Neil Macdonald: 5 Favourite Skate Pics
The man behind Science Versus Life on five of his favourites
These are my five favourite UK skateboard photos, on this Friday afternoon in April. I think it’s impossible to pick all-time favourite photos, since the reasons for why something appeals are kind of fluid and changeable. But these five are always going to be high in the list.
Karim Bakhtaoui by Sam Ashley, 2012
I asked Sam Ashley about this photo when I spoke to him for Slam, because I love it so much, and I want it on this list too. Karim’s a rad person, he rips and he’s always dressed good, but look at this! It’s beautiful. And it’s caught—in both senses, by him and by Sam—absolutely perfectly, at peak height. This frame was the make, and I think that’s really clear. It’s so solid and perfect looking.
Tricks over benches seem to have been shot from every angle possible over the years—not that they’re particularly common, obviously—and Sam nailed this. I like it more than Kosick’s shot of Gino’s switch flip over the table at Lockwood.
You can see everything, including the complete lack of any sort of kicker. This is fully superhuman, from flat; it’s massive and it’s stylish as fuck.
I don’t think it’s mad to say that Palace redefined skateboarding. It wasn’t necessarily boring at the time, but it was … the same. It was corporate events, bootcut jeans, stripy polo shirts, skatepark footage, cider, Modest Mouse and shit shoes. Maybe that was because the THPS generation went off to college, actually… it went a bit studenty. Things still progressed, trick-wise, but—comparatively—pretty slowly. The post-Lost and Found era was pretty gloomy for a while and I really think there were a few years around that time that were more or less interchangeable. Then the PWBC stuff that Stu Hammond and Lev did in Kingpin and Document started appearing, and you’d see those letters sprayed on boards in photos, and then Palace clothes and boards existed. Those guys dressed good, skated stylishly, made loads of videos, had loads of fun and were already all mates with each other. Palace, the skateboard company, made UK shit fresh again. It was mad how much the photos of those dudes stood out in the magazines at the time, and they still do now, more than ever. And this is one of my favourites.
Cookie by Wig, 1997
Anthony Cooke left this world back in 2001, and from the coverage he had in skateboard magazines, it sounds like he was a really rad person. He was definitely a great skateboarder.
This photo from Barnsley is really relatable, and sums up a great part of skateboarding in the UK at that time. Sunday trading laws had changed, so city centres were less accessible, but out-of-town retail parks were popping up everywhere, and the Back To The Future generation were now driving cars. Their mum’s cars, usually.
These convenient crucibles of capitalism generally had way more parking spaces than they needed, because they mostly didn’t even have all the store units filled back then, so there was plenty of space. Even the most enthusiastic newly-employed security guard wouldn’t bother walking the length of the carpark and expect you to still be there when he arrived.
For us—or those of us with access to a car—these places were filled with opportunity. All the surfaces were smooth, the kerbs were new, there were manual islands everywhere, and sometimes there were gaps.
This sloping dirt divider here is absolutely typical of these places, and could be anywhere in the UK. The architect’s plans no doubt showing these ‘features’ resplendent with blooming flowers, but the reality being that as soon as the place could reasonably open to the public, any frivolous extras are forgotten. I don’t think I ever saw flowers grow at a retail park, and I think that’s appropriate, because there’s nothing natural or organic about those places at all. So many of them are falling to bits now, leaving desolate memorials to pre-internet weekend-and-evening consumerism dotted around the nation, ring-road nodes resigned to residential redevelopment. It’s funny to think that us, as skateboarders, probably recall the details of those windswept out-of-town wonders better than any of the people who worked there. Cracks in the ground, drain locations, kerb height… All acknowledged and remembered.
It started raining after Wig and Cookie arrived that day, but I’m guessing Cookie was close enough to making it that it was worth carrying on to get the photo. The added risk of sliding out in the wet clearly of less concern than wasted time, energy and film. You can see the spray from where he’s taken off, and the dirt that’s been displaced at the bottom of the gap makes it look like he already got close a few times. I’d bet money Cookie was made to sit on a plastic bag when he got back into the car after this.
Big yellow potato wheels, rain, dirt, Wig Worland and Sidewalk Surfer. All vital parts of UK skateboarding in the mid 1990s.
Salman Agah at Euston by Tim Leighton-Boyce, 1992
As much as Skateboard! and RaD shone a light on UK unknowns, their coverage of visiting Americans was always excellent. That coverage sat comfortably with the carpark kerb sessions that were happening at the time, and there was never any hero-worshiping from the UK mags; there was definitely more a feeling of, “Go on then, let’s see what you can do” than any suggestion of unwarranted adulation. The notion that these jet-lagged teenagers, or men in their early 20s, should have any social or professional obligations to fulfil beyond being good at skateboarding seems crazy now, but there were certainly behaviour-based call outs. Steve Kane’s thoughts on Mark Gonzales when they first met being a notable example… The diss that made it onto the graphic of Mark’s first Blind board.
It didn’t really matter to the readers of the magazines what these people were like as humans, because regardless, the tricks they did, clothes and shoes they wore, and words they used were absorbed and recreated as well as possible for a while after they left. Until the next vital video or visit entered our worlds. Basically a very slow version of how social media works now, I guess.
This is from the Deluxe tour that introduced Ben Davis and striped rugby shirts to a nation of teenagers, and sent us into the nearest C&A for the closest versions we could find, until the skate shops were able to start getting the real Real versions. Although they were mostly way too expensive for most people, and skating in non-skate clothes was what you did then anyway, to show how little you cared about things like the skateboard industry, and skateboard shops. This is just as £5 adidas Gazelles wear becoming standard footwear. That said, Vans Chukkas never don’t look good so obviously they’re perfect here.
Tim’s photos are so identifiable and memorable, and he shot everybody. He was constantly out there amongst it, talking to people and finding out where to go and who to speak to, to make RaD as good as it was. When you think about how many people skate nowadays, and how good people are, and how many people film or photograph it, and know that the current European mags are generally quarterly, it makes it clear how much work went into making RaD as good as it was every single month. Especially when there weren’t big shoe budgets to fly people around the place and buy them dinner, or to pay for film and processing.
These banks are gone now, recently consumed by the HS2 construction, but they were barely photographed, skate-wise. There’s a photo of Hosoi skating them around 1987, in Thrasher, but this is way better.
Massive thanks to Dan at @readanddestroy for getting this original for us.
Paul Carter in Leeds, Meany, 1991
Paul’s not from Yorkshire, but he got the opening photo in this big Skateboard! piece about Yorkshire. A 50-50 on a handrail in 1991 is rad anyway, but there’s so much to this. Guessing that’s a prized Thrasher jumper that was put on when Paul knew there was going to be a photographer in town, since skate clothes and skate photographers were both pretty scarce in the lives of 15 year-olds living outside London thirty-odd years ago. I remember when people would only have one or two items of ‘skate clothes’, and you’d be wearing those things with whatever practical/affordable/sensible stuff your parents had already shelled out for. I’m sure those shellsuit trousers would have been from a previous Christmas or birthday, and this is a photo of a kid turning into a ‘real’ skateboarder, with all the stuff. Which mattered back then.
I’m pretty sure he’s wearing Airwalk 720s here, too.
There’s a 1998 Andy Horsley photo of Paul doing a lipslide on a double-kinked rail in a Polo sweater, so Paul definitely cared about clothes, and he must have been pretty stoked to get this photo in that top. Thrasher stuff wasn’t like it is now, back then.
The coloured hangers, Cell Block riser, mis-matched rails and sticker job make me think of when your board had to last, and it really mattered. However fussy you are about hardware now, it’s not hard to get any board feeling like how you want it, but when the opportunities for new gear were only defined by parents or part-time jobs, you had to make whatever you had, work.
All his mates have stopped to watch too, and it’s rad that they’re in the photo. It’s easy to imagine how this session was going, and the hype that got Paul up onto that 50-50 for Meany’s camera.
Jamie Bolland in Glasgow, Leo Sharp, 2002
This was a contents spread in Sidewalk. It’s since been lost, so this is two scans joined together. Jamie’s one of the best skateboarders ever, and he does what he wants. On this day he kickflipped the road gap at the Mitchell Library, around the corner from the handrails. The take-off and landing are both completely fucked; they’re rough, far from flat and there are big spaces in the ground. You can hear how rough it is in the footage. Jamie’s board always sounds like it’s about to fall apart too, so for something so beautiful to come out of such roughness is incredible, but that’s Jamie ’n Leo, I guess. Leo shot Jamie’s absolutely untouchable kickflip over the handrail and into the bank at St. George’s Cross underground too, so I’d happily say that the two best Glasgow photos ever are both Jamie Bolland kick flips shot by Leo.
Morgan Campbell ollied this in the wet in 1997, which Wig shot, but it never became a go-to thing to skate. Or I guess it did, where people would go to it, see the surface, then think, “Fuck that” and forget about it. It’s been in videos but it’s not like it’s a ‘spot’. Likewise the kickflip over the rail.
Jamie is an artist, musician, skateboarder, teacher, dad and husband, and he excels at all of it, so any photos or footage are always special. I think he would have been playing in Uncle John & Whitelock—who were brilliant—when this was shot, but he’s gone on to make music with all sorts of people in all sorts of guises. There are probably people who are fans of his music who don’t know he skates; it’s not like the two are directly connected, although I do think they inform each other and both exist in the forms that they do within his world because of each other. Not that anybody else needs a knowledge of one to appreciate the other.
Jamie is without a doubt one of the most underrated skateboarders the UK has ever seen, and while I’m sure he’s fine with that, I do think people should see more Jamie Bolland photos.