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Full Bleed - Kids, Washington Square by Gunars Elm
Kids, Washington SquarePhotography by Gunars Elm

‘We kept the circle very tight’: photos of NYC’s skate scene

The monumental skate photography book Full Bleed was recently reissued for its 10th birthday – Dazed sat down with editor Alex Corporan to reflect on the scene from which it was born

The New York skate scene is one of the most idolised in the world. First published in 2010, Full Bleed is a comprehensive and monumental photographic recollection of this scene, told across three decades and captured through the lenses of over 40 photographers, including famed creatives Spike Jonze and Larry Clark. Professional skateboarder and New York native Alex Corporan curated and edited the book, alongside fellow skaters Ivory Serra and Andre Razo. “I wanted this book to be a photographic love letter to the NYC skate scene,” Corporan explains to Dazed over email. 

The book was recently reissued for its 10th anniversary [published by Salamander Street] and features 40 new pages of unseen images, as well as a foreword from Tony Hawk. “When I did Full Bleed ten years ago it was ahead of its time,” Corporan says. “I wanted to bring it back because the scene has changed and I wanted to give this new batch of skateboarders a sense of the importance of NYC skate culture, how long it’s been around, and the people behind it.” The book is nostalgic but still looks forward, spotlighting cult heroes of old such as Rodney Smith and Harold Hunter, as well as the new generation of professional skaters including Sage Elsesser and Na-kel Smith.

Corporan initially conceptualised the book with one motivation in mind. “People that didn’t skate always asked me where to skate in New York and I would tell them ‘everywhere’. They didn’t understand because, in the majority of people’s heads, they’ll look at California with its beautiful sky and skateparks,” he says. “Photography is my other love so I decided to make the book to show people how the whole of NYC is our skatepark.”

When the NYC skate scene emerged in the 1980s, it was – and still is – reflective of the wider city itself. New York during that decade was tough and unforgiving, raw and unlike anywhere else in the world. The skateboarding scene‘s style, in many ways, parallels this – the lack of skateparks and infrastructure supporting the sport pushed skaters out onto the streets, where they could create their own spots out of benches, stairs, rails and the endless sprawling streets that filled the entirety of the city.

The bowls, half-pipes and vert ramps that ruled West Coast style were alien to the skaters of New York – they ruled the city and skated with ferocity and attitude, constantly fighting against broken surfaces and other obstacles which emerged from the streets that were never built to accommodate them. “The skate scene in New York is incredible because it’s about cruising it and finding something to skate in every corner and every crevice of the city,” Corporan explains. “You can find somewhere for you to skate and conquer. As for other places around the world, you always need to get in a car to go to a destination. The whole city of NY is a destination.”

Though the images span three decades, there is a timelessness that shines through. The graffiti-lined streets seem ageless, and the uniform of trainers, t-shirts and baggy trousers remain ubiquitous. There’s also a togetherness of skaters that has never waned, and one that translates warmly across the images. “It’s the brother and sisterhood, the innocence and passion of what we were doing, the sharing and the helping each other. It was an amazing time when everything was happening at once,” Corporan says. “We were a small group at the time, a group who no one really understood, so we kept the circle very tight.” Skating is tough, many skaters will have endless battle scars from various failed stunts whether on or off the board, but it’s also incredibly rewarding, gifting you a set of friends for life. “I’m in contact with every single person in the book, even our fallen heroes, because not a day goes by where I don‘t think of them,” he reflects.

Full Bleed is a project that tells a fervent tale of love, adventure, togetherness and perseverance. “All the photos are amazing because we curated it with the sense that we wanted photos to be art pieces and not a skate magazine,” Corporan says. Through the pictures of skaters mid-flight comes a sense of freedom and escape from the confines of the concrete metropolis. It’s a freedom found not only in an exploration of the city but as an attitude, a non-conformance that brings outlaws and misfits together, bound by their love of a sport that means so much more than what happens on the board.

Full Bleed: 10th Anniversary Edition is out now via Salamander Street and available here.

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