Why Skateboarding Is More Relevant Than Ever
Messrs Chuck Askerneese and Marty Grimes at Kenter Canyon, 1975. Photograph by Mr Glen E Friedman, all photographs courtesy of Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera 2018
The exhibition charting the legacy of skate culture.
Skate culture never stops evolving, absorbing something new from every generation that discovers it. But one constant thread is the importance of timing, and how skate culture reflects (and reacts against) the eras in which it exists. Nowhere is that more clear than with Against The Grain, a new exhibition celebrating the enduring legacy of skateboarding – framed through the photographers and filmmakers who helped define it.
Curated by Mr Frankie Shea and Ms Jaime Marie Davis, it includes previously unseen work from pivotal shifts between skateboarding’s boom in the 1970s and the present day, whether it’s taking place at a bone-dry pool in Southern California or a homemade mini-ramp in Nottingham.
Three images by Mr J Grant Brittain, one of the most influential names in skate photography over the past 40 years, each hone in on a different discipline. There’s Mr Rodney Mullen’s ballet-like flatland freestyling, a shot of the legendary Bones Brigade (complete with clunky elbow pads and helmets) from 1986, as well as a picture of Mr Tod Swank which graced the cover of Transworld Skateboarding a year later, redefining the look of street photography.
Mr Jeremy Klein, Redondo Beach, 1989. Photograph by Mr Spike Jonze
Parts of the collection, in fact, can make you feel like you’re stepping into a museum devoted to skateboarding. Magazines sit in glass cases like dog-eared artefacts, their pages open on sequential how-to guides for beginners, while homemade zines – such as the first issue of Go For It!, an eight-page, cut-and-paste job produced by Mr Steve Douglas at his mum’s workplace – capture skate’s DIY ethos in all its haphazard glory.
In one room, a career retrospective of filmmaker and skate fiend Mr Spike Jonze plays on loop while, hanging just outside, a giant parchment by writer Mr CR Stecyk III – known for introducing an outlaw edge to skateboarding’s visual vocabulary – chronicles a timeline of the sport stretching from 3000 BC to 1998. Downstairs, in a bunker-sized room at the back, three retro TV sets flicker with distortion as 1988’s Ollie The Gap, the first UK skateboarding video, jitters to life in grainy lo-fi.
But it’s the spirit of skateboarding – rather than its well-preserved ephemera – that this exhibition communicates best: the lifestyle, the attitude, and that sense of youthful invincibility.
Mr Andrew Reynolds, Go Skate Day, Vancouver, 2009. Photograph by Mr Atiba Jefferson
It’s in the work of Mr Tobin Yelland, for instance, who embedded himself among skate’s misfit outsiders in the US, nailing definitive moments behind the scenes. Mr Yelland’s images of a board hurtling through a car window, or someone conked out with a sleeping bag on the lip of a ramp, reflect a side to skateboarding that no kickflip, however impressive, can get across.
In 2018, skate culture – in all its forms – is arguably in better shape than ever. It’s a billion-dollar industry, with a worldwide audience, and no longer so male-dominated. After travelling to North America next year, Against The Grain will reach Tokyo in 2020, coinciding neatly with the Olympics, where skateboarding will be in included for the first time. And while there are moments in this exhibition that can feel shockingly distant now, together they’re a testament to what its icons do best: being in the right place at the right time.