Load Shedding
November 04, 2023 ( Prev / Next )

In early 2007 I was approaching burnout. Wait, that’s too strong a word. In early 2007 I was approaching a realisation, that I was putting too much into something and not getting enough in return - mentally, physically, financially.

I had been shooting skateboard photography for approaching seven years and had built up a body of work and a backpack of equipment that had become a literal weight on my back. I was starting to get small jobs or suggestions thrown my way, and the preceding couple of years had seen relatively regular use of my photos in print magazines.

I wasn’t at the point that I could consider myself a core contributor, but it was approaching that state. In another timeline I may have ended up as a staff photographer, perhaps even senior, as I was spending almost every weekend in the pursuit of publishable images. It was starting to wear on me, and I was tired.

Having a regular nine to five job as well, that was equally starting to show potential, I had a decision to make. The culmination was an offer to shoot a significant skate team in Manchester one Saturday afternoon. But I had other work commitments that clashed.

Should I throw a sickie? Follow the skate photography dream?

I decided not to.

In fact, I went in entirely the other direction and out of (perhaps) frustration ended up selling all of my photographic equipment to fund something simpler and more liberating.

Gone were the flashes, the radio transmitters, the light stands, the two film camera bodies, the digital high frame rate sequence camera, the Polaroid back, the tripods, the filters, the multiple lenses, the light meter, the slide film. All traded in for one portable rangefinder camera and one medium format camera with one lens; with a few rolls of colour/slide film left to use before black and white film would be my go to.

The promise to myself was to skate more, shoot less and shoot better. And, this was key, to shoot more than just skateboarding and to explore new places and new things.

2007, The Isle of Man

I’d received the message from Steve (“Joxa”). I forget when, sometime in the late spring or early summer. He was thinking about a weekend trip to the Isle of Man after Iain (“The Melon”) had managed to pin down the location of an abandoned, empty, skateable swimming pool on the island. Bear in mind this was before the likes of high resolution satellite images being easily visible online, so this wasn’t easy.

Mark (“Frontside Rocker”) would join us, and the plan was to meet Friday lunchtime at the ferry port in Liverpool, take the 2hr45min trip to Douglas, camp for two nights, and head back Sunday. Iain had a rough idea where the pool was, and that we would likely be able to camp there as it was on the grounds of an old holiday site.

The thing about skateable pools is that they don’t really exist in the UK. Sure, some homes and buildings had swimming pools and, sure, some of those were abandoned, but the pools lacked the transition in their walls to make them skateable. Finding one was exceptionally rare, and if you knew the location of one you would keep that information secret.

There were no guarantees of finding the pool, let alone it being in any condition to skate it. The weather could be terrible, the pool could be damp, or flooded, full of rubish, or worse: demolished. Access could be impossible. But we took the gamble and figured we would probably still find a couple of skateable spots on the island anyway.

Mark had volunteered to be the driver for the trip so we piled into his car with all our skateboards, tents, spare clothes and rags, some food, and my (now significantly reduced) camera equipment. As we boarded the ferry the current weather and the forecast wasn’t looking good. The air was humid, it was likely if we found the pool it would be damp.

I remember nothing of the trip over. I have a few photos of that but they’re not the kind to jog my memory. I do remember us rolling off the ferry as we headed straight for the suspected location of the pool. It was not visible from the main road so we had a couple of false stops, thinking it might be close. Eventually we found a small dirt road that looked like an old entrance to something. We tentatively drove down it, assuming we could feign ignorance if we ended up being accused of trespassing.

We didn’t need to, there was nobody about. Why would there be, unless they had the same plans as us? To skate the empty swimming pool that was there right in front of us.

The pool clearly hadn’t been visited in a while. There were rocks and litter in it, and the deep end had a couple of holes in places that hadn’t been repaired, but it was in pretty good condition otherwise. The walls were a little damp due to the humidity and, I guess, close proximity of the sea so we had to use some rags to dry out as much as we could. Within about 30mins of cleanup we were able to skate it.

And it was hard to skate. Really hard to skate.

Most ramps have a transition radius (the radius from being flat on the floor to perpendicular to it) of about 2m. The pool’s transition radius was less than half of that, with a good 0.75m of vertical wall before you could hit the lip. The length of a skateboard is about 0.8m with a wheelbase of about 0.4m. What that means is that it was all a bit tight and necessitated a certain change in approach to how we would all normally skate transition.

We got used to it quite quickly, as the pictures show, and unbelievably Iain was managing to get frontside airs just above the lip in the shallow end. Even now, looking at the photo I got of one, I can’t believe that he managed to land a few of these. There were a lot of slams involved, some of them bone crunching as he would land too low in the transition and hit the floor.

When I realised Iain was in his element I wandered around looking for a good vantage point for a photo, ultimately shooting the black and white frontside grind photo shown near the top of this blog post. We continued to skate the pool for a couple of hours until we were all quite tired from the effort and bruised from all of the slams. There were so many slams.

The light was staring to fade so we cooked ourselves a meal on the portable BBQ we had brought and set up our tents for the night. The plan for the next day was to go find some street spots, skateparks, and also a search for the full pipe.

The next morning we skated the pool a little more than left our tents setup and headed out. We drove to the north of the island where we found the first skatepark, which was pretty poor. One of those plastic / metal things which are neither interesting or fun. We went into the town centre to find some street spots, coming across one or two but nothing that special.

We drove back down to the south of the island and the story repeated - another plastic / metal skatepark and more mediocre street spots. To be honest this is kind of what we expected, and we did find one or two fun little street spots but they were nothing more than “mess around for 10min” type ones. I’m sure I took some photos but I can’t seem to find those negatives, they’re not with my others from the Island. It’s entirely possible that they were so bad that I threw them away with offcuts, which I had a habit of doing early on with my photography.

