The photographers who documented skateboarding’s roots at breakneck speed

Night time image of a young male skateboarder, red and white long sleeve top, grey shorts, black socks and trainers, photograph is snapped multiple time frames to show the skateboarders movements across the jump, dark sky, street lights
Jason Lee and Mark Gonzales, Huntington Beach, 1989
(Image credit: TBC)

Skateboarding was born out of surfing, and if the later sport is an attempt at dominating the indomitable surface of nature, skating is about conquering urban terrain. In the 1970s, when surfers bored by flat oceans began to take over the abandoned architecture of Southern California, it hardly seemed possible that skating could turn into a worldwide phenomenon, and even an Olympic Sport.

Yet with the public space becoming more crowded and surveilled, skating is being pushed away from its subculture roots. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Jamie Marie Davis and Frankie Shea have decided to remind the world where skating has been – and what it’s done for our visual landscape – curating a touring exhibition, ‘Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera’, that goes back to skating’s roots, and pays homage to the photographers who were there to document it at breakneck speed.

Black and white image of Go Skate Day, Vancouver, 2009, crowd of people watching and taking photographs, skateboarder in mid air suspended over stone steps, surrounding landscape of trees and buildings in the back drop

Andrew Reynolds, Go Skate Day, Vancouver, 2009

(Image credit: TBC)

Some of those names are well-know: Spike Jonze, known for cult films like Being John Malkovich and Her, started out shooting skaters in the US, and founded the now iconic skateboard label, Girl Skateboards, in the early 1990s. It was one of his earliest skate films, Video Days, originally shot as a promo for Blind Skateboards, that launched Jonze’s career as a filmmaker. 

Others are unsung outside of skate. Welsh photographer Skin Philips has mythologised pro-skating with his camera since the early 1980s, shooting skaters like Mark Gonzales, Steve Caballero and Nicky Guerrero; Wig Worland, who founded Sidewalk magazine, (one of many publications dedicated to skating and its culture included in the exhibition) is another of the artists featured who has contributed to creating the history of skating and the idea of skate photography as an art form.

In addition to the main show, From Palace to Palace is a six-part installation at South London skate spots, organised in conjunction with Art Night and the Hayward Gallery.

Black and white image of Grandma Thrasher, Swansea, 1984 sat in a wooden arm chair, sitting room, window with net curtains to the left, white window sill with items on top, patterned wall paper, record player under the window

Grandma Thrasher, Swansea, 1984

(Image credit: TBC)

Daytime image of Chuck Askerneese and Marty Grimes at Kenter Canyon, 1975, skateboarding crouched on a concrete slop, metal mesh fences, trees and buildings in the distance

Chuck Askerneese and Marty Grimes at Kenter Canyon, 1975

(Image credit: TBC)

Black and white image of Corey Chrysler with his car, 1992, road, building and trees in the backdrop, parked cars in the street

Corey Chrysler focuses his car, 1992

(Image credit: TBC)

Daytime image of male skateboarder in a falling position on a concrete floor, skateboard and stone steps to the left , shadow of photographer front shot

Untitled (Chris Maalouf, Montreal), 2015

(Image credit: TBC)

Black and white daytime, outside image of the Palace Skate Team, 2016, carrying their skateboards, surrounding buildings and hedges to the right of the shot

Palace Skate Team (Lucien Clarke, Chewy Cannon, Blondey McCoy, Jack Brooks, Danny Brady), Tottenham Hale, 2016

(Image credit: TBC)


‘Against the Grain: Skate Culture and the Camera’ is on view until 22 July. For more information, visit the exhibition website


15 Bateman Street
London W1D 3AG


Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.