How photographer Alice Zoo perfectly captured the revival of rollerskating in the big city
London-based photographer Alice Zoo took to daily long walks and existential conversations with herself like many of us during lockdown. She regularly walked past empty streets and parks which seemed worlds away from the usually bustling city of London.
Finally, when May came around and brought with it a heatwave, Zoo went for a stroll through Hyde Park and found a party of roller skaters zipping around the edge of the Serpentine, stretching, skating, and eating ice cream. "It seemed like a completely different world all of a sudden; it was such a relief. The air felt different. I think the fact that the atmosphere had provoked this very strong feeling in me, so different from all the prevailing feelings of that time, made me resolve to photograph it straight away, and I kept going back with my camera," she tells Creative Boom.
Roller-skating has seen a revival in the city, with many swapping out their bikes for a new set of wheels. Go for a stroll in east London's Victoria Park and you're met with a flourish of roller-skaters in groups, or simply rolling alone. TikTok users have advertised the benefits of skating, and both the old and young are taking to it quite quickly. So it makes perfect sense that she decided to catch it all in action.
Zoo tells us: "One of my favourite images is of Tianna in Hyde Park. I remember when I first saw her she was skating past me and I knew straight away that I wanted to take her portrait, but she was way too fast for me to stop her to ask. I had a flash of that photographer's wistful feeling of a potential picture disappearing from view before you've had a chance to catch it.
"Quite a while later I was glad to see her again, and there was this strange end-of-day light, with the low sun coming through quite heavy gathering clouds, and she stood by the water for my picture with the swans seeming to mimic her movements uncannily behind her."
She continues: "I always came away from shooting the skaters full of energy and excitement, just like I felt on that first day. I wanted to tell the story because that first encounter filled me with optimism at a time when that felt very rare. Getting to know the community, they all described how lockdown had brought them together: all suddenly on furlough, with outdoor sports one of the only things that were allowed, skating took off in a way it never had done before. That it was an unexpected silver lining in such a difficult year felt like a meaningful reason to document it."
Zoo captures the buzzing excitement and optimism that characterised the inception of summer. The simplicity of friends hanging out, skating, and listening to music was sorely missed. This is exactly what attracted the photographer to the scene – the simplicity of just being, without restrictions or fear. Zoo describes her intentions: "I always hope to create a sense of intimacy, a moment of unguardedness, as though a camera weren't present at all."
One of Zoo's sitters described skating to be "Free. It just gives me freedom... I would compare it to flying, almost. That's what it feels like. It's just bliss, I just feel at peace. When I'm skating I don't think about anything else."