• UO Journal: The Wild Boys

    Urban Outfitters is proud to present Urban Outfitters Journal issue 2, the next in a series of print publications that represent the culture and stories behind the UO Men’s Brand, coming soon to select UO Stores and online. 

    Forty years ago, 32-year-old Hugh Holland was driving through the Hollywood Hills when he saw a head bobbing up from the side of the road. He looked closer. It was a group of kids skateboarding inside an empty drainage ditch. Holland pulled the car over, grabbed his camera, and ambled toward the scene. He watched them for hours. He couldn’t believe the stuff they were pulling off. Carving up to the lip. Cut backs. These were surfing moves—but charged with the type of raw, frenetic energy that can only be sparked when wheels hit the pavement.
    Words by Laura Tsunoda 
    Photos by Hugh Holland
    Lead Image: A Break on the Concrete (No. 52),
    1970s chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    Skatepark Construction, Montebello, 1977 chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    When the skateboarders saw Holland holding a camera, they went crazy. “There weren’t many people taking pictures in those days.” Holland says on the phone, “And these guys, ‘the wild boys’ as I call them, they wanted to have their pictures taken. I remember them screaming at me, ‘Get this! Hey, camera man! Get this!’” The wild boys were neighborhood kids, locals. And even though they ranged from 13 to 20 years old, they were all at the pinnacle of youth. Tan and lean with tangled manes of hair. On the board, they were stupendously over- confident—barefooted, sans helmet—pushing the boundaries of gravity, and starting to go vertical.

    For the next three years (1975-78), Holland was immersed in their world. Every day after work, he would drive the wild boys to whichever canyon, parking lot or swimming pool they’d heard about. And on weekends, someone’s mom might drive them all to Orange County or San Diego for a skate contest.

    Fast forward to 2005. Holland’s skateboarding photos have been crammed into boxes in his attic. “For 30 years, I’d hardly seen them at all,” he says. “It’s a long story, but I was showing some photos at a small gallery in San Francisco, and included a few skateboarding photos from that period.” They resonated. In 2012, Holland compiled them into a book called Locals Only. Now you see them everywhere—blown up as billboards, curated in art books, and frequently invoked in lifestyle magazines. Picture Los Angeles in the ‘70s: You’re probably seeing one of Holland’s photos in your brain right now.

    Holland says he remembers each shot vividly. But even if he didn’t, the year it was taken is obvious. “There were immense changes in the way people dressed. At the start they were barefoot. No kneepads, no shirts, just bare. Then they started wearing safety gear.” Holland laughs as he remembers lying vulnerable at the bottom of the bowl with his camera as skateboards fly over his head. Safety is great and all, but photographs are better without all that gear, “especially when they have logos printed on the front of their shirts.”

    Arthur’s Attitude (Arthur Lake), Kenter Canyon Elementary, 1976 chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    Riding to Ride, Highway 80, 1977chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    “At the time, I was in heaven. It was great to be able to shoot this.” Holland had just started getting into photography when he stumbled into the canyon. “I wasn’t thinking it was anything for future posterity, not at all. Just having fun and enjoying creating.”

    There is a particular golden haze effect found in many of his photographs. “People always ask about the light,” he muses. “For one thing, there was more smog in the air then. And for another thing, I took the pictures around sunset because it’s when I got off work. But the big thing was all these pictures, [with a couple exceptions] were shot on movie film instead of kodachrome.” Movie film was repackaged into cassettes for still cameras and sold cheaply. “For the price of processing, I could get both negatives and slides to show to everyone. The soft, warm effect, well it’s just a different kind of film.” 

    As for their subject, he says, “Style was everything. That’s what skateboarding was. It was style.” Holland explains, “It was a movement and a ballet. Dancing on concrete and asphalt.”

    It’s worth remembering that no matter how beautiful the movement, there’s no getting around the fact that photography is a static medium. You can’t capture a skateboard trick. But Holland had a trick of his own: To work stasis in his favor. To isolate and suspend the move with the inhalation of a shutter-flash. Holland’s photos eschew motion and instead become about the human form. An adolescent body could look caught in “an awkward phase” in another context, but frozen in frame on a skateboard, it looks perfectly graceful and free. Holland says that knowing which moment to suspend is an instinct, one he learned in the three years of shooting the wild boys. “I learned how to compose… [and the] instantaneous composition of the camera.”

    Cool Spectator, 1975 chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    Red Skater at Rest, 1975 chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    Holland started to lose interest in skateboard photography after 1978, when the sport started to see a change. The sundrenched rebellion of the mid-‘70s was giving way to a feeding frenzy of commercialization in the ‘80s. Plus, three yearsis a long time for any youth-driven movement. The wild boys moved on to careers and families. Some of them, like Stacey Peralta, rose to fame and ushered the skateboarding industry into the mainstream.

    Solo, Kenter Canyon Elementary, 1976 chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    Today, whenever Holland finds himself driving down Laurel Canyon Boulevard, he looks for that one drainage ditch, the site of his discovery. “I look but never find it. Perhaps it’s behind some shrubbery, or maybe just gone.”

    Like any location, California is a fixed space, but it’s constantly changing. Subdivisions turn over, strip malls build up and out, neighborhoods get sliced up and re-zoned. At any given time, some part of Los Angeles is getting a facelift. Perhaps we lose some history. But for each iteration of Los Angeles topography, there’s a group of wild boys figuring out a way to skate it. Feeling the grain and resistance of the asphalt, carving new lines, learning every angle and grade until they’ve claimed the city as their own, if only for one instant.

    South Bay Gang, 1975 chromogenic print
    © Hugh Holland, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles

    Shop UO Journal Issue 2
    Head to UO’s Space 15 Twenty at 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd in Los Angeles, CA on February 25th to celebrate the launch of UO Journal issue 2 and the second release of our ongoing Artist Editions series.