Intro 3: Some personal notes

by Steve Collins

"Photograph everything...every aspect of anything to do with your friends on and off skateboards. Time goes by quicker than you think, take the pictures now."

Filmmaker/photographer Larry Clark to apprentice skateboard photographer Tobin Yelland

From 1998 to 2003 the images on this site were captured on film. Grace 'Ten' was the first event to be shot with a digital camera.

In 1998 shots had to be rationed depending on how much film I had. I didn't know what I had until the prints came back. Sometimes there were good surprises, sometimes not. It took me a long while to get the hang of film speed, crucial when not using flash.

In 1998 very few others were photographing or filming services. There were no cameras in mobile phones, and most people still didn't have mobile phones.

Since people were unused to having their worship photographed, it seemed wise to ask permission of the event leaders and be careful during the event. I had to be careful and responsible in publishing images or allowing them to be published by others, so that people's worship didn't end up in advertisements, or as stock images of 'cool church'. To this day I seldom allow images to be used as other than actual records of a specific event.

A decade or so later everyone has a phone in their pocket, with a decent digital camera which they expect to use to record their life and publish it to the world online. The issue now is one of restraint - too many people taking photos or movies in the service, half the congregation psychologically detached and in recording mode, flashes and clicks from badly set up devices. I'm beginning to wonder if we need to designate one person as official and sole photographer for each event, who will publish online for everyone else to use later. The rub is that everyone thinks they can see a different/better photo.

This may, of course, be a problem which specifically afflicts Grace and similar services which are high-profile, highly visual and highly visited for study purposes. It's also at least in part my fault, for opening that door.

'[Skateboard magazines] are an implicated part of the development of skateboarding, and are thus what historians call a primary source - unmediated by the distance of time and backward look of the historian.'

'[They are not] the products of professional journalists, but the products of skateboarders themselves who have become journalists through working on such publications. Their agenda is not then the external agenda of the intellectual academic or careerist reporter, but the internal agenda of the intellectually active proponent.'

'Skateboard magazines are highly illustrated with still and high-speed sequence photography. As such, this imagery as much as the written work provides "the nearest thing that we have to a historical record of what skateboarding is".'

'The photograph in fact has a triple value for this history of skateboarding. Most obviously, it provides a window on the past, showing what went on and where. Second, the photograph is itself an implicated part of skateboarding. Third, the photographs reproduced here perform part of the argument of the book - the images, then, are not so much just representations of what happened but have approximately equal status to the words.'

'The performative nature of skateboarding's consciousness [i.e. it ultimately means something when the skateboarder skateboards] means that the image of skateboarding acquires the status of a statement - it is not only a representation of a thing, the meaning of which is clarified through text, but is a representation of an enunciative act and hence carries meaning in a less mediated manner.'

Iain Borden, 'Skateboarding, Space and the City' [Berg, 2001]

When I began taking pictures of alternative worship events, my motivation was simply to record some amazing but short-lived artworks, so that now and in the future people could see what this thing was all about. Over time a more subtle inner agenda emerged. In fact my biggest influence was the work of snowboard photographer Vincent Skoglund for Onboard magazine, who taught me the value of 'point of view', ie having a personal narrative which governs what photos you take and how they fit together, to tell the story of a 'scene'. However, Iain Borden had done theoretical studies in the very similar and connected field of skateboarding, which had been partially published in architectural circles during the 1990s ahead of 'Skateboarding, Space and the City' [Borden was at the time head of the Bartlett school of architecture in London]. Substitute the word 'worship' for 'skateboarding' in the quotations above to see the relevance here.

These images represent how an 'intellectually active proponent' sees the scene he is a part of. They were intended for emulation, for the dissemination of 'tricks', in the skateboarding sense of reproducible sequences of moves, cf. Jonny Baker's 'worship tricks'. They are a contribution to a discourse about Christianity and society pursued not only with words, but with images and 'enunciative acts'. The emerging church too has a 'global conversation', in which ideas and moves are passed between groups, adapting and extending as they go. Photographs play an active part in that process, by documenting the adaptations and innovations and provoking new ones.

They also show examples that can be identified with and acted on, for people who thought they were alone or isolated in how they feel about church. I used to be in that position myself, and it would have helped to have found a 'Small Fire' back then. Photographs can be a beacon for those who search.

The prevailing culture of the Church seems to be an academic culture dealing in conceptual research, written theory which then seeks forms. The ethos is to write and approve first, then act to reproduce the writings. The culture-makers are primarily those whose writings have been tested, whose training has been approved before they are permitted to act.

Conversely, the emerging church has often found it preferable to act first, and then derive theory from the experience of action. Or at least there has been a much more immediate and provisional exchange between theory and praxis than normally happens in the prevailing church cultures. This is as it should be in a time of experiment, if we accept that experiment is necessary due to cultural obsolescence and exhaustion in our churches. At this time it seems helpful to look at other areas of culture and society, such as board sports, photography or architecture, where actions, images and artifacts precede explanations, as expressions of non-verbal and embodied wisdom.

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