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Photovoice Sessions: Skatepark Baltimore

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BmoreArt’s Picks: September 13-19

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.

 

Photo and caption by Bee Brown

“With the opening of new parks, the culture of Hampden will change more; maybe more new people will be open to coming out and forming new bonds, as well as those in Hampden going to other locations around Baltimore. I hope the park’s fun, summer, community-oriented nature doesn’t leave. Between the multiple pandemics, tiredness, and general doom around us 24/7, we need each other more than ever.” —Bee Brown

 

Photo and caption by Tatiana Coleman

“As a photographer, my most essential muses are my friends. They give me the most inspiration and motivation. It was Taylor’s (seen above) idea to take photos at Patterson Park. Patterson Park is a wonderful park to photograph. There’s a lot of variety between backgrounds, which gave me a lot of room to experiment.” —Tatiana Coleman

 

Photo and caption by Jalen-Keyshawn Mann

“I met Jacquetta Williams for the first time on September 18th, 2003. My mother is someone who helped me grow but also grew up alongside me. She’s been there in my moments of hopelessness, and she doesn’t even know it. My mother and I have a lot in common: we’re both Virgos, we’re both the only dark-skin ones in our family, we both have names starting with J, and we both are hippies (or at least hippie-adjacent). In all seriousness, my mother is one of the people I hold closest to me. She’s always there to talk to me or even just listen when I need someone to talk to without judgment. My mom has influenced me to be the best and most genuine version of myself.” —Jalen-Keyshawn Mann

 

Photo and caption by Olivia Nevin

“As prevalent as photography is in this time, not everyone is comfortable being in the frame. Whether it be your best friend or a complete stranger, something about holding a camera up to someone tends to change their demeanor completely. It’s entirely up to the image-maker to encourage their subject to feel comfortable and allow them to continue to act naturally and be themselves despite the lens. It’s not easy on either side of the camera, but it always creates the most authentic image.” —Olivia Nevin 

 

Photo and caption by Akiko Scott

“Community is something that makes you feel weightless, floating in a sea of love, ambition, forgiveness, and grace. The scars and bruises we gain together are all washed away by the same water, and I’m eternally grateful to be held by so many arms.” —Akiko Scott 

 

Photo and caption by Max Frost

“Riding bikes with friends is the best thing I know in this world. There is nothing better. Exploring the city or just hanging out at the skatepark—there is nothing like that. It’s such a visceral experience. I handed the camera you gave me to a friend to capture me riding a spot that a group of us had found while exploring the city. The photo didn’t turn out how I imagined, but I think it still captures the moment, and I think the adjacent graffiti that says ‘MAN GOD’ is funny.” —Max Frost 

 

Collage, poem, and caption by Tula Honkala

“[Our friend] Ayaka opened this apartment up to Akiko and me at the start of 2020. We moved into one vacant bedroom. As the seasons changed, our group evolved. We started spending hours at SOB (Skatepark of Baltimore), being active, and meeting new people. Shannon, our friend who was also trying to skate every day and commuting long distances to get to the skate park, started staying on our couch to make the commute more manageable. She eventually found a home in our home, and we were happy to have her. Four people in a two-bedroom apartment. The environment was a chaotic pool of life.

“We all started discussing different ideas to mobilize and educate the skaters about being anti-police, protecting Black trans bodies, and having conversations about decolonization. We made a little think-tank skate group called Solidarity.

