8 Photo Books Documenting Skate Culture You Must Have

Top Lists, Photography, Book(s) in Focus

April 27, 2020

Skateboarding is both a sport and a way of life. Creative, physical, graphic, urban and controversial, it is full of contradictions. Scheduled to make its first official appearance in the Olympics at Tokyo’s 2020 summer games, skateboarding has come a long way from underground Southern California subculture to a mass-marketed global phenomenon.

Evolving from surfing in 1950s California, it wasn't until mid-1970s that the first skateboarding craze took over the world and skate culture began to emerge, with pioneers like Dogtown’s Jay Adams skating pools and schoolyard banks. Over the years, it grew into one of the most enduring counterculture movements in recent history.

What is truly special about skateboarding photography is that it has always being shot by people who were within the culture already. We bring you 8 skate culture photo books providing powerful behind-the-scenes glimpses of skateboarding and cultural shifts that came out of it.

Featured image: From Hugh Holland's Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978.

Hugh Holland - Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978

The severe drought that hit California in 1975 emptied all suburban swimming pools and drainage ditches, allowing trespassing kids to turn them into playgrounds that became the essential springboard for the skateboarding scene. Hugh Holland, an Oklahoma-born photographer who moved to Los Angeles nine years before, was right there among them, capturing the spirit and energy of this golden age in his beautiful photobook Locals Only: California Skateboarding 1975-1978.

Holland spent the next three years documenting these kids and their stylish territorial way of life, capturing the vibrant energy and youthful innocence of tanned, bleach-blond rascals in tube socks and Vans as they lived a never-ending summer. In 1978, as the scene evolved from teenage rebellion into athletic professionalism endorsed by sponsors, his documentation came to its natural end. As he explained, he “was interested in that shirtless, no socks, no shoes time.”

Ed Templeton - The Prevailing Nothing

Having an extensive skateboarding career and creating portraits of the rebellious culture with his camera, Ed Templeton’s images have left a mark in both the skateboard industry and the fine art world. Shooting intimate and captivating shots of fellow skate teammates and other pro skaters on tour and at home, he provides an authentic lens inside this alternative lifestyle. As Templeton explains, everything he ever shot was on the same path he was on, resulting in an open and candid photographic style.

Published in the format of a slender, oversized tabloid newspaper, The Prevailing Nothing accompanied the artist's solo exhibition at Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, California in 2003. It is another colorful, tour-de-force examination of skateboard culture, wayward youth, and teenage sexuality.

20 Plus Photography By Jody Morris

After the 1980s, skateboarding's popularity sucked into a downward spiral, with most of the companies crashing and burning into bankruptcy. In these chaotic times, when skaters lived below the poverty line, Jody Morris began documenting the slow rebuilding of the industry. Morris was the brand's in-house photographer of World Industries, the company that defined that new era of the sport. He soon began working for Transworld Skateboarding, being granted unparalleled access to the world of skateboarding for the next 20 years.

Capturing both Skid Row skaters alongside legends like Tony Hawk and Danny Way, the book 20 Plus celebrates the creative forces behind this resurgence that continue to move it forward. Providing an insider's perspective, these images capture iconic skaters lounging in graffiti scrawled tour vans, shredding abandoned buildings, avoiding desert dust storms.

Cliche: Resume: a Decade of Skateboarding in Europe

The largest European skateboard brand, Cliché Skateboards was launched in the summer of 1997 by Jeremie Daclin. Over the years, Cliché hooked up some of the world’s best skateboarders, put Europe’s biggest spots on the map, released some of the most critically acclaimed videos and changed skateboarding’s geographic scope forevermore.

The book Cliche: Resume: a Decade of Skateboarding in Europe spotlights the brand since its establishment to the present. Following Jeremie Daclin and the heart and soul tactics needed from the early days, it features amazing skateboard photography from inside the crew, accompanied by interviews, polaroids, and street tales.

Jerry Hsu - The Beautiful Flower Is the World

In 2009, California-based photographer and legendary pro-skateboarder Jerry Hsu first began his Tumblr blog entitled NAZI GOLD, a curated “feed” comprised of cell phone photos in addition to his work with traditional photography and film practices. This blog showcased his unique razor-sharp wit and fascination with life’s absurdities through unplanned snapshots of friends and strangers, skateboarding, roadside curiosities, juxtapositions and anything else that he deemed worth sharing.

The artist compiled these mobile snapshots in a book The Beautiful Flower Is the World, bringing together the best of Hsu’s work throughout the years into an unerringly creative and endlessly clever chronicle of high and low America. Hsu’s work captures everything from dogs chilling out of the passenger side of a car to a giant cactus riddled with bullet holes.

Amir Zaki - California Concrete: A Landscape of Skateparks

A birthplace of skateboard culture, Southern California continues to flourish with skateparks, with architects, engineers and skateboarders collaborating to refine their design. An artist who grew up skateboarding, Amir Zaki decided to capture these concrete skateparks devoid of human presence, having a deep appreciation of the large concrete structures not only as sculptural forms, but also as significant features of the contemporary landscape.

Published as a publication California Concrete, a Landscape of Skateparks, these images capture parks like the Chino Skatepark, Rancho Santo Margarita Skatepark and Eastvale Harada Skatepark in Corona, focusing on jagged tunnels edged with red trim, scooped walls and wave-like canopies.

Iain Borden - Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History

A life-long skater and now Professor of Architecture & Urban Culture, and Vice-Dean of Education at The Bartlett School of Architecture, Iain Borden published a book that presents the only complete history of skateboarding, exploring the story of skate culture from the surf-beaches of the 1960’s California to the latest developments in street-skating and the wider skating world of today.

Varied and bedazzling, Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History is packed through with full-color images of skaters, boards, moves, graphics, and film-stills, revealing a vivid understanding of how skateboarders, through their actions, experience the city and its architecture in a unique way.

Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, And The Fantastic History Of Skateboarding

In his book Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, And The Fantastic History Of Skateboarding, journalist Cole Louison gets inside the history, culture, and major personalities of skating. Aiming to write the complete history of a sport and make it interesting to an audience of people who don’t really care about it, Louison created a gratifying journey that unfolds over a two-part biography of skateboarding’s seminal figures - Rodney Mullen and Ryan Sheckler. Their relationship stitches together a much more evolved brand of history.