How much do we value a great skateboard photo these days in our plank-pushing community? Has our appreciation for capturing that split-second moment decreased as our thirst for more video “content” has increased? Should we even be comparing videos and photos, letting one outweigh the other? In a lot of cases, photos and videos can evoke far different reactions in us.
Part of what drew me to skateboarding, and subsequently pushed me towards photographing skateboarding, was that the photographs in skateboard magazines were by and large of greater quality and interest to me than anything else I was seeing in mainstream culture. The range of equipment and techniques that have been employed over the years in the documentation of skateboarding is astounding. There aren’t many publications outside of skateboarding where you can find a photo shot with a full professional studio lighting kit out in the streets placed next to a fisheye photo capturing high-speed action two feet in front of the photographer’s face. The next time you are in a newsstand—if you can find one—compare the photos in a skateboard magazine—if you can find one—to the photos in any other type of sports or enthusiast publication. See what I mean? So why does it feel like we are letting the value of skateboard photography decrease? Is having video take over any channel that’s not printed okay with everyone? Is it what we collectively want, or is it just what we are being fed?
Admittedly, I ask these questions as a person with an extreme bias towards photography. That said, by no means do I mean to undervalue filmmaking. I’m just wondering if we’ll see the use and value of photos and videos balance out as the digital age continues to grow, or if we are on track to see photography continue to take a back seat to “motion pictures.” I sure hope not. Come on, the magic of capturing the exact decisive moment that can tell the whole story of a trick, while still leaving room for your imagination to fill in the blanks? That’s the equivalent of reading a book and letting your mind paint the scene in your head, versus watching a movie where it’s all right there in front of you. Or, for those of you who find that to be a bad or unclear analogy, it’s the equivalent of going out and discovering natural skate spots, versus going to the park that’s made for skateboarding. Sure, there’s still room for creativity, but less room for interpretation or surprise.
Unless you live in a major city, and hell, even if you do, you may not be able to regularly get your hands on a new skateboard magazine very often these days. So if you are getting your daily fill from social media, well, when was the last time you saw a great skate photo on there? Or any skate photo?
I know I’m being a dinosaur about this, but my point is this: as the mainstream increasingly has their way with shaping our culture—for as long as it’s profitable anyway—video is going to rule. It’s going to rule because video, as I said before, lays out the whole story with no need for imagination. Since this still-expanding mainstream audience doesn’t understand skateboarding like we do, they can’t understand what’s going on when shown a photo of the peak moment in a Backside 180 Nosegrind to regular. To them, it’s a person twisted up strangely with part of their board touching a ledge. Mainstreamers can watch the video instead that’ll fill in all the blanks for them.
So, do we want to continue to de-value this medium of documenting skateboarding that has been intertwined with our culture for as long as it has existed, just to make things easier for the masses to understand and digest? Either way, here’s a new issue that is made up of photos and some words. Fill in the blanks where necessary. —Jeff Thorburn