Photography Wednesday, August 8th Words by: Adam Knight, pictures by: Charlotte Thomas/Concrete Girls

The Hereford Photographer Documenting The UK's Female Skate Scene

Photography Wednesday, August 8th

The Hereford Photographer Documenting The UK's Female Skate Scene

Shot as a retirement piece, Concrete Girls is Charlotte Thomas’ 35mm love-letter to the UK’s skater girl scene.

A spinal injury limited her own skating at 29, and the freelance photographer began to turn her lens increasingly on skating – and with this project, on “a female subculture raised on [it]”. The book is as much about the moments between the tricks, and the relationships between those pulling them off, as it is a highlight reel for female talent on the scene in 2018.

We caught up with Thomas - who has run fashion shoots for Topshop, and worked with the likes of New Balance, Vogue and London Fashion Week – to find out more about where this original and immensely-personal project came from.

concretegirls charlottethomas 6470

- Are you still skating yourself?

I've been a skateboarder since the age of 16, I’m an old-timer these days, full of injuries but I still chill regularly.

I'm not your typical skateboard photographer, in an interview with Sidewalk Mag we came up with the title "Skateboard Lifestyle Photographer" because as well as shooting skate tricks I do tend to document the whole day which would include lifestyle and portraits. These are processed in a very natural format the skater doesn't usually know I'm taking these makes for a more documentary style. 

 

- You’re shooting in tagged-up bowls, and darkened underpasses – there’s often an inherent ‘grittiness’ to skate shots – when it comes to documenting the scene, how do balance that with the bringing out the humour in those sessions?

It’s the people. People who allow me to capture a great smile, friends hanging out or someone doing up a shoe lace. I look for the details when shooting. I like to capture people’s personalities and I take a very personal and emotional approach to all my photos. I want to capture someone in their best light.

 

- You’ve shot brides and bikers, how do skaters compare as subjects? What are the good bits - and the challenges - of working with a group who have worn trainers to work for their most of their adult lives?

I know plenty of skaters who work in offices and wear heels, suits, smart clothes. And I think most of society now wear trainers to work these days.

Females, or males, males skateboarding are just fun to shoot. It’s hard to answer because I'm a skateboarder and I love skating so I guess it’s more appealing to me. Similarities I guess to brides, fashion models and female skaters is that they are all beautiful women, each with a individualism that allows me to create gorgeous work. 

- How many times have you been told girls can’t kickflip?

It’s only morons or people who can’t or don’t skateboard that make silly statements like this! Females have been skateboarding since the early 50's, it’s just only now - through the powers of the internet and social media - that people are actually seeing this. However you could say that about most sports.

concretegirls press insidepages2

- Skating and DIY film/photography seem to have gone hand-in-hand for as long as I can remember – does this make it the perfect content for Insta? And can the ‘gram be the kind of democratic platform to accelerate the popularity of female skaters, and female skate teams like Hoopla, in a way that mags like Thrasher maybe haven’t always given them access to?

Instagram is amazing for all new brands, athletes, anyone doing something creative. Instagram has been great for me so far and I enjoy create pictures for the platform. I only use it for a marketing tool. So it’s great for that.

- From Peggy Oki to Ellissa Steamer’s Tony Hawk avi to, now, Lacey Baker each generation seems to have had a female figurehead. Who was the first skater girl you remember looking up to?

Elissa Steamer of course. She's the first female I heard of, but at the time I was also hearing about Vanessa Torres, Lacey Baker, Amy Coran, Jamie Rae, Lynz Adams, Lucy Adams, Lois Pendlebury - my first DVD was by Gallaz AKA Girl Skater. I still have the DVD. Amazing.

- If you look at popular mags and TV shows like Thrasher and King Of The Road, part of what makes friendships special amongst skaters seems to be a collective Peter Pan-like adolescence - and one that’s in its own way pretty macho, or at least notably testosterone-y. How does that translate to modern female skaters?

Peter Pan-like adolescence? This makes me laugh. Skateboarders mature like every other human does through age, we have youthfulness about us because we are active. Skateboarding is challenging both physically and mentally and you are out in the fresh air being active that’s what keeps us not growing up.

Every female skater I know just has their own style, personality, views on the world. Some wear skirts skating, some wear trousers, make up, no make up it - doesn't really matter. They are just humans being themselves. Obviously we will enforce femininity onto the culture, we are women that’s just a natural process, it’s not forced or thought about.

We are perceived a sub culture at the moment through the eyes of social media and the brands because people are only seeing what these women can do now. However we have always been a huge part of the skateboard scene whether in small numbers but still relevant. It’s only now we are seeing more and more women because women can see they too can skate.

But that’s the case for most sports. 

concretegirls3

- What was favourite day shooting for this book? Did you ever get run off a spot by security guards?

They were all my favourite days shooting because every girl in this book gave their time and hard work to making the photos - I couldn't choose just one. And all locations were really quiet - we were lucky really. 

One moment that does stand out for me I’ll never forget going down to Plymouth to meet Stefani Nurding. My mom and stepdad, Roger, who have both been a huge part of this project, drove me down. It was a long journey from Hereford so we set off around 5am. When we arrived, we walked into the centre of town and decided to get some lunch and a beer while we waited for Stef. I called her and said “Hi, I’m here, where are you? I’m on Kings Street near Bournemouth beach” and Stef said “I don’t live in Bournemouth, I live in Plymouth!”

- What is it, aesthetically and/or culturally, that seems to crossover so well when it comes to skate shots’ universal appeal? Why do people who have never picked up a board seem to enjoy work like this so much?

It’s just cool I guess, the style, the lifestyle, the people, the music, the art its always referenced when using skateboarders.

I don’t really like fashion companies or brands with no relevance to skating just adding in a random skateboard into a shot with no skateboarding actually being done and thinking there you go - it's kinda so obvious - I think if they asked skateboarders for creative input into these ideas they would come out with a much stronger campaign.

concretegirls press insidepages3

- What were your favourite moments, not captured on camera, from this project?

The beers, the laughs, the cuddles, the thanks yous and the love from these girls. We are all genuinely friends and all look out to ensure we all get better at what we do. 

- What’s the skate scene like in Hereford?

DEAD! Which is a shame because it one of the best parks in the UK. It’s the location within the UK unfortunately, as Hereford’s population - and its surrounding area - isn't that big. However I always big it up when I'm asked where I’m from. 

The Wizards crew have all left recently which is sad I miss hanging out with those boys! But they have all moved on to bigger and better things personally so I'm stoked for them! Harry is still there though producing some great tattoo art work at Blackfriars Tattoo - pop in say hi. 

- What’s next for you as an artist?

I'm looking to do a Volume 2 then 3. 

To pick up your copy of Concrete Girls, head across to the book's website here - and to stay in touch with what Charlotte's up to, follow her on Insta here at @concretegirls.

Do you want to write for Herefordshire Live? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or say hello@herefordshirelive.co.uk