a brooklyn teen skater shares his personal polaroid diary
Red Hook Labs has drawn the most exciting photographers from around the world to the industrial South Brooklyn neighborhood. This year alone, the gallery and studio space has played host to Jamie Hawkesworth's first solo exhibition, tapped six of Africa's most compelling creatives for a group show, and staged educational summits with Cass Bird and newly minted OBE Edward Enninful. But for its most recent exhibition, Red Hook Today, the Labs kept things a little more local, calling upon a new generation of image-makers in its own zipcode to share their stories through personal photography and self-published zines. Featuring work from its educational affiliates South Brooklyn Community High School, Red Hook Initiative, Summit Academy Charter School, and Red Hook Community Justice Center, Red Hook Today was a vibrant celebration of creativity and community.
One series in the show that particularly caught our eye — a clutch of personal polaroids — was shot by Zoran Uskokovic Seda, a skater who presently attends an alternative high school in his native South Brooklyn. Zoran's polaroids form a spontaneous, energetic chronicle of his own tight-knit tribe — the kids he's grown up skating with despite moving between Brooklyn neighborhoods and schools. More than a document of skate styles or spots, Zoran's images are an ode to these lifelong friends; he captures them in moments of wild ecstasy and quiet contemplation.
Zoran grew up in Carroll Gardens, where his uncle taught him how to skate at about six or seven years old. "It opened me up," Zoran tells me on the phone after the opening. "One of the biggest things about skateboarding is that it's your own experience, unique to yourself. But that experience comes from meeting friends and taking a little of their styles, what they're into, and incorporating it in your own — you feed off each other." He made most of his middle school pals through their shared love of skating, but eventually, his family relocated to the more southbound, suburban neighborhood of Marine Park. With it came a new school, James Madison, where Zoran attended his first two years of high school.
"It's a huge, also very violent, school," Zoran recalls. "Because there are so many kids, it's difficult to form a bond with other people, other teachers, so they know you and what you're about." James Madison wasn't working for Zoran, so when he moved back to Carroll Gardens with his grandparents, he transferred to a local alternative high school designed to help students earn the credits they need to graduate on time. "On my first day, somehow everyone already knew my name. They started handing me materials so I didn't have to buy anything. It's a real community feeling." It's also what encouraged him to start getting creative.
Though Zoran took a photography course, he confesses to not applying much effort in the classroom. But when his brother — then a K&M Camera employee — bought him a compact Instax camera for Christmas the following term, he began experimenting with instant snaps. "Two of my friends work at a skate shop that I've been loitering at for about eight years. When one works, the other doesn't, so we never really get to all together, except on Friday nights. That's when I usually keep my camera close," Zoran explains. The shop also owns a warehouse near Gowanus that's since been converted into an indoor skatepark, another recurring setting in his polaroids. Yet shooting tricks or staging shots doesn't interest Zoran much: "People are my number one fascination. I love the documentation aspect of photography, and just capturing people being themselves."
Zoran showed his photography teacher, Bashira, what he'd been shooting and she encouraged him to submit it to the school zine. Despite his dysgraphia — a painful writing disability — Zoran hand wrote a passage to accompany the images, and scanned it alongside the snaps. "I don't want to be corny, but it was such a cool feeling to see people flipping through it in the hallway and really responding to it." Those positive feelings only amplified when Zoran's polaroids attracted a constant hive of viewers at the Red Hook Today show. "I've never felt that feeling of, 'I like what you do, let me help you, I want to support you, I want to feed into it.'"
Zoran hopes his photography communicates a similar feeling of support and excitement. "I'd like people to take a real sense of friendship from the pictures. At this age, your friends become more of a family, especially after you've known them for so many years." And in a way, his polaroids feel a lot like a family photo album: honest, raw, spontaneous, and created in moments of happiness.
"I started shooting because I was feeling depressed and for a period of time, I wanted to do bad shit, things I should not be doing. But when I started shooting, it gave me something positive to do; it made me feel better," Zoran explains. "Now, I'm proud to say I'm doing something productive and creative, and I'd encourage other people to try new things, too. I've never done anything like this, this is my first time even trying to be creative. All the feedback, the show at the Labs, Bashira buying me film because she likes what I'm doing — it's the best. I'm happy."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Zoran Seda