I used to ride my bike past a skate park on my way to work. I wanted to make portraits of the skaters who hung out there; I thought of them as a rebellious crowd and I wanted to be a part of that, but I didn’t know how to enter their world. Years later, I learned the wet plate collodion process to make tintypes and eventually built my portable darkroom. For the obligatory testing of my new darkroom, I instinctively headed to the Berkeley skate park. The wet plate collodion process consequently became my reason and excuse to finally go to the skate park and photograph.
When I made my first skater tintype, I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of merging contemporary culture with a 165 year-old photographic process. As I met skaters from varying communities, I learned that there was a depth to this culture that I had been oblivious to, and I felt inspired to continue making these photographs.
Employing a large format camera in combination with the wet plate collodion photographic process demands a prolonged stationary subject. The sitter must remain motionless for over 30 seconds --easier said than done and easier still without smiling. Most people’s learned reflex when sitting in front of a camera is to smile, portraying some sort of artificial moment of photographic happiness. When I ask my subjects to not smile, there is often a sense of surprise and relief --even the from the most subversive skater. Beyond this request, the choice of pose is theirs. The resulting tintype portraits radiate a unique honesty not often found in modern, faster processes, offering a glimpse beyond their image and possibly into character: pensive, tough, innocent, anxious, distracted, playful.
I have been moved and inspired by these skaters’ unflinching determination as I have progressed through this body of work. They fall, they get up, they fall again and again. There is pain. Skate or die. There is the camaraderie, the creativity, the support. Is this “rebellion?”
I’d like to thank every skater I have encountered on this journey for welcoming me into their community and trusting me to look and listen, allowing me to share the ride. Their obsession --my obsession.