Earlier in this year Nikki Toole exhibited her street series of portraits of skaters at Geelong Gallery of Art. The Scotland-born female, now lives in Melbourne after studying Film and Photography in London and Edinburgh. Nikki has now exhibited in Australia, Britain, USA and Germany. Nikki has been selected four times as a finalist in The National Portrait Prize. The latest exhibition Skater: Portraits by Nikki Toole is a touring exhibition from The National Portrait Gallery of Australia. For those that didn’t take the train west of Melbourne for the Geelong show, ‘Skater’ will tour around the country, and to regional Victoria in 2013. Alicia Bee shot some questions to Nikki Toole for ACCLAIM about the series.
What do skaters say about our society?
Skaters say many things about our society and the way generalisations can be made about certain subcultures. As a society we often regard the young and the subcultures that form around them to be a threat to the social order. I have given many talks during this process to the older generation who have grandchildren who skate and hope I have in some way opened their eyes to the positive impact that skating can have on a person’s confidence and self awareness of who they are. In many areas the street skater is feared. I like to think they are merely interacting with the architecture, taking one form and utilising it for their pleasure. Many poorer communities around the world are now pouring resources into skate parks to provide their younger generations with an activity to encourage them to develop goal building and self confidence. I saw this in the Native American communities where the kids take great pride in their skate parks.
Did you grow up with skaters?
Yes I grew up skating. I wasn’t a very sporty person as I was small and a bit of a tomboy. Skating was perfect for me. It was also great for social interaction with your friends, inexpensive and we could do it almost anywhere. When I was young we didn’t have computer games and were outside all day until the sun started to go down. It seemed like a better time somehow. It makes me happy to see kids in the skate parks instead of inside on an Xbox. Sadly I cannot skate now as I have a damaged tailbone, which makes prolonged sitting painful, never mind falling off a board.
Did the portraits have a uniform setup for framing and position of the subjects?
The portraits did develop a uniform pattern. The first skater I shot was a friend called Matty. We tried many different angles until I found one which I felt translated my idea. I was inspired by the full frontal framing shots of film directors such as Stanley Kubrick. We are engaged when the subject looks out at us, it becomes a collaboration and a conversation.
As the project grew it became easier to shoot in this way as with only five frames per subject and limited time periods with each skater I had to translate very quickly what I was looking for. 300 skaters later and the vision becomes clear when you see them all together.
Did you try and hide or advertise brands of clothes and boards?
The branding was irrelevant. It is merely a part of the story they tell, about what makes them happy as an individual and as part of the skater culture.
Was there a conscious effort to include girls in your essay?
No it wasn’t a conscious effort. I photographed anybody who could skate and agreed to be part of the project. It reflects all ages and genders.
How did you decide when you had finished the series?
I am still shooting Skater. I am off to Hawaii next year and will shoot the skaters there. After three years I feel there are still stories to tell in other countries. The project is self-funded and I have had to choose the locations I can afford to go to. I have been invited to Mexico, Russia and Japan, and hope to get there someday.
Was it something that you let go of, or do you still see skaters and want to take new photos?
My ears are now attuned to the sound of a skateboard and I can hear an approaching skater from some distance. I cannot help myself when I see them, but don’t always have my camera around.
See more of the Skater series here.