Installation Magzine: Skate Contest Spectators, Torrance (No. 62), 1975 immediately became one of our favorite images because it is so distinct from your other photographs taken from 1975 through 1978.
HUGH HOLLAND: It’s surprising to me. I got thousands of pictures from those three years that were sitting in boxes for over thirty years. Steve Crist, the editor of “Locals Only” was the one who really discovered that picture. He was the one who picked that picture out and I said to him, “Oh, I never really liked that picture very much.”
Each person in the photograph contributes to a much bigger narrative that is taking place. They embody a moment of time, are a snapshot of culture, and they’re truly fascinating characters to look at. For instance there is the blond guy in the lawn chair sitting on the bottom of the frame speaking to the girl sitting above him. Then there’s the guy with the combed dark hair wearing a button-up shirt that seems so out of place.
He looks like he doesn’t belong there. I took that picture in Torrance in one of those ubiquitous suburban mini malls and they were having a [skate contest] in the parking lot and I had a feeling that he was a shoe salesman from one of the stores. What a motely crew, right?
Walking down the Venice boardwalk today, it seems likely you would run into people who look just like that.
What goes around comes around, right?
Did you ever skateboard?
Did you ever want to?
No, not really. I was thirty years old when I was taking those pictures and I think once I tried and fell off. I was not really interested in it. I figured I’d better be the one who documents things than the one who does them.
How many years did you spend photographing skateboarders?
I started in August of ’75, went until the spring of ’78, so it’s not quite three years. Half of ’75, all of ’76, all of ’77, and half of ’78. I had already been in California for ten years. I took a few pictures here and there but the location of Skate Contest Spectators was the first event that I went to. The first contest was before I saw the first vertical in Laurel Canyon. I was really into photography but never very technical. I know enough technology to do what I wanted, but I’m a point – and – shoot street artist type of photographer. I took thousands of pictures and I really honed my skills with the skateboarding, capturing the moment and composing on the fly.
You were documenting a pivotal moment in skateboarding. The sport was becoming popular and so the technology of the skateboard was advancing. The wheels changed from clay to urethane, which allowed easier motion, and trucks were more securely locked in the board for a stable ride. Your photographs document a moment of great transition in the sport, particularly going from vertical to the air.
I started discovering the bowls in the hills, the draining bowls in the Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Hills and Beverly Hills and those in the Valley. It started out in Hollywood where I lived. That was in 1975 and ’76 was the most intense time of course, that was the heart of it all. By the summer of ’76 they started getting into the pools.
How did you maneuver in the swimming pools, especially with skaters riding above and below you?
I was hanging off the side or on the bottom of the pool. I never wore a helmet. I’m just amazed I was never hit.
While the subject of your photographs were the local skaters, the manner in which you photographed it were less about the move and more about young bodies propelling through space.
That’s right. I was having fun taking pictures and they were having fun showing. Their purpose was for me to take the pictures of the latest trick, the latest move, getting air, getting tile, whatever. But my purpose was getting good pictures, not just skating but also everything. The wild and young bodies in action and when they’re standing around waiting for their turn.
Do you think that your presence with the camera prompted the skaters to show off?
Oh, absolutely! Are you kidding? That’s what it was all about!
They wanted to be the first to land the next big trick.
They weren’t thinking about it being documented for any other reason than just to have for themselves and show their friends. They were always trying new things and saying ‘Get this! Get this! Can I have a print?’ I spent tons on processing and getting them prints because that was my way of being able to follow them. I had a car and a camera, what more did I need? They always seemed to know where the newest spot was. It was all fluid. The groups that I hung out with were fluid. The one in Laurel Canyon I started with, even though the people changed, was always my favorite – the Hollywood locals.
Sidewalk Surfer, Huntington Beach, 1976 has become an iconic image because it really captures the freedom of motion that the skateboarders possessed. It looks like you happened to catch the skater as he was shooting down the asphalt.
I was on my way back from San Diego and stopped in Huntington Beach and it was almost sunset. That kid was just skating and I got down on my knees and got down low to the ground and I started photographing him. Those two girls happened to walk by and it was a happy coincidence. The lines and the composition were so great and I followed that kid around just shooting him.
Down on the Corner, Danny Kwock, Balboa Beach (No. 68), 1975 captures a young Danny Kwock in a deeply meditative pose. His body is carving into the wind, his barefoot are resting on the board and his hair is flying behind him.
That was in Balboa down by Newport, there was a small contest going on. It was ’75 and it was the very first of my shooting skateboarders. It didn’t have anything to do with Laurel Canyon, I just heard about the contest and went down there. There were several kids showing off in the street. I had no idea who Danny Kwock was, so I just started shooting him. He almost looks like he’s squeezing under the frame of the picture. Barefoot he’s just right on the edge, just balancing.
While you photographed Stacy Peralta as a teenager, you never aligned yourself with the Z-Boys. Did Peralta’s documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys from 2001 impact your photographs?
The documentary kind of catapulted this in the public eye and that’s why I got discovered after all these years. My pictures were sitting around and not doing anything. I like to say that my pictures weren’t about the Z-Boys. I think it’s about anonymous kids, everybody. That scene, what was happening.
View all images in Installation Magazine’s IN BLANK WE TRUST issue, available on The App Store.
Featured image: Hugh Holland, Skate Contest Spectators, Torrance (No. 62), 1975