Remember when thoughts and theories about so-called “Generation X” were on the tip of everyone’s tongue? We were called “slackers,” and older people said we lacked motivation and passion. I’ve always taken issue with these characterizations because I’ve constantly seen people my age pursuing paths and interests that had no prior archetype — and working very hard at them. Now that the focus has shifted to the next generation, and now that we’ve been pushing for a while, our generation is emerging in new careers and pursuits quite different from our forebears — and in many that didn’t exist before.
Hal Brindley has been steadily following his own beat. From behind the bars of a BMX bike to behind the shutter of a camera in the wilderness, his drummer has lead him all over the world. I traded mail with Hal during the late-’80s BMX ’zine heyday, so having watched him sell his previous BMX company and then having seen it disappear completely, I wanted to find out how his path had shifted so dramatically. As with many of our generation’s pursuits, it makes much more sense when you see the passion behind it. Naysayers be damned.
Roy Christopher: Well, I guess the obvious first question is how’d you go from BMX entrepreneur to wildlife photographer?
Hal Brindley: I was getting burned out on the business (Play Clothes). It had become too successful and became full-time hard work. I named it “Play” because I didn’t want to work. I never wanted a real job and that’s what it had become. I’ve always loved animals and nature, and I wanted to do something with my life that would make a difference, something that mattered to me. One day I decided to sell the business and become a wildlife photographer ’cause it sounded cool. I knew nothing about it. I just bought a camera and started taking pictures. I wanted to be able to travel the world and write it off as a business expense. I found someone to buy the company (Rex Shupe). He paid roughly $60K for it and ran it into the ground within half a year. He’s a good guy, just not terribly self-motivated, as the self-employed need to be.
From my perspective it was perfect. I didn’t really want to sell it because my business was so personal to me. Play was me, but having a wad of cash is pretty cool too. So, I ended up with both (sorry, Rex). I’ve been kind of a slacker ever since, except for a few periods of intense house remodeling. That’s how I’ve been surviving — bought, remodeled, and sold two houses. I spend about half the year traveling. Now I’m finally starting to make some effort on the business end of wildlife photography. I don’t expect to get rich at it. Just have a pleasant, adventurous life.
RC: I still have some old 2B Home Cooked stickers. How’d you get into the business side of BMX in the first place?
HB: I wish I still had some 2B stickers! It’s funny, I have nothing from the old days; it’s almost like it never happened. I have a Play sweatshirt and a couple tees and that’s it. Oh yeah, I still have a 2B bowling shirt from 1990 that’s practically brand new. How I got into it: My good buddy Steve Buddendeck came up with the name 2B, which originally stood for Buddendeck and Buddendeck. (Him and his mom! Ha! How uncool is that!) They were going to make shorts. Meanwhile, I was a freshman in college making a ’zine called “Stop Zine” and I learned how to screen print so I could make some shirts for it. My first designs I made under the name “20 Inch Garb.” Then Steve and I decided 2B should be Brindley and Buddendeck. I think we were snowboarding in West Virginia at the time, probably 1989. I started printing the tees and I worked for a summer as a waiter to place the first three ads in Go Magazine. (Being a waiter sucks ass and it was the last job I ever had). Most of our marketing was through ’zines. We played the super-cool, underground hardcore angle ’cause I guess we really were. No one else was doing it at the time (except maybe Club Homeboy), and it took off. Steve and I were really just in it so we could put ourselves in ads.
RC: What are you shooting other than wildlife?
HB: Nothing! That’s all I shoot! Animals are an endless fascination to me. There are so many unbelievable and crazy creatures out there that most people have never heard of. I get excited every time I learn about an animal for the first time, and I get super excited when I see a creature for the first time in the wild. You can’t beat it: finding a tapir in the middle of a rain forest, or seeing a polar bear in the tundra, or crawling after a wombat in a field in Australia, or swimming with a manatee, or seeing a leopard attack a crocodile at a waterhole in Africa. It’s just the best. These creatures are all getting crowded out by humans and many will be gone soon. It’s nice to be able to see them before they disappear, and it’s even nicer to think that maybe I’m helping to keep them from disappearing.
RC: Do you still follow BMX or ride the little bike at all?
HB: I had a spell of several years where it gathered dust. Then I got divorced four months ago (you may remember Abigail from the “Oldest Guy at the Prom” Play ad many years ago), and my world flipped upside down. I moved into my dad’s spare room and started living like a kid again (I’m thirty-four, by the way). There’s a free skatepark here in Charlottesville, and something inside me really wanted to ride some more. So, I go out there every now and then — mostly right when it opens when there’s no one there because I’m embarrassed at how rusty I am. I skate there about as much as I ride. It felt good to do a few barspins, a couple big transfers — getting up the nerve to do a 360 was even a challenge. It’s funny to be on the other side now: to be a wash-up. To be the guy kids are reading about and thinking, “That will never happen to me. I’m hardcore, and I’m gonna ride forever!” Well, we all know you’re not, but I hope you can find something you love just as much to do afterward. I don’t follow BMX at all now (I did just watch the Kink video last week to relive the pudding wrestling scene that I helped Chris Hargrave shoot). That’s not so weird ’cause I never really followed it when I was in it. We always just did our own thing.
RC: What have you been working on and what’s coming up?
HB: I decided to get into underwater photography this year so I’ve got four different diving-related trips planned in the next few months. I’m gonna try to open a gallery/bar ’cause it sounds like a good way to pick up chicks (just kidding, of course, if my new girlfriend happens to be reading this) and try to accomplish as many things as possible on my “things to do before I die” list. My words of wisdom: There’s no time like the present.
You can check out my latest trip on halbrindley.com. Sign up for the email list if you want to be notified when I put up new stories.
Rock on, honkies.