Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera

In 2020 skateboarding will become an Olympic sport for the first time, joining the Games in Tokyo alongside surfing, karate and sport climbing. It’s big step for a sport that’s always been associated with the counter culture – with, as a new exhibition of skate photography puts it, going Against the Grain.

Including images by photographers such as Spike Jonze, C. R. Stecyk III, and Glen E. Friedman, Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera traces the history of skateboarding, from the empty Californian pools of the 1970s to the now world-famous Palace Wayward Boys Choir – a London-based crew whose member Lev Tanju founded a wildly successful skateboard and clothing brand.

The exhibition also includes archive material from magazines such as SkateBoarder, Thrasher, Transworld, R.a.D [Read and Destroy], and Sidewalk, which, say the organisers, were “essential to circulating information about skateboarding and contributed to the international force it is today”.

Palace Skate Team (Lucien Clarke, Chewy Cannon, Blondey McCoy, Jack Brooks, Danny Brady), Tottenham Hale, 2016 © Mike O’Meally

And in doing so, Against the Grain also hopes to make a case for skateboarding photography – arguing that, although it’s “often dismissed for solely capturing the decisive moment or ‘peak action trick’, this wide-ranging genre of photography has expanded to many documentary and artistic styles and continues to exist through its own decree”.

Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera opens in London before travelling to North America in 2019 and Tokyo in 2020, focusing in on aspects of the skate community and history of each location. In London it kicks off with an Art Night run in association with Hayward Gallery, for example, tracing South London skate spots critical to the Palace story – and fundraising for Long Live Southbank, the campaign to restore and save the outdoor skatepark underneath the public gallery.

Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera is on show from  07-22 July at 15 Bateman Street, Soho, London W1D 3AQ

Chuck Askerneese and Marty Grimes at Kenter Canyon, 1975 © Glen E. Friedman
Hanging at Adolph’s in Holmby Hill after school, 1977 © Glen E. Friedman
Grandma, Thrasher, 1984. Swansea © Skin Phillips
Palace Originals, Lucian Hendricks, Crystal Palace, 1985 © Dobie Campbell
Bones Brigade, Chin Ramp, 1987 © J. Grant Brittain
Todd Swank, Push, 1987 © J. Grant Brittain
Video Days, Jason Lee and Mark Gonzales, 1989 © Spike Jonze
Aloha, Mark Gonzales, 1998. Stadtisches Museum, Koln, Germany © Skin Phillips
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy