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Skateboarding gives you self-confidence. This message comes across very clearly in the British film, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (!If! You’re a Girl), that won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. It presents the work of Skateistan, an NGO that teaches skateboarding at a girls’ school. The sport is more popular than ever and seems to have found its place in the mainstream. In fact, skateboarders would have fought for medals during the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year. Because of the pandemic it will probably be next year when skaters from around the world pit their talents against each other.  

The fact the skateboarding is also popular of course among girls, is evident in this remarkable new photo book by the US American photographer Jenny Sampson. At the same time it does away with a few prejudices that accompany what is presumed to be a “boys’ sport”. In addition, using the old tintype technique for her pictures gives the motifs an exciting dimension from a photo-historic perspective, because, in the early days of the new medium, photography was considered a purely male undertaking.  

Based in Berkeley, California, the photographer already released a book about both male and female skaters, three years ago. Now she is focussing all her attention on female skaters. The idea for Skater Girls already emerged while she was working on the first book, when she began to notice the increasing numbers of girls at the parks. “I began photographing skateboarders in 2010. Over the course of many years, I witnessed few girls and women at the skate parks. When I did, I was so happy—it was as if I had spotted a rare bird in the wild,” Sampson remembers. “I hoped to get their attention thinking, ‘I, too, am a rare-bird-woman with all this photographic equipment; they must notice me, like I notice them.’ But most often, they did not appear to notice me. They were there to skate.” It would be a few years before her project picked up speed, and she found the right connection at Emeryville Skate Park – happily, with a large group of female skaters. “That day was a turning point for me. I experienced an unexpected kinship with these strangers, and I knew the direction in which I was headed. I wanted to increase their visibility and celebrate these girls and non-binary people who break down gender walls in skating.” Thanks to a well-developed network, Sampson got to know increasing numbers of female skaters, which resulted in this photo book filled with lively girl power. “I admire their respectful and clever battle to find their place in the world,” she explains.

The girls portrayed look self-confidently into the photographer’s camera. The pictures have a timeless quality because, despite the evidence of contemporary logos and fashion accessories, the wet plate collodion photography technique disguises when they were actually taken. Originally introduced in 1851, the process is still incredibly elaborate, because the metal plates, coated with either lacquer or asphalt, must be fixed in a mobile laboratory immediately after exposure. “The process and the qualities of the wet plate collodion tintype are magical, resulting in a breath-taking, beautiful, unique, and sometimes haunting photograph,” Sampson explains. 60 of these great motifs can now be discovered in this photo book.  (Ulrich Rüter)

Jenny Sampson, Skater Girls, 96 pages, 60 black and white images, 17.8 x 22.9 cm. English, Daylight Books, with a foreword by Cindy Whitehead and texts by Becky Beal and Jenny Sampson.
Daylight Books
Amelia, Seattle, 2019
Devan, Los Angeles, 2018
Kandice, Los Angeles, 2018
Yulin, Los Angeles, 2018
Lucia, Oakland, 2018

Jenny Sampson

Jenny Sampson was born and raised in San Francisco. She earned a B.A. in Psychobiology in 1991 at Pitzer College, and has dedicated her time to her photographic endeavours since then: wet plate collodion, traditional black and white photography, and commissioned portraits. She is a member of The Rolls and Tubes Collective. Her first monograph, Skaters, was published in October 2017 by Daylight Books. She currently resides in Berkeley, California.

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