“Winter felt especially hard for skaters. The outdoors become very inhospitable and essentially shut down a part of our life that makes us feel balanced. We fought the cold and seasonal depression as much as possible, and we threw ourselves into our imagination on the days when we couldn’t be outside together. In February of 2021, we dreamt about a safe indoor skatepark, and that idea has been guiding us in the background, even though Ayaka moved back to Hawaii and I moved out into a place where I also have my own space. I couldn’t leave this apartment without giving it a little montage. I don’t think I could have felt more secure than I had within the environment of our love made during the weirdest, most unfortunate pandemic in my early 20s.” —Tula Honkala 

 

Photo and caption by Alexandria Carter

“I knew I had to get it on camera when I witnessed this moment. I felt like, at that time, I was not having the best time in my life, and my job was stressing me out. It just felt like during the week, especially, I never had time to myself or even moments to take everything in, but every morning I would walk into my bathroom, and I would just be taken aback by how beautiful and warm it was there. I just wanted to show you the happiest moment in my day!” —Alexandria Carter 

 

Photo by Jalen-Keyshawn Mann
Photo and caption by Olivia Nevin

“Every skatepark has its perks and downsides, but we are extremely lucky as skaters in the DMV because of how many spots are in the surrounding area. Ledgewood is around 30 minutes from Hampden with a similar grunge vibe but a completely different setup. Much like Hampden began before it was a paved park, Ledgewood is actually a tennis court with various obstacles that people brought or built. A crew of skaters called ‘Super Stone’ has dedicated their time and energy to maintaining the longevity of Ledgewood.” —Olivia Nevin

 

Photo and caption by Max Frost

“This photo of Perry and me. It was a moment of me figuring out who I am. It’s not something I would usually share, and I wish I were more comfortable being open about my experience being me to the people around me. Some less than others, and some more. Perry is someone I trust deeply, and I felt more comfortable sharing these thoughts and feelings with her. Despite it being so private, the camera was an easier way to share what felt like a strong moment for me personally.” —Max Frost 

 

Collage and caption by Alexandria Carter

“This collage is probably one of my favorites that I have done. Solidarity is about family and being there for them through good and bad times, holding one another accountable, and supporting each other. We all live in solidarity at the skatepark and in our everyday lives. Solidarity is all around us here! When I was first introduced to the Baltimore community, I knew it was something very special, special enough for me to want to be a part of it. I started driving an hour and a half almost every weekend just to visit my friends and skate at SOB (Skatepark of Baltimore). I soon realized not only was this community special, but they were teaching me what a community is actually supposed to be. I’ve never felt a part of something larger than myself that was so vibrant and loving, and that was what inspired me to move to Baltimore.” —Alexandria Carter 

 

Photo and caption by Tatiana Coleman

“I took this photo at Hampden. As a group of skaters walked past, I asked them if I could photograph them, and they obliged. I love how vibrant the photo came out. I really love how the red of their clothes contrasts with the green scenery. I also love how each person has a different facial expression. Hampden is a wonderful place with many unique muses and subjects. It’s my go-to place if I run out of ideas as to what to photograph.” —Tatiana Coleman 

 

Photo and caption by Tula Honkala

“Akiko, I’ve woken up with them every day for the past two years. I’ve watched them evolve over the past five years, presenting more fem energy. I wouldn’t say Akiko has tried to present a softer energy recently, but I’ve been let into their love where I can bask in their soft energy, and they bask in mine. These are my bright pink and red fabrics that I make our bed with. We stayed in bed long enough to watch the sunlight hit and reflect off them. I wanted the pictures to come out exactly how they did. I wanted to show Akiko how beautiful the pink light was as it side-lit their entire body. The softness is intimate.” —Tula Honkala 

 

Photo and caption by Akiko Scott

“The story behind that picture is me trying to get the camera to take a shot, but it was being super finicky. So I ended up just putting my hand out in front of it to see if it would shoot, and it ended up being this very personified picture of myself—a happy accident.” —Akiko Scott 

 

 

***

 

Photovoice Sessions: Baltimore

Akiko Scott: @k1kipaintz
Olivia Nevin: @olivnev
Tula Honkala: @tulaboola
Bee Brown: @namastaywoke
Max Frost: @maxxfrost
Tatiana Coleman: @tatphotoss
Jalen-Keyshawn Mann: @j2k_03
Alexandria Carter: @a.foralexandria

 

Header image: Photo by Bee Brown

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