New on Sidetracked:

Field Journal

To Balance Is To Trust

Inspiration
To Balance Is To Trust
 

An inclusive photography project by Hannah Bailey
Written by Marie Audemard // Photography by Hannah Bailey

In a female skateboarding scene evolving more and more every year, Hannah Bailey chose to tell the stories of 23 women and non-binary skaters by taking their portraits.

‘When it comes to my photography, it is important that my project stands up for diversity in gender, ethnicity and sexuality, and doesn’t just fit into the marketing mould,’ says Hannah Bailey, whose project To Balance is Trust saw her photograph over 20 female-identifying and non-binary skateboarders, to capture and represent an inclusive vision of what skateboarding is today. The project led to Hannah winning the inaugural Getty Images #ShowUs photography grant in March 2020.

Photographing skaters since 2012 – and a skater herself – she has long been part of the global skating community, allowing her to witness the evolution of the women’s scene over the years. ‘Despite being very sporty, skateboarding wasn’t something I considered doing when I was younger,’ she explains. ‘It wasn’t until my early 30s that I stumbled across it as an activity, culture and community. As a photographer or creative, I realised the power it had to address the mainstream media’s dangerous misrepresentation of women, through providing powerful visuals of female skaters doing their thing. These were real people.’

 
To Balance Is To Trust To Balance Is To Trust To Balance Is To Trust
 

Breaking down stereotypes

Ten years ago, when Hannah started photographing skaters, women would represent a minority within the largely male-dominated skateboarding scene, not only in terms of marketing or media but also in terms of participation. However, things started to change progressively, with women’s skateboarding at one point being the fastest-growing action sports demographic, until reaching a historical moment this summer: inclusion at the Olympic Games. This had the potential to transform the mainstream media coverage and perspective of the activity, and it did just that. ‘What was really a catalyst for change in terms of participation were the passionate and proactive skateboarders who put time into running ladies-only events, platforms and skate nights. This provided easy access and a safe space for more people to get into skateboarding,’ adds Hannah.

This desire to address gender inequality in skateboarding has now expanded to a wider discussion on the skateboarding scene’s under-representation of BIPOC. As she explains: ‘These new events have definitely opened the doors for so many more people to get on boards, but it has taken longer for the marketing and media to accept it, feature it and push this more diverse and inclusive view of the culture and community. But change is happening.’

She tells an anecdote that perfectly illustrates the stereotypes still anchored in society. When The Guardian published a feature on Hannah’s photo series and posted some of her portraits on Instagram, she went through the comments to get the public’s general opinion. ‘The Guardian is a media with such a huge reach and a new audience for us to put this side of skateboarding out there to, something they have never seen. So we were all so happy to be featured in that sense,’ she explains. ‘But somebody had commented, “Oh, it’s great that The Guardian has featured skateboarding for the first time but shame it’s the 0.005% of what skateboarding is.”’

 
To Balance Is To Trust To Balance Is To Trust To Balance Is To Trust
 

After seeing this comment, Hannah remembers thinking: ‘Does that mean that we did the project well? Because these people are saying that they have never seen this before.’ So although this implies a change in how skateboarding is represented, she says, it also shows how some people are still thinking ‘what are you doing in this space?’ when they look at someone else other than a man in a skatepark.

Although complete inclusion in terms of gender and diversity is still a way off, Hannah stays optimistic about how stereotypes have already changed. ‘I think the cliché of this teenage boy who skates have been broken down within the industry. It’s the people that I follow, people who are intrigued by skateboarding, who are inviting in a lot more people and allowing this vision to be much more diluted and diverse.’ She adds that for her, it is simple: everyone should be welcomed.

New perspectives on inclusion

While photographing these skaters, Hannah also learned a lot about other elements of inclusivity. She met Lily, a Wheelchair Motocross rider (WCMX) who works to make skate parks more accessible, not just through providing easy access to the parks themselves but by giving people the chance to try WCMX through events.

Meeting all these different people helped her to shape the project and work out how to make it more inclusive: ‘At the beginning (of the project) it was really about trying to focus on women, to help support that side of the niche subculture, but moving forward you start to realise that, yes, gender is an issue, but there are also a lot of other people that are being missed out from these spaces.’ She kept a fem-identifying perspective, however, as it is the lens she has always seen skateboarding through.

 
To Balance Is To Trust To Balance Is To Trust To Balance Is To Trust
 

Hannah discovered how young skaters like Rudi and Mac, who are respectively six and seven years old, can be empowered, full of energy, and passionate about the skating community. ‘I was inspired by how fearless they were, and how gender won’t define them,’ she adds, grateful for this next generation. ‘It was a mutual conversation and a mutual project between me and the people that I photographed.’

She now realises how brave all these skaters are, in fighting to create the spaces they now occupy, even if they’re still not accepted by everyone. She watched skaters learning how to be themselves despite the social stereotypes around them, then helping others to feel accepted and empowered in these spaces too. This is also why she chose to photograph these skaters in the places they felt the safest skateboarding and, as she explains: ‘The element of the title is about a skateboarder trusting their skateboard, trusting themselves, trusting why they love doing it, but also trusting me as a photographer to take their shot and to give them the power of the photo and what it means.’

To be or not to be a skate photographer

Even when you try to empower other people, it can sometimes be difficult to empower yourself. Hannah struggled for a while with calling herself a photographer, and particularly a skate photographer, through a lack of professional and commercial opportunities and a fear of losing her passion and enthusiasm. ‘It can be really hard to make a living from shooting only what you are very passionate and creatively fuelled by. I couldn’t find the way. I thought that if I labelled myself, it would put pressure on it, and I didn’t think it was viable.’

But as her main goal is to inspire and help people to be more inclusive, tolerant, and empowered by what they do, she finally felt that she had to put a label on it. ‘I think moving forward I’m passionate about there being more opportunities for different people to work behind the scenes of the outdoors and action sports industries, and to get behind cameras to capture it,’ she explains. ‘I hope that my experience and path may create some opportunities for the next generation to come through and think “maybe I can do that too!”’


For more information visit hannahbaileyphoto.com and find Hannah on Instagram @neonstash
Written by Hannah Bailey

 

Share

Supported by: