Concrete camaraderie

The photographer who documented Southbank’s halcyon skate scene
Art | 25 October 2016

From the series ‘No Turning Back, Southbank 2005 – 2015’ by Dan Boulton

Tonight Doomed Gallery presents No Turning Back, a book and exhibition exploring the work of skate-photographer, Dan Boulton.

Since the 1970s, Southbank has been the unofficial home of London’s skate scene, it’s a place where subcultures have converged and for decades teenagers have gathered under the concrete hood of the Queen Elizabeth Hall to skate, make new friends and come-of-age.

The series chronicles the Southbank over a ten-year period between 2005 to 2015. Reminded of his own youth as skateboarder, Boulton turned his lens on a group of young skaters who had made the under-croft their own sanctuary, capturing their camaraderie and sensitivity.

According to Kids actor Leo Fitzpatrick, who writes a personal essay  in the book, “What Dan Boulton has captured in these photos are the moments between the tricks that are just as important for many young teenagers. More happens in such a condensed span of time when you’re a teenager then any other time in your life that it’s hard to remember all the good times you had. Being young and care free, sharing your first drink or smoke or spliff, talking about girls and growing into a man.”


Nazanin Shahnavaz: What first drew you to the Southbank skate scene?
Dan Boulton: I was reminded of my own youth as skateboarder and troubled teen and what it was like skating and hanging out with a tight group of friends, At first I just liked hanging out there enjoying the skating and what not. I found this group of boys who always seemed to be there were really intriguing and I saw that the bravado and comradeship hadn’t changed within skateboarding since when I was that age and wished I’d photographed more back then. I’m a huge fan of Jim Goldberg’s work and of course Larry Clark. I immediately saw parallels between this group of boys who had made the under-croft into their own underground sanctuary and Goldberg’s SF Street kids and Clark’s Washington Square Kids. Then there was the first mention of redevelopment and I kept coming back in order to record what I thought might be lost.

From the series ‘No Turning Back, Southbank 2005 – 2015’ by Dan Boulton

NS: What evolutions have you seen in skate culture?
DB: I’ve been skateboarding since I was seven, I’m 42 now so like a lot of my generation I’ve seen a lot of changes within the culture whilst at the same time a lot remains the same.

NS: How did you get into skate-photography?
DB: When I was a teen I skated at Chingford ramp and local street spots, I took photos for the zines that I made, but my main focus then was just skating and hanging out with my mates. This was pre-internet and the only skate photography was in Thrasher, Transworld, a UK mag called R.A.D or the zines that some of us made. Also, in those days the photos we saw were all shot using a fisheye lens and using a motor drive for the camera and they cost an insane amount of money back then.

From the series ‘No Turning Back, Southbank 2005 – 2015’ by Dan Boulton

NS: In your new book you mention that you were a troubled teen, did skateboarding help you find some solace?
DB: I was living on a council estate, frustrated by the 80s education system and living with a mother who was terminally ill. Skateboarding gave me everything; a tight group of friends, a physical escapism, a purpose for the concrete surroundings I had grown up in, and this visual language and creativity that eventually provided me with an escape route out of a pretty bleak environment. As Leo [Fitzpatrick] says in his essay in the book, this was pretty much universal for skateboarders back then. We were all pretty much outsiders, the same kids that had been skinheads or punks or the mods before us. Usually kids that are rebellious or angry because of something or other.

I couldn’t tell you if the boys I photographed at Southbank were troubled or not, but what I saw in them was the same rebellious nature and camaraderie. Also, that sensitivity and awkwardness that you experience when transitioning from a boy to a man. As a photographer this is what I find most interesting because it’s clearly coming from a deeper personal perspective. Photographers reflect the world back to people and sometimes you can’t frame the subject without also being caught up in that reflection.

No Turning Back, Southbank 2005 – 2015 by Dan Boulton is available now. 

Exhibition: No Turning Back, Southbank 2005 – 2015 opens Tuesday 24th October at Doomed Gallery, 65-67 Ridley Road, London E8.

From the series ‘No Turning Back, Southbank 2005 – 2015’ by Dan Boulton

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