Alice Zoo documents a community of roller skaters, evoking a sense of much-needed warmth and hope

The London-based photographer’s latest series is filled with joy and optimism, which is just what we need right now.

Date
18 February 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

Like many over the course of lockdown, London-based photographer Alice Zooendured some changes. It was when the world’s events and distractions were removed, that the quality of her attention started to change. “I was conscious of its switching between different registers, from the diffuse, compulsive way that we tend to take in news and social media,” she tells It’s Nice That, “to the slower, more contemplative mode of, for example, spending a long time looking out a window; listening to the different layers of sound in the city; carefully watching the seasons change; following a single line of thinking for some distance, for the duration of one long walk, say, rather than fleetingly.”

This has had a profound influence on her working process. Much of her previous works tend to rely on human connection, whether that’s in the form of a series documenting the UK’s fat activists or the lives of performers in a travelling circus. So, in order to soften the harsh changes, Alice turned towards writing and, in 2020, noticed how she’d had more time than ever to do so. This notably occurred when her photography commissions were less frequent, and she ended up writing an article reporting on the skating community to accompany a series. “And my process has definitely evolved in terms of bringing my writing and photography more closely together and in tandem with one another.”

In the first lockdown, “like everyone else”, Alice found herself taking long daily walks and feeling “quite existential”. The latter was due to everything being unusually empty, and this unnerving atmosphere hanging around the city; Alice felt a sense of uncertainty. That was until she’d walked through Hyde Park in May, the first hot day of year, and surprisingly saw a park full of roller skaters: “people zipping along the edges of the Serpentine, eating ice creams, stretching each other out on the grass, playing music.” She was surprised, to say the least, and what occurred before her felt like another world. “It was such a relief,” she says, recalling the suddenly different feel in the air. “I think the fact that the atmosphere had really provoked this very strong feeling in me, which was so different from all the prevailing feelings of that time, made me resolve to photograph it straight away.”

The next day was another hot one, and Alice ventured out again to observe her newfound subjects. To another surprise, the park was empty. But this didn’t stop her; she went back every time the weather was nice and finally saw them all there once again – they started chatting, took some pictures and she noted down their contact details to keep in touch. “I always came away from shooting the skaters full of energy and excitement, just like I felt on that first day,” she says. “I wanted to tell the story because that first encounter filled with me optimism at a time when that was very rare.” And rest assured that her photographs are just as excitingly optimistic as the backstory, which still, to this day, gives us a very welcomed dose of reassurance.

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Alice Zoo: Skaters (Copyright © Alice Zoo, 2021)

It’s quite sublime to think that this was almost a year ago, and not much has evolved in terms of positive news. But Alice’s Skaters is a humbling documentation of community, a reminder that there’s still a glimpse of hope. You just need to go out looking for it. When Alice did, she found a group of friendly and sincere people who were eager to spark conversation. “Many of the skaters were brand new to the sport, who came along and made friends there; all of them were invested in building this community and very consciously wanting to welcome people in, which I think is reflected in how they responded to my being there.”

There’s one specific moment that Alice talks about: when she’d seen Tianna for the first time in the park, as she was skating past. She knew right away that she wanted to take her portrait, but she zipped past too quickly to ask. “I had a flash of that photographer’s wistful feeling of a potential picture disappearing from view before you've had a chance to catch it,” says Alice. “Quite a while later, I was glad to see her again, and there was this strange end-of-day light, with the low sun coming through quite heavy gathering clouds, and she stood by the water for my picture with the swans seeming to mimic her movements uncannily behind her.” This is one of her favourite images from the series, notably for the subjects’ charisma and the memory that it evokes.

There’s no denying that Skaters gives a sense of hope in a somewhat baffling climate, and this is precisely how she wants her pictures to be enjoyed. It’s also not quite the end for this series, as when things start to warm up again, she plans to pay the skaters another visit. “I hope that the images reflect something about the energy and warmth I felt from the people I met and the community at large,” she says on a lasting note. “And, speaking only personally, shooting it was a reminder that there are always good things happening, even during the most challenging times, if you seek them out.”

GalleryAlice Zoo: Skaters (Copyright © Alice Zoo, 2021)

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Alice Zoo: Skaters (Copyright © Alice Zoo, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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