Jenny Sampson is known for her acclaimed tintype portraits of male and female skateboarders, but for her latest series, the American photographer turned her lens on the fearless females in skate parks and events all over California, Washington and Oregon.
Brought together in a new book, Skater Girls, Sampson's hope is to shine a light on and celebrate these girls and non-binary people, young and older, who have been breaking down this gender wall with their "skater girl power".
The idea for Skater Girls was born in 2017 when Sampson was approaching the deadline to deliver work for her first book, Skaters. One day, she was setting up to photograph at Emeryville skate park in Northern California when, to her delight, she noticed there were many more women skateboarders in the park than usual. She observed and then introduced herself to a small group of skater girls as they were practising their craft and asked if she could photograph them. They enthusiastically agreed, and Sampson led them to her camera and portable darkroom to make their portraits.
That day was a turning point for Sampson. She felt a kinship with these women who opened up to her so warmly and knew that moving forward she wanted to focus on making portraits of female skateboarders. That same day she learned of an organisation called Skate Like a Girl, and a few weeks later went to an event they held in Santa Rosa. "There, I discovered a whole new world – to me. Girl skaters abounded," she says.
Sampson's portraits featured in this new book are made in a portable darkroom using a 160-year-old photographic process known as wet plate collodion that requires long exposure times and the subject to be perfectly still. "There is a connection that takes place when I photograph them using the slow photographic process, wet plate collodion. The photographic practice requires patience, interaction and collaboration, and it mirrors the inclusive landscape in which these photographs are made."
Part of the beauty of a tintype is the timelessness that it imbues. While Sampson's subjects are wearing contemporary styles and plenty of logos, there remains a timelessness in their portraits. "Ultimately, despite the contemporary subject matter and modern details, we see a unique honesty and are struck by the strength and determination of these skaters. They are purposeful and courageous, open, playful and supportive; I admire their respectful and shrewd fight for a place in the world," she adds.
In the foreword, Cindy Whitehead, '70s pro skateboarder, 2016 Skateboard Hall of Fame inductee, writes: "These women are my skate sisters – we are the only ones who really know what it was like to forge that path, blaze that trail, and dare to be 'different'. Sometimes we were celebrated for being female, but not for the reasons we may have wanted. Other times, we were ignored because we were girls and young women…Through it all, we skated and never let any of the negatives diminish the feeling we had when we jumped on our skateboards and were flying through the bowls and pools that we loved."
Skater Girls by Jenny Sampson is published by Daylight, out September.