Skater boys on show

A new ex­hi­bi­tion re­mem­bers the side­walk surfers of the ’70s, writes El­iz­a­beth Fortes­cue

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - el­iz­a­beth.fortes­cue@news.com.au Twit­ter: @Ozartwriter

The first time Hugh Hol­land saw skate­board­ers and de­cided to pho­to­graph them, he thought their moves looked like ballet on con­crete.

“I saw a phe­nom­e­non un­fold­ing be­fore my eyes, and it was beau­ti­ful to me,” Hol­land says.

The year was 1975 and the place was Lau­rel Canyon Boule­vard in Los An­ge­les.

Teenagers from lo­cal neigh­bour­hoods would gather in the con­crete drainage ditches along­side the road and spend whole days pit­ting their fit­ness and agility against grav­ity and the threat of bro­ken bones and torn skin.

Hol­land says he was just get­ting into photography at the time.

“I sup­pose I was look­ing for sub­ject mat­ter, although I didn’t know it at the time,” he says. “I was in the right place at the right time. Young skaters were just start­ing to ‘go ver­ti­cal’. They were ex­cited at ev­ery bound­ary passed, and the ex­cite­ment was in the air.”

Hol­land pho­tographed the skate­board coun­ter­cul­ture for three years, tak­ing thou­sands of images. Some of the lithe young ath­letes, like Stacy Per­alta, be­came fa­mous skate­board­ers and surfers. Most of them didn’t. In the golden light and long shad­ows of Hol­land’s pic­tures, they are f for­ever young.

Hol­land stopped p pho­tograph­ing skate­board­ers when the sport of rebels and surfers was taken over by brands and lo­gos. It was no longer of vi­tal in­ter­est to him, and he moved on to pho­to­graph other sub­jects.

But peo­ple from Lon­don, Paris, New York and Ja­pan have ex­pe­ri­enced Hol­land’s skate­board­ing pho­to­graphs in a trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tion, which will be in Syd­ney from Tues­day un­til Au­gust 1.

Hol­land will at­tend the of­fi­cial open­ing at Blen­der Gallery on June 4, where he will also launch his book of the same name as the ex­hi­bi­tion — Lo­cals Only.

“For this show, we’re un­veil­ing nine new pho­to­graphs,” Hol­land says. “They’re skate­board-era pho­tos that haven’t been seen much yet and are be­ing made as fine-art prints for the first time.”

Hol­land says he has “thou­sands of good pho­tos from those days”. In­ter­est­ingly, they lay ig­nored for years un­til he in­cluded one in a mixed ex­hi­bi­tion in 2004.

The pho­to­graph was spot­ted by Dov Char­ney, founder of the Amer­i­can Ap­parel cloth­ing busi­ness, which prompted Hol­land to go through his skate­board­ing ar­chive. He held his first ded­i­cated skate­board­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in 2006.

There is a doc­u­men­tary qual­ity to th­ese pho­to­graphs. Span­ish re­vival ar­chi­tec­ture and sway­ing palm trees are the back­drop as kids with sun-bleached hair pull off amaz­ing phys­i­cal feats on their decks.

With the ac­tion hap­pen­ing so fast around him, Hol­land had no time to di­rect the ac­tion. Nor did he want to.

“There was no set­ting up of the pic­tures, ex­cept for the fact that the skaters of­ten showed off for my cam­era,” Hol­land says. “My style has al­ways been more street photography than any other kind — cap­tur­ing pic­tures I see un­fold­ing in front of me.”

Hol­land turned up to pho­to­graph the skate­board­ers in ar­eas like Hunt­ing­ton Beach, Bur­bank, Bal­boa Beach, the San Fer­nando Val­ley, San Fran­cisco and even Baja Cal­i­for­nia, Mex­ico.

The skate­board­ers loved be­ing in his pic­tures.

“They did co­op­er­ate,” Hol­land says. “Maybe you could even say that they got me to co-op­er­ate with them. They wanted images of them­selves al­most as much as I wanted to do it.

“I had good at­ti­tude al­most al­ways from them. One thing is that, 40 years ago, there were a lot fewer cam­eras around than there are to­day. Now ev­ery­one has a cam­era of some kind. At that time, when I ap­peared with my cam­era, I was wel­comed.”

The roots of skate­board­ing go back to the 1940s. But the mid-1970s saw a boom in pop­u­lar­ity, thanks to the in­ven­tion of polyurethane wheels, which pro­vided the trac­tion needed to per­form in­creas­ingly com­plex tricks.

Ev­ery surfer had a skate­board, and rode it in a

way that mim­icked rid­ing a wave. Rid­ing a skate­board even be­came known as “side­walk surf­ing”.

An­other term coined was “pool rid­ing”, re­fer­ring to the use of empty backyard swim­ming pools as unof­fi­cial skate parks. Cal­i­for­nia in the mid ’70s was in the grip of drought, and lo­cal teenagers would scale peo­ple’s fences to ride in their pools.

In 2011, the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art in Los An­ge­les in­cluded Hol­land’s work in the first ma­jor US mu­seum sur­vey of graf­fiti and street art. The ex­hi­bi­tion was ti­tled Art In The Streets.

If get­ting the at­ten­tion of a ma­jor art gallery be­stows ret­ro­spec­tive so­cial ac­cep­tance, all the lit­tle rebels in Hol­land’s pic­tures had sud­denly found them­selves on the in­side — maybe where they never wanted to be.

Lo­cals Only, Blen­der Gallery, 16 El­iz­a­beth St, Padding­ton; free June 2- Aug 1, blender­gallery.com

Ex­am­ples of Hugh Hol­land’s Cal­i­for­nian skate­boarder pho­to­graphs taken in the mid-1970s, on show at the Blen­der

Gallery in Padding­ton from next week.

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