Photographer Hannah Bailey challenges our notion of gender within skate culture.
Stefani Nurding, Copenhagen
Born and bred in Edinburgh, Hannah Bailey spent her childhood just doing the same as everyone else - that was, of course, until she turned 20, when she ran away to the mountains completely on a whim. After carving up the French Alps with her snowboard, Hannah returned to the UK to pursue a career in action sports, setting up her own communications and creative consultant company, Neonstash, which specialises in adventure. Through her work, she's become immersed in various underground scenes, and, as a keen photographer, has been documenting them all along the way. But instead of focusing on the sport itself, it is the free-spirited players and heroic characters that define the worlds of skating, snowboarding and surfing, which Hannah feels most passionate about, particularly those that are women. Which is why her latest project, The Free Life; Skate Stories, a series of exquisite analogue images of female skaters, is so important to her. Dismantling society's warped idea of what it means to be a woman, and the media's unrealistic ideals of beauty which we spend our lives being measured against, Hannah aims to redefine the female experience, and champion these inspirational skaters as role models for generations of girls to come. Currently showing at the Lomography Gallery Store in Soho, we talk to Hannah about putting a face to female skateboarding and challenging our notion of gender within sport.
When did you first get into photography?
The opportunities that were presented to me working in action sports quickly inspired me to get into photography. I was absorbed by a culture that was itself fuelled by the outdoors and a limitless sense of freedom, constantly surrounded by inspiring athletes and adventurers. I shot on film for the fun of it; it was never about being a professional photographer but more so a storyteller. In 2012, Lomography asked me to cover Go Skate Day and I shot a six part series documenting skateboarding from different perspectives - the crew, the dad, the girl, the beginner. This new series, Skate Stories, is a collection of my film shots from over the past four years of shooting women in skating from Lucy Adams to Lacey Baker.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I'm an opportunist. When I went to shoot my first rolls of skateboarding, it was because Lucy Adams, a pioneer of the UK female skate scene, invited me on a trip to Malmo. When you shoot on film the outcome is always unplanned and unpredictable, channelling what skateboarding is all about. I love the way in a grainy film photo you can see every lump and bump in the concrete and movement of the skater.
Where does the interest in women in sport come from?
My aim has always been to get more of a spotlight on women in action sports, as athletes and inspiring role models. Skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding, are really good for life, so I think they can be used as a tool to help girls with self-esteem issues. They make you live in the moment and feel good about yourself but they also provide a culture to belong to.
What is it that you want to convey about these women?
It is about putting a face to female skateboarding. The scene has grown so much over the past four years and often, in the spotlight, it is referred to as women's skateboarding, as if you can define it so simply. From Helena Long to Stefani Nurding, the skaters in these stories are individuals with different motivations, styles and tricks.
What's the biggest misconception about women in sport?
Often society and the media portray a stereotype or like to label women who partake in sport, for example tomboy, butch and good-for-a-girl. Skateboarding is a prime example of being labelled all these things, but actually, it's a bunch of individuals, it doesn't matter if you are male or female, you are a skater. There is such a range of abilities and ages in a skate park, the diversity is unlike any other sport. So skateboarding has the power to squash stereotypes and misconceptions about women in sport. It's not about how you look, but what you do.
What's the best thing about being a girl in 2016?
In our part of the world, it is really exciting to be a girl or woman right now. Worldwide we still have a lot of injustice to fight against but awareness and action is at an all time high. I think the younger generation are being presented with alternative portraits of what it means to be a successful woman and don't feel held back by expectations. Over the past few years I've noticed a change in the way women support each other, power in numbers. For me I have all sorts of supportive and inspiring female friends, including an adventure crew called The Free Life. There are always new groups, events and collectives that pop up with a focus on empowering women, and so I'd say, yes I feel empowered about being a girl in 2016!
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I always try to have a purpose with my work and a personal aim of mine is to help girls with self-esteem issues. With action sports and sports in general, it doesn't matter what you look like, it's about being in the moment. Taking part in sports is so good for your mental and physical health, keeping you balanced and content, so I want to keep pushing and working to use it to help girls worldwide. Photography is a way to showcase these positive role models and inspire girls, as well as working in communications to push these messages. Less photoshopped models, more real women to aspire to. There is now so much more interest in women's skateboarding, and it's going to be featured in the Olympics in 2020, so the opportunities are just going to grow. I hope I have done a small part in giving female skateboarding and action sports the spotlight it deserves. But I'm not done yet...
The Free Life: Skate Stories by Hannah Bailey is on at the Lomography Gallery Store in Soho until July 18th.
Text Tish Weinstock