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Spike Jonze: Jeremy Klein, Redondo Beach, 1989

Work / Photography

Against the Grain brings skateboard photography into the contemporary art world

Despite skateboarding’s prominent influence on almost every aspect of popular culture, it has been largely ignored as an artistic form. Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera aims to change this; the exhibition celebrating the photographers and filmmakers who have documented the movement.

Featuring never before seen images from the archive of Oscar-winning director Spike Jones and Glen E. Friedman, this historical review “highlights behind the scenes glimpses and the cultural shifts” associated with skateboarding in the past 50 years. Against the Grain will emphasise how this photographic genre is not only about recording a “peak action trick”, but is wide-ranging, expanding to “many documentary and artistic styles”; therefore, deserving of wider recognition from the contemporary art world.

It’s Nice That caught up with co-curator Frankie Shea, ahead of the exhibition launch tomorrow.

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J. Grant Brittain: Bones Brigade, Chin Ramp, 1987

It’s Nice That: What do you mean by Against the Grain; why did you choose this as the exhibition title?

Frankie Shea: Our original working title was When We Were Rad – a show concept focused around a golden era of skateboarding, from the mid-80s to the early 90s. It was a time when skateboarding saw a transition from the ramp (vert), to street skating.

After fleshing out this idea, I stumbled upon a picture by Transworld Skateboard Magazine editor, Skin Phillips. The picture showed ex-Brighton local Don Brown skateboarding the wrong way up a San Diego freeway. We wanted it for the show, but it was a capture outside of the strict time frame we’d set. A dialogue ensued, resulting in a decision to broaden the concept and document the last 50 years of skate culture. For me, Against the Grain encapsulates Skin’s photo, grain being a reminder of analogue photography and skateboarders often being the black sheep of their families. We usually do things our way, so the title was a perfect fit for many reasons.

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Sam Muller: Untitled (Chris Maalouf, Montreal) 2015

INT: Why has skate photography not previously been acknowledged as an art form and how do you want to change this?

FS: I was embedded in the London skate scene in the 80s and spent time living in Huntington Beach, California; skating with the pros, while taking photos for UK publications of the day. You can’t teach skate photography; you need to be neck deep within the scene to have any clue of when to even engage the shutter, let alone think about composition while doing so.

The skateboarding community can be incredibly close-knit, and despite some decent exhibition concepts, they have often been shown solely within the industry, displayed poorly and loosely curated. This show combines tight curation, great photography and a subject matter that crosses all ages and cultural backgrounds – in doing so we hope to elevate skateboarding photography, so it gets the recognition it deserves within the broader contemporary art world.

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Tobin Yelland: Corey Chrysler Focuses his Car, 1992

INT: How has skate culture affected youth culture and what role has publishing/fashion played in this?

FS: Skating is now a multi-million dollar industry, it’s never been so popular and has recently made Olympic status. Despite this, it still maintains its edgy persona, so you have people wanting to be a part of it. Some kids wear Thrasher shirts, not even knowing it’s a skateboard magazine.

You had to have thick skin to be a skater, and you took a lot of stick for being one. However, I guess that’s what makes skaters a little different and their rebellious attitude probably comes across as cool, and fashion labels followed.

Skating is a way of life, and it’s created a culture of its own. For young people, it can offer a real sense of community and belonging. So, kids, if you’re awkward, a little stroppy and no one likes you, go skate Southbank and find a like-minded crew. You’ll all get along swimmingly!

You can see the exhibition from 7-22 July at 15 Bateman Street, Soho.

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Skin Phillips: Grandma Thrasher, 1984, Swansea

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J. Grant Brittain: Todd Swank, Push, 1987

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Dobie Campbell: Palace Originals, Lucian Hendricks, 1985

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Glen E. Friedman: Hanging at Adolph’s in Holmby Hill After School, 1977

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Mike O’Meally: Palace Skate Team (Lucien Clarke, Chewy Cannon, Blondey McCoy, Jack Brooks, Danny Brady), 2016