“Brotherhood, community and togetherness”: Nick van Tiem documents a community of skaters in Cape Town

The photographer’s latest series highlights the importance of storytelling and collaboration: “There are kids just like them doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the world.”

13 July 2022

It feels like a lifetime since we last spoke to photographer Nick van Tiem. Within the space of three years, we’ve not only had a pandemic and (in the UK) a failed government to grapple with, but many creatives – Nick included – had to rethink a lot about their practice. For Nick, the travel restrictions meant he had to start looking at subjects closer to home. “But The Netherlands is a rainy country, so I ended up shooting a lot in the studio – which didn’t necessarily make me happy,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I’m more than excited to see everything open up again in the last few months, allowing me to travel and shoot my peers across the border.”

Leaving the more bizarre subject matters at bay (dog shows or radio-controlled airplane competitions, for instance), Nick now prefers telling in-depth stories of people. “I’d rather talk with my subjects to find a place they hold dear, a place where they feel comfortable and want to be portrayed,” he notes. A recent series which best summaries Nick’s new turn is Broke Boys, a project documenting brotherhood and persistence, documented through the lives of group of young men who skate from Khayelitsha, the biggest township in Cape Town. “This is not a place that encourages skating,” he adds, “as it is full with potholes and sewage water running through it. Skating in a place like this is what Broke is all about: to go against the grain and not conform to expectations.”


Nick van Tiem: Broke Boys, with The New Originals (Copyright © Nick van Tiem, 2022)

In 2017, Nick first met and photographed Andile, one of the original Broke Boys. They spent the afternoon together in Cape Town, “listening to tunes and chatting about the similarities and differences of our lives”, shares Nick. Living with four boys at the time named Mzwandile, Sindiso, Cole and Bobo – who each found a “surrogate family” in one another – this is where the name Broke Boys was coined. It housed their aspirations to DJ, throw parties and design clothes. Slowly, these dreams became a reality as they opened their own clothing shop and hosted events in the city centre. A year later, Nick ended up photographing Andile and Sindiso for The New Originals, styled in their garms and paired with thrifted items. “Broke represents a family; a cross-cultural clothing brand for misfits and rebels,” says Nick, who informs us how he and Andile had both been dreaming up a collaboration between TNO and Broke Boys. The years flow by and the Broke Boys community grew: “It felt that the time was right.”

What you’re looking at now is collaboration that’s been stirring in the pot for some years now, bubbling away until reaching the perfect temperature to serve. In 2022, the TNO team and the Broke Boys launched their collaboration and campaign, looking at the ethos and journey of the close-knit community of skaters. It shows that, through collaboration, stories of community can be spread across the world. It also proves how photography can be an adept device in telling these narratives, informed by a joyful mix of candid moments and the more artful portrait. “We live in a globalised world where we can buy anything from anywhere and fly to whatever exotic location comes to mind. But even though we’re more connected than ever, political and social polarisation have increased our fear of the ‘other’,” says Nick. “With this project, we wanted to transit the physical distance between us by focusing on the values that unite us: brotherhood, kinship, community, kindness and togetherness. We wanted to highlight these communities to each other – to show them that there are kids just like them doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the world.”

GalleryNick van Tiem: Broke Boys, with The New Originals (Copyright © Nick van Tiem, 2022)

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Nick van Tiem: Broke Boys, with The New Originals (Copyright © Nick van Tiem, 2022)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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