serious punch in such a small size. Big shout out to Matt and Chris at SONY, I wouldn’t be where I’m at with photography today if it wasn’t for the chances they took with me, solid dudes behind solid cameras. In the end I think that you can find a perfect balance between film and digital, just shoot a lot of both and appreciate that one lead the other to existence, we wouldn’t have digital cameras if it wasn’t for film.

Your book “Unlawful Conduct” was shot over a period of 6 years. Are you working on a new long term project or a “Chapter II” even?

I’m always working on projects and I really look forward to publishing another book. “Unlawful Conduct” was received so well and I was truly humbled that people were even interested in my images, those 6 years was me really getting to know my camera intimately, and the process of making a book and seeing your images come to life in print is so magical. I cant wait to do it again.  “Unlawful Conduct” was a limited edition project and I’m currently looking into teaming up with a publisher to create a 2nd edition that will be more attainable for people, but I think the next book will be focused more on photojournalism and intimate story telling.

In rural parts all over America, there are train cars just layed up in the middle of nowhere. We came across this car in the woods, this moment was such a beautiful juxtaposition of an element you mainly see in the city but out in the middle of the wilderness. Graff is almost a secret language that only a few people can read and understand. Who knows where that train car is now and whos looking at it, hopefully it's still running.

You don’t seem to mind getting in close to a point were other people might find it uncomfortable and shoot when other people would turn the other way. Born that way, or trained skill?

I think it’s a mix of both, I’ve always loved people and talking with anyone. I think I developed that from skating and just all the different walks of life I encountered while out in the streets, but when you pull out a camera it becomes a whole different game. I definitely had to work on knowing when to take a photo and when to just let it go and take a loss. Listing to your gut is crucial. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning and continuing to hone my skills as a photographer, it’s a life long class.

What’s your sketchiest moment being out shooting?

Man there has been so many, I’ve seen drug overdoses, fights, muggings, forest fires, but most recently I went down to Florida during Hurricane Irma and documented the aftermath that came along with it. I was in one particular neighboorhood that was flooded pretty badly. I was in water that was at least four to five feet deep. I talked to a few locals and they were talking about all the alligator and snake sighting since the flooding. The water was extremely dirty with oil, garbage, and human excrement and you could barely see in it. Of course, I was the only person foolish enough to be slugging around in the water, everything turned out OK in the end and I was fortunate enough to not come across any creatures or catch any severe bacterial infections, but it was definitely one of the sketchiest feelings I’ve had for awhile. If there was something near me I wouldn’t of seen it coming.

I came across this guy getting jumped and mugged off the strip in Las Vegas. Definity one of my scariest photo moments, I still don't know to this day how I didn't get fucked up from taking that photo. Sometimes a little liquid courage can go a long way.

Do you sometimes feel the need to go out and shoot kittens and flowers for a change?

No. There are plenty people who do a great job at that. Unless it’s a mountain lion or a flower on another planet, then I’m down.

Tits are the best, and I'll go against anyone who disagrees.

You’ve worked in the world of commercial as well as documentary photography. What’s your focus right now?

I’m definitely more passionate about documentary work, but I also love the challenge that comes with commercial work and the feeling of seeing a client happy. Plus who doesn’t like getting a paycheck… daddy needs a new pair of shoes!

I spent this summer shadowing the wildland firefighter in northwest Montana. These guys are savages and battle some massive infernos. This firefighter was packing hoses miles into the woods getting prepared for the fire that was heading their way.
The wildland firefighters have no fear, we drove up to the fire line to document the Silver City hotshot crew from New Mexico. You could feel the heat just radiating off of everything. These fire are so powerful and when you get up close you can really understand how powerless you are against the wrath of mother nature.
I spent the day taking portraits of the men and woman who were battling this 30,000 + acre fire. This was a firefighter was a part of a crew who traveled from Oregan to fight the fires in Montana. When he pulled out a cig with a smoldering forest in the background it was a picture perfect moment.

What’s your next personal project?

I’ve been working on a project the past five months with meth addicts who have changed there life for the better and beaten their addictions. I think there’s a lot of stigma on meth users and you don’t really see many stories of the people who have made it out. I want to give others hope that might be struggling with addictions to know that you can always make a change in your life for the better, no matter how close you are to rock bottom. I’ve met some really amazing people with really powerful stories.

This was really early in the morning in Berlin, Germany. Tags are such an import element of graff and a such a wonderful way to mark your existence in this world, I really feel that you get that feeling from looking at that photo. Just a dog pissing leaving his mark.

Last words?

I just wanted to give a big shout out to my family and friends who have supported me from day one. I have the most solid crew of homies I could image, Ben Scottorosano, Drew Kessler, Yudo Kurita, Christopher Charles Williams, Samuel Roberts, Thomas Suza, Adam Gllash and Doug Waun. All these guys are extremely talented people and without them I would just be some Bad Larry out on the streets.  Keep an eye out for these guys, they are producing some amazing work.

Images Robert LeBlanc

Interview Felix Adler