Where does a good feeling come from? It can be spontaneous, like a friend who suddenly enters unannounced, plops down, and invites you to be your authentic self. Or it can be slow-growing, like a wave that’s been making its way toward your shore for miles, only you didn’t see it until the other waves crashed away.
One destination with a high probability of levity is the Skatepark of Baltimore in Hampden’s Roosevelt Park. It’s a place of motion and exercise, but many skaters also give credit to the community they receive in return for coming here. Leah Ogden, a rollerskater, describes the paradox: “For a place where you expel energy, you get so much back.”
The skatepark is adorned with colorful graffiti that not only delights the eye but also signals a sense of ease to the mind, with words of affirmation like “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “TRANS RIGHTS.” Many young adults who initially felt awkward, uncomfortable, or unsafe using the park created an environment of inclusivity through meet-ups, collectives, and speaking up for one another. Observing the skaters’ fight for joy inspired me to make portraits for a project I started in 2020 called Skatepark Baltimore.
I adored the people I’d met through making portraits. Still, because I was photographing as an outsider to skating, I knew I was missing some of the nuances of building this particular community—the queer skate scene. I wanted those within the community to be able to contribute their voice to the project. If we made and looked at pictures together, the project’s point of view would broaden visually and socially. As Akiko Scott puts it, “I can’t share my eyes with everyone, and that’s the power of a camera.”
My solution was to create a companion project called Photovoice Sessions for two groups of four, one in the summer and one in the fall. The idea is rooted in the social work methodology “photovoice,” created by Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris. Photovoice was conceived as a way for people with like-minded issues to use photographs as entry points for mutual understanding and distilling common needs.
A key tenet of photovoice is that the goal is not to create technically sound photographs—and yet, in relieving that pressure, so much of the work was visually exciting. After developing their film, we would look at the pictures as a group and discuss them. People would cheer when seeing a great photo the way they would for someone landing a trick. As Tula Honkala says, “The reason it is emotional is that I stopped making art because it devolved into a practice of a skill instead of reflecting my life, and the ask for this project was to reflect on the life we are living. The images and poems let me acknowledge the love already there.” The resulting patchwork of images depicts a scene within Baltimore and the personal relationships that made up each person’s world during this time.
These photographs and texts are excerpts from Photovoice Sessions: Skatepark Baltimore. Participants featured here: Bee Brown, Alexandria Carter, Tatiana Coleman, Max Frost, Tula Honkala, Jalen-Keyshawn Mann, Olivia Nevin, and Akiko Scott. Header photo by Bee Brown.