Kolkata Skate 4×5 Portraits

In the summer of 2015, I spent 6 weeks in Kolkata to document my family home. While I was there, I found out about the amazing work that Aaron WallingSudhyasheel Sen, and Joseph Daniel were doing with Kolkata Skateboarding, teaching local kids the art of skateboarding in a leaky abandoned warehouse. Of course, I had to go and photograph with my 4×5″ large format camera.

I photographed the students on a hot and sweaty day in July. Using the 4×5 camera under such conditions was difficult, as sweat kept pouring into my eyes, making it nearly impossible to focus. I posted the digital images I made right away and enjoyed giving prints to the skaters who were there, with the help of Sudhyasheel Sen, but as sometimes happens, complications arose with the film images I made. While I was unloading the film in my hotel room, one of Kolkata’s frequent power outages shut off the air conditioning, and I started sweating profusely all over the film. By the time I got a chance to process the 4×5″ sheets when I got back home to California, the wet emulsion had welded the sheets together into a solid block of gelatin. I spent hours in the darkroom with my block of exposed film soaking in a tub of water, carefully peeling off each sheet, in hopes of saving the image. On many of the sheets, the fragile emulsion tore away, leaving ragged holes in the photo.

I nearly threw the negatives away, thinking them totally ruined, but in the end, I decided to scan them anyway. The lives of these skaters aren’t shiny. They don’t have nice, well lit, smoothly paved purpose made skateparks as we do in the States. They have to skate in rough conditions, struggling with old and beat donated gear- worn out shoes, rusty bearings, split old boards- in heat, humidity, rain, and rough pavement. Maybe my imperfect pictures would depict their lives better than perfectly processed, pristine photos would. Somehow the damage of the film seems to reflect the tough conditions of their lives, but out of the challenge of their situation, their bright smiles and confidence still manage to shine through.