In an age of digital media it is becoming increasingly rare for people to pick up anything printed and read it, let alone look at it. Throttle Merchants is an independently produced coffee table book of dynamic photos documenting the hot rod and custom motorcycle scene. The two South Bay locals behind Throttle Merchants are Matt Porter and Aileen Aquino. They have been producing Throttle Merchants off and on since 2008 and have five published books out so far. Because this is a side gig and they don’t quite have the financial backing to travel around the state most of their subjects have been local with the exception of one trip they drove out to Austin for their first issue. Some of the subjects they photographed over the years have been, Jeb Scolman, Bobby Green of Old Crow Speed Shop, The Branch Family, John Fisher of Burbank Choppers, David Bond of Lucky B Design, Jason Cruz, Kiyo of Kiyo’s Garage among a bunch of other builders.
Where were you born and raised?
MATT PORTER: I was born in Torrance and spent my entire childhood in the Torrance and Gardena area.
What got you into photography?
MP: Honestly, I found an old Minolta 35mm in my dad’s junk and realized I didn’t know how to work a camera with manual settings. That aloneintrigued me enough to ask some questions and I got started there.
AA: I’ve always been interested in photographs but it wasn’t until Matt came to me with the idea of partnering up for Throttle Merchants that I became serious about it. As a teenager, I was in a small photography club but was kicked out for ditching the meetings. Around the same time we started the photo books I got really interested in the dark room.
Do you have any formal education in photography?
MP: None at all. My education consisted of tons of ruined film and no answers. It was almost completely trial and error for me at the start. I was lucky enough to have met Adam Wright along the way and he was open to teaching and answering all my rookie questions
AA: I took advanced photography courses at a local community college while interning at a portrait & commercial photography studio in Torrance. From there, I became a part-time assistant photographer and had a chance to second shoot events, family portraits, and weddings. I learned a ton from my instructors in school and the few people in my classes that were truly into photography.
How long have you been shooting photographs?
MP: I guess I have been shooting since about 2006 or 2007 but I would say I really didn’t shoot a photo I was happy with until a couple years after that.
What equipment do you use?
MP: Right now, we shoot film and digital. The majority of our photos come from a Nikon N80 and a Nikon D300, just with all the natural light we get. I still occasionally shoot with some older cameras for fun but really just those two cameras get us all the images we need. I’d like to step up to some nicer equipment but they work for us for now.
AA: See Matt’s answer. We share equipment. Ha! To be honest, photography has never been about equipment to me, it’s always been about composition and capturing moments. Those candid shots that most photographers would edit out of a collection- those are the ones I’ve always been most intrigued by.
How did Throttle Merchants come about?
MP: I started shooting in the shop I worked in and Jeb Scolman of Jeb’s Metal and Speed was pretty much the guinea pig of subjects. I knew I wanted to put a book of images together and he helped me get a lot of my first contacts. Then when I met Adam, he pretty much pointed me in a certain direction and the rest is history.
How long have you been doing Throttle Merchants?
AA & MP: Since 2008, off and on.
How many books have you produced?
Who are some of the subjects you featured in your books?
MP: Jeb Scolman was featured in the first few, Bobby Green of Old Crow Speed Shop, The Branch Family, John Fisher of the Burbank Choppers, David Bond of Lucky B Design, Jason Cruz, Kiyo of Kiyo’s garage, among a bunch of others.
AA: We shot Michael Hodis at the dry lakes in El Mirage. We saw a million stars out in the desert that morning, and watched the sun come up just a couple hours later. He’s featured in Throttle Merchants Volume 5.
Do you travel for some of your shoots or are they local?
MP: I don’t travel too far although I would absolutely love to. We drove to
Austin for our first issue and shot the trip there but I really can’t afford to get away too much. The project is more considered a “passion project” than something I turn a profit on so I can only do what my budget allows. The majority of subjects are from Central to Southern California.
What are some of your most memorable experiences in creating Throttle Merchants?
MP: The relationships make it all worth it. There’s really not one specific experience I can think of to talk about. Sometimes I question myself and the project and the amount of money I am constantly throwing at it, but at the end of the day, the relationships I have made are irreplaceable. Some of my best friends have been a result of Throttle Merchants.
Who are some of your influences in photography?
MP:I can probably name 100 photographers that I find interesting or inspiring but when it comes down to it, I can easily name two photographers that influenced me more than any. The first one being Walker Evans, a photographer that documented a lot of the Great Depression. The second one is easily Adam Wright. Not only does his work and vision inspire me, but the help he gave me along the way is something I’ll always be grateful for.
AA: My instructor/ mentor from an advanced photography class a few years ago taught me how to really look at an image and analyze it. It wasn’t just about liking or disliking a photo with her- it was about the reasons why and she made each person dig deep for meaning. It became a great tool to me- especially when choosing which images to include in our books. Also, one of my favorite photographers said that images aren’t made with a camera and that they are made with an eye, heart, and head- it’s my mantra when it comes to photography.
You recently did an art show book release party at Syndicate Barber Shop in Long Beach. Tell me about it.
MP: Ok, well this kind of just happened out of the blue. I knew I wanted to release the new issue like we did for the 4th one but I have a hard time finding a good venue that attracts the right people. I knew Tim at Syndicate has done some art shows in the past and he happens to be friends with David Bond. I was at David’s in Templeton, California and threw the idea out there. He was on board so I contacted the other artists and seemed like it would be a go. That’s kind of how I work. I just throw something out there and hope for the best. Planning is always secondary. Ha.
AA: We had the idea to have a photo exhibit for our photography only. It was an idea that was bounced around for years. It wasn’t until we started working on our latest book that we decided to add some other artists to the lineup. Tim was a great host and is a straight-up good person, so I was glad to have him involved.
Who were the artist you had in your show?
MP: We had some great artists there. The photographers were headed by Mark Kawakami of Joyrides Art Company, Tim Sutton, Heeko, Jessie Stopnik, Ben Grillo, and ourselves. The artists that can actually draw and paint and blow my mind were David Bond of Lucky B Design, Chris “The Betty Hunter” Garcia, Spencer Getty of Spagetty’s Garage, and Amy Hood of Hoodzpah Design Co. Then on top of that, we had Brian Darwas’ film, This is Long Beach, projecting on the neighboring building.
Why were these group of artist/photographers chosen to be in your show?
MP: We invited these artists because their style and subjects reflect what we try to do in our own project. They all represent the California hot rod/ motorcycle culture and of course more than anything, they are all great at what they do and deserving of a place to showcase their work
AA: I particularly invited Jessie Stopnik to join us because I’ve been following her work since she first got her start. I’m a big fan of color photography and she has a keen eye for that stuff. I was stoked when she said she’d show some images.
What is in the future for Throttle Merchants?
MP: It is really hard to say. We are still working towards shooting more and printing more but we constantly have to gauge the interest. When you print and publish completely in the United States, you pay for it but not everyone can appreciate that and not everyone buys print these days. We get that and respect that and just hope we can move some of the stock so we can print another issue. I just take it day by day, week by week.
AA: I’d like to curate a few more art shows.
Where can people buy the latest copy of Throttle Merchants?
AA & MP: You can always get them via our website: throttlemerchantsmag.com.