Life & Culture

19th Century-Style Photos of West Coast Skaters

Jenny Sampson presents a series of tintype portraits of skateboarders created using the wet plate collodion process

With seven years worth of imagery shot over multiple skate parks across the US, Jenny Sampson’s series captures a complex subculture using an equally complex process. To create the portraits in her new book Skaters: Tintype Portraits of West Coast Skateboarders, Sampson used the wet plate collodion process, which was invented in 1851 and knocked the Daguerrotype off the top of the photographic hierarchy. With a long exposure time, this technique requires sitters to remain still for an extended period to allow the photograph to develop – meaning that trick shots that comprise the majority of skate photography were out of the question. It did, however, allowed her to create series of portraits which have a depth that would have been difficult (or impossible) to achieve with a digital camera. Here, Sampson tells us more about her project and her affinity with skaters.

“In 1995, I used to ride my bike past a skatepark on my way to work. I thought of skateboarders as a rebellious crowd and I wanted to be part of their world, but I didn’t know how. Years later, I learned the wet plate collodion process to make tintypes and it ended up becoming my excuse to visit the skate park and photograph the people there. This behaviour – this rebelliousness – is what I craved when I was young. What I have come to realise as I watch skaters now, is that I still crave it. Perhaps I have it, too, rebelling against the status quo of digital photography. Perhaps wet plate collodion is my rebellious, non-conformist sport, my skateboarding.”

Skaters: Tintype Portraits of West Coast Skateboarders by Jenny Sampson, published by Daylight books, is available here.