The Beautiful Flower Is The World, out May 21 by Anthology Editions, is a pro-skater-cum-photographer’s 288 pages of bootleg, irony and a type of “tragicomic” (as Jesse Pearson describes in the book’s foreword) beauty unique to skate culture. Even the title is ripped off of a child’s t-shirt. This is Jerry Hsu’s second print release, photographed between skating and running his clothing brand Sci-fi Fantasy. Featuring unplanned snapshots of a hopeful poppy in the tarmac, a haunting eye amongst a box of chopped raw flesh and shrooms on pizza; escapism, beauty, ugliness and tension punctuate his series.
As Hsu’s photography work gains traction, I can’t help but continue to define his work by the skate aesthetic that follows him since breaking through at 13. Praised by Mark Johnson and featured frequently in Thrasher, he is amongst the stars of skating. He bypassed the list for Jonah Hill’s film Mid-90s press event as he’s “one of the director’s favourite skaters”. In a seemingly sublime world, he is down to earth. Hsu’s cell phone pics are raw and impulsive – with a touch of trippy stoner humour. Below he shares the story behind the title tee and what photographing strangers means.
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Was your first camera digital or film? How did you first get into photography?
In the beginning, around twelve or thirteen, I just used my moms’. It was the family camera, a Canon, something a mum would use, just like a Canon SLR with a zoom lens. But my first camera that was my own was a Minolta SRT101, and my friend gave it to me. He thought it was broken but it just needed a new battery, so I just put a new battery in it and started using it. It was just a tank, a silver metal machine. That’s how I started. I was probably like sixteen, seventeen. 
I really started to learn about and get into photography at around nineteen or twenty, and it always came in waves because I was skating professionally, so sometimes I wouldn't think about photography for a while and then there were times when I could concentrate on it. Skating was my day job so I tried to fit in photography whenever I could.
@internetfamous, your Instagram account, has 151k followers. Whilst there is a theme of voyeurism in your photography, it is often shared to a voyeuristic space. In your book, are you partly documenting what you experience?
The book is essentially all of my everyday experiences. The whole thing is these micro events that happen throughout my day. It’s what I saw every day. With people, most of the time they don’t know I’m taking the photo, and if they do, they don’t really react in any way. There’s only been a handful of times when someone’s really reacted (in any sort of way) – that’s the thing about photographing strangers, there’s such an intense fear that comes over you before you do it. But generally, nothing ever happens and you kind of have to remember that.
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We can find the namesake t-shirt on your Tumblr Nazi Gold. Where did you find the top, and is there a story behind it?
I found that shirt in Los Angeles. I was really drawn to it because of the use of words and the language. It’s a phrase that travelled from here, over to Asia, was somehow changed and then travelled back here printed on a t-shirt. It mirrored the way the photos on the blog do. The words travelled, probably over the web, and then it became physical, like the book. And it was a weird physical object, like, who made this? Who’s going to wear this? Who's going to buy this? It’s so strange. Why does this exist? It’s sort of like a lot of the photos, they have that feeling of questioning why did someone make this, why did someone do this. It’s so illogical, but sometimes illogical can be very interesting.
The Beautiful Flower Is The World puts something digital into print, framing images or ‘feed’ in the same black walls as your blog. Why did you choose to make it physical? 
Yes, the design of the book is based on the blog. I thought it would be funny to base the design of a book based on a Tumblr blog where you can just use these pre-made themes, like choosing a colour of paint on a wall. I just picked one randomly and I thought it would be funny to base the whole book on that. The gold font alludes to the title of the blog, Nazi Gold. I wanted to make the cover a little ostentatious; the photos are low quality, so to make the cover like that, I thought it would be funny to juxtapose it a little bit.
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The Killing Season, your first photography book, documents your motorbike trip across Vietnam skating. Tell us more about the title. Does it link to skating? 
The title was actually because of the time we went to Vietnam. We went during the Asian Lunar Year, so Chinese New Year. During that time, we met people in these little villages along the roads and highways that we were on, and we were told that a lot of people drive drunk. There are a lot of accidents and a lot of people die, so that’s why it’s called The Killing Season, it was that particular time of year.
At MACBA, in Barcelona, I find watching the (non-serious) falls as fun as when people land a trick. Why are skaters sometimes proud of their ‘battle scars’?
What we do is really, really difficult, and part of the enjoyment is learning and accomplishing new things and inventing new stuff for yourself, and that comes at a great personal and physical cost. It’s not like going to war or anything, but it’s very difficult physically – sometimes it takes a toll –, so I think that’s why skaters can appreciate something like that. If something is that difficult to do, I guess it deserves some respect and I think that’s why.
Have you skated in Barcelona?
I have, I lived in Barcelona for nine months.
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