In the mid-Seventies, two events coincided in Southern California that gave rise to skateboarding as we now know it. The invention of the urethane wheel and the drought that emptied the pools across the city allowed the kids to ride their new boards in an entirely new way. Skateboarders, stoners, thrashers and bad-ass kids from different neighborhoods and backgrounds in Los Angeles began hitting the pavement after school and during the summer, creating a counter-culture that has inspired numerous books, songs, documentaries and films. From the flatland kids skating “freestyle” to the canyon kids going vertical and carving up drained out pools—including soon-to-be legends Stacy Peralta and Jay Adams—Hugh Holland perfectly captured their youthful innocence and the energy of the movement.
Unlike most photographers capturing the craze, Holland’s photographs were never about the sport. Holland shot with old color negative movie film, rendering his images in warm, soft tones that were in complete contrast to the sharp, crisp chromes that the majority of skate photographers were using at the time. Beyond the bodies in motion, Holland captures beautifully intimate portraits of the young boys sitting under the trees waiting their turn, resting by the chain link fence at Kenter or in peaceful contemplation after a long day of riding. Holland primarily shot his subjects in the late afternoon, bathing his models and settings with an effervescent, glistening quality. They are, in essence, photographs of a generation of boys discovering their identity amidst the backdrop of cultural phenomena that shaped a generation.
Hugh Holland (b. 1942, United States) had no formal training in photography prior to picking up a camera in 1968 after returning from a trip to Spain. He made a dark room and began shooting everything around him, particularly people. In 1975, while driving up Laurel Canyon, he witnessed his first skateboarders in the drainage ditches along the side of the canyon. For the next few years, he knew he found his subject, tirelessly documenting the burgeoning culture. Holland’s work was first exhibited at M+B in 2006. Following the success of the show, the exhibition traveled to Paris, New York and England.
2DMBlogazine have pretty strong ideas about how the fashion of skateboarding has changed and they write:
“The world over, cities are crawling with glossy girls and prissy boys whose only aim in life seems to be to perfect their appearance. It’s easy to blame fashion, especially from the outside, but the real culprit is much larger, and the exact opposite of fashion. Blame a well-oiled marketing machine, terribly misguided values (embodied in terribly misguided pop stars), and a fragmented Western culture mostly devoid of nagging discomforts…
We recently came across Hugh Holland’s 1970s photographs of Southern California kids who lived life on the decks of skinny, precarious banana skateboards. They commandeered dry swimming pools, they wore tattered Vans and had suntans. Theirs was a beauty that burst from within. Their exuberance and lust for life was boundless – and captured gorgeously by Holland, who was himself interestingly not a skateboarder. He could see that these kids were alive!
Most striking about Holland’s photos, though, is just how sharply their exuberance and energy contrasts with the pretence of today. Sure, more kids skate now, but it’s only because marketing types seized on the sport’s potential. Endorsements. Video games. And now every suburban kid and pretentious fashion victim worth his salt is somehow a skater, bro.
Going down to the stake park is no longer about the art of skating. It’s about trash talk and showing off your jeans. And the days of the banana board and California sunshine are over: not only do kids no longer roam the streets in search of adventure, they aren’t allowed to venture beyond their front doors without a helmet and fifteen kilos of other protective gear. Is this overprotectiveness the root of the problem? What harm did a healthy scratch do? And in an age of preteen Starbucks patrons, maybe its our inability to be kids – and our inability to let our kids be kids – that keeps us from living openly and exuberantly. Who knows.
So, instead of getting out there and pioneering and exploring in search of something truly new, we only seem to be capable of remixing that which came before. Without a moment’s thought about the lifestyle the look was born of, we dress like skaters. Or strap on a pair of Doc Martens we just bought with daddy’s credit card and claim to be punk. (You’re not punk. Full stop.) Or worse still, we copy something that means absolutely nothing. And we take photos of ourselves on the and post them to Lookbook, hoping desperately that someone will validate our desperation with “hype.” Except those hype points… well, if you say so!
Now, we don’t pretend to have a problem with appearance. On the contrary, in fact. But, shouldn’t a look be the result of a life lived? Of a passion? Of a belief? Your own?
Perhaps our old pal Vivienne Westwood said it best when she proclaimed that ”Johnny Rotten and all the others were a bunch of conformists. It’s not green hair that makes you different, it’s your brain, your attitude towards life.”
You’ve got that right, Viv.”
Following on from that viewpoint, what do you think? Has skateboarding lost its heart and become branded or are the skateboarding kids of today still full of passion and attitude? A further glimpse into skateboarding in the 1970s and in particular life on Venice Beach in the 1970s can be found at this website (some photos below) and if you are into surfing then there are some great shots of surfers on Venice Beach in the seventies.