Anyway, from a little internet searching it’s clear that the skatepark situation has improved significantly in recent years on the island with a couple of decent looking concrete constructions and now even an indoor skatepark. So a trip there is much more compelling. Whether or not the pool still exists is an unknown - you can see it on satellite images but those could be several years old.

After lunch we went to find the full pipe. This was going to be easy as it was the spillway from a reservoir and there were only a few of these on the small island. Iain was pretty confident which one it was, so we went there first. His information turned out to be correct and we found the spillway quickly. There was even relatively easy access. The full pipe itself was more of an egg pipe in shape, which was neat because it meant falling off your board was less likely to send it shooting up and around then back into you.

If the pool was hard to skate then the egg pipe was borderline impossible. The transition was mellower but the surface was damp and incredibly coarse, meaning any slam was punishing. It being a pipe meant there was no flat bottom so you had to have much faster reactions. We also had to use some cat litter to dry up the trickle of water, but even then the slimy trail had to be hit absolutely straight on otherwise you would slide out.

We managed to do some carves, but that was the limit. The conditions of the pipe and our constant battle with the water meant anything more wasn’t possible. I tooks a few snapshots but nothing else. Five years later the egg pipe featured on the cover of Sidewalk magazine, another great photo by Sam Ashley, of Ewen Bower doing a high frontside air inside it. I cannot overstate how utterly absurd this is1.

It was now getting late and the weather had turned. It wasn’t a great idea to be in a spillway when it was raining so we headed back to the pool, where we had left our tents, to have some food before turning in for the night. Upon arrival we found that the tents had been destroyed - ripped up, poles bent, and throw into some of the nearby bushes. Clearly someone was not happy with our presence. More than likely some protective locals, but we never encountered anyone at the pool the entire weekend we were there.

With destroyed tents we were lacking a place to stay for the night so I offered to pay for a couple of rooms at a B&B - if we could find one with vacancies. I figured if I did get anything published from the trip it would cover the costs of the rooms so it was the right thing to do. The weather had now got quite bad, we went to three different B&B before we found one with a couple of rooms available.

The next day the rain was still coming down so we knew the skateboarding was over. We hung around for a few hours waiting for the ferry and I took a few random snapshots of things. Again I remember nothing of the ferry trip back to Liverpool. We all parted ways, knowing we would see each other again probably at a future event in Bolton, Blackpool, Leeds, Birmingham, or a little farther away.

I developed and printed the photos over the next few nights, and sent away the slide film to be processed. I knew from the black and white images I had something publishable, and depending on the slide film there might be enough to write an article on the trip. I sent the images away to one of the two magazines I was contributing photos to at the time. I heard from them a couple of weeks later.

The black and white photo of Iain doing a frontside grind ran as a double page spread and was the opening image in Document Magazine’s Sept 2007 (#71) “Frames” section - the part of the magazine that featured single images with no corresponding article(s). The only text was “The Melon, Frontside grind, Isle of Wight”. No that’s not a typo, the misdirection was probably intentional on their part. I sometimes wonder if that misdirection sent any other skaters on a hunt for a skateable pool on entirely the wrong island.

The other photos were never seen. Looking back at them now I don’t think they would have made a strong article: there wasn’t enough and they weren’t varied enough. And looking back at the photo that ran: anyone could have taken this photo, they just needed to know a little bit about skateboard photography.

The reality is that success in photography, in terms of getting the images, is, and remains, about being there2. The technicalities count, sometimes, but those are mostly trivial. Sure I could have taken a large amount of gear to the island, and perhaps got more photos; something useable of the egg pipe and street spots, but I may have missed the B&W photo of Iain. I could have been blinkered by an approach informed by an excess of equipment. Instead I was liberated by constraint, and went looking for other angles.

2023, Santorini

I woke up at 2:30am a couple of weeks ago and the memories of this trip were racing in my mind, some 16 years later. I must have been dreaming about it, but I don’t remember my dreams so can’t say for sure. I decided to dig out my negatives and slides from that trip and rescan them, to include some in this blog post. They are mostly photos that have never been seen.

What I can say for sure is that this year I have faced the same realisation as I did back in early 2007, and it has lead me to take the same decision. I have sold most of my camera equipment over the last six months; shedding kilos, stripping back to just one portable rangefinder camera and one medium format camera with one lens.

Part of this realisation might have been a recent trip to a photo workshop on Santorini, where I took just that one camera and one lens. This has always been my approach, but I inevitably accumulated a lot of gear over the years as I would use different cameras for different projects. There was the baggage of always shooting a project, and the visit to Santorini reminded me that I didn’t always have to be doing that. I could just walk around and find photos, be liberated by not having a direction.

As I’ve worked on many different projects, some long some short, I’ve also accumulated the baggage related to trying to get those published. I would like the work and projects I have been creating to be seen on a wider stage but, as I felt back in 2007, I am putting too much into something and not getting enough in return - mentally, physically, financially. So I’m load shedding again. Not just the gear, but also the efforts to get the work out there.

I will continue to try now and then, but my efforts will be reduced significantly. Maybe there will be a break sometime soon, maybe not. Maybe the work will never be seen beyond the few images already online?

Maybe that doesn’t matter.

  1. There is some footage still available online from that 2012 trip here. The egg pipe frontside ollie features at about 5:30 and the pool is then shown soon after that. 

  2. Some will argue: “AI”, and I will reply: “You’re missing the point of the post, finish reading it”. 

skateboarding, photography, archives, burnout