The boundaries of documentation and the downhill skateboarding community.
I was listening to an NPR interview about Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man. It’s about this conservationist dude, Timothy Treadwell who hangs out with grizzly bears in Alaska, believing he had bridged the gap between people and these beautiful beasts. When one of the bears he loves turns on him, Treadwell’s camera was rolling as they tear his body apart and that of his girlfriend who tries to save him. In Herzog’s possessions is footage showing the grim realities of nature. Herzog has a choice. He can show the footage or not. He chose not to include it in his documentary. Instead, he urged Treadwell’s mother to never view it and to destroy it.
Yeah, its a brutal example, but it has relevance to the documentation of downhill skateboarding. There is a line that we pass and a judgement call we must make. To shoot or not to shoot. To post or not to post. If you are procrastinating on Facebook like myself, you may have seen the most recent video of a skater getting hit and killed by a car. Personally, it was fucking terrifying to watch and I regretted it as soon as I clicked the link. I thought about the person who filmed that video. Did he think that the video was going to go semi-viral? Does he feel fine with having this haunting clip go beyond his community and on the internet where the world can see it?
Coach’s (Bently’s) philosophy for filming is always keep the camera on. Bails, hospital and stretcher. Everything and anything could end up as b-roll footage. Is that inherently a bad thing? I guess that’s a poke at our individual moralities. For me personally, I just kinda play it by ear and pay solid attention. But that’s not a rule to guide anyone, not even really a structure to follow. From what I understand, edits need gnarly footage. People want to see the real shit. There may be no set line for what goes and what doesn’t, but it should be a question that hangs in the air for all people who document downhill skating. Or anything worth while, really.
I realize I have brought up more questions than answers, but these are here for you to ask yourself.
That being said, I think it’s worth addressing why we document anything in the scene in the first place. My instinctual response would be something along the lines of “because it’s rad”. But what is it about a carefully crafted photo or video that pangs our heart strings? From their fluid form or mind-melting speed, there is something in these pieces of art that reflects in us. When I see a picture of Byron Essert flowing down a slope with effortless flow, I feel his foot positioning as he slides, what the pavement might feel like or how soon the slide will end. I pull all of these feelings out of a picture. I’m sure most skateboarders have done the same thing at some point while watching a video or browsing through photos. That’s how we begin finding our own styles.
Conversely, there is another puzzle piece to this concept of self-recognition. We also feel the bails, the bricks, the smacks and slips. That’s why the Thrasher Hall of Meat is so popular. We see a bit of ourselves in that stuff, even if we haven’t specifically fallen in that exact way, there is a very precise and accurate understanding of what went wrong.
Most everyone besides mom will enjoy a funny bail with minimal injuries. But head injuries and hospital visits hit home very hard within a skateboarder’s mind, even without a single personal visit to the ICU. The anxiety and worries of that pain and trauma is very real. The filter that tells us when to stop and what not to post is the key to making more positive media for skateboarders to enjoy. I’m not trying to say we can’t keep it real and gritty, I just don’t want to end up watching another video of someone dying on a skateboard. Nobody does.
Let’s keep making pretty things for the living, in respect for those who are no longer here.
Thanks for sticking around,