Capturing an Era: Skate Photographer Hugh Holland

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San Fernando Valley schoolyard, 1977. Photo: Hugh Holland

Growing up skateboarding in the nineties, there was a definite gap between the new and old schools of skateboarding. The rebellious, outcast state of skateboarding in the nineties necessitated the creation of a new scene––the history of skateboarding was disregarded.

In the early 2000s, a lot of the street skaters started skating pools and attitudes changed. Thanks to this revival of pool skating and some of the older tricks, a book like Hugh Holland’s Locals Only, featuring skate photography of Southern California’s infamous mid-’70s scene, is able to see the light of day. Originally released in 2010 and re-released on May 1 this year, the book contains images that sat in boxes for over thirty years. I was able to ask Holland a few questions about his great time-piece on a part of skateboarding’s history.

SLUG: When you were taking these photographs, did you ever feel you were onto something special?
Holland: Oh, absolutely. Right from the first shot, I felt that this was really extraordinary subject matter. On the other hand, I did not really have any idea they would someday come to be so sought-after.

SLUG:
Why highlight the skateboarding of this particular era?
Holland: I was there, and they were there, and it was just a project begging to be done. I was not interested in skateboarding. I was just seeing a unique kind of drama playing out, with all the scenery that went with it. It was perfect for pictures.

SLUG: How was skateboarding perceived at the time? Were skaters outcasts?
Holland: I wouldn’t say they were outcasts. Not in the world that I was observing. I suppose you could say that in a larger context, but I was involved so closely, that most of what I saw was from the skateboarder’s viewpoint, and the young players and people around them were  caught up in the dynamism of the emerging possibilities.

SLUG:
Was this your first major project as a photographer (or did you even see it as a project at the time)?
Holland: Yes, it was my first major project, but I didn’t see it as a project at all. I was just enjoying the fun.

SLUG: Even from a fairly modern skateboard photography perspective, the action photos are well composed. Were there any skateboarding (or sports) photographers that you emulated?
Holland: No, not at all. I was just making it up as I went along.

SLUG: What made you decide to shoot the photos in color?
Holland: I shot quite a few in black and white, too. At the time I had a darkroom, and I enjoyed developing my own, but color won out because it was just a color type of situation. That afternoon sunlight, backlit figures, wild sun-bleached hair, tanned bodies, reflected light off of pool concrete, blue skies … it was color for sure.

SLUG:
Can you give us a rundown of the editing process you used to pick the images for the book?
Holland: [I had] boxes and boxes of slides and negatives. Steve Crist, the editor, and I went through all of them. He is very good at spotting what will work. He is an expert editor. He picked a lot of images that I would not have considered, but that are now my favorites––images that were perhaps underexposed, or cropped strangely in the camera. The process was amazing.

SLUG: This book has a lot of photos that show a relationship of trust between the photographer and the subject. How do you establish this as a photographer?
Holland: I think that in that particular time, at least, I had a passion for capturing images, and they had a passion for this new ability to go vertical and develop athletic style, and we got along well. Also, I had a camera and they wanted pictures.

SLUG: Do you have any advice for young photographers, skateboard or otherwise, about what they should do?
Holland: Make lots of pictures. Nowadays, with digital, it is easier and cheaper to do quantity. But pay attention to composition in what you see and what you capture. What you see is what you get. If you have the eye, you will get the good pictures.

You can find Locals Only online at ammobooks.com, on Amazon, or at your nearest bookstore.

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