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Even as COVID-19 slows skate content, we’re still inundated with video, stills, and ephemera in our feeds. And we curate—following our interests, envies, idols, and peers, pruning what we consume and sometimes muting punishers who over post and overshare.
For the older set, Instagram specifically can turn into a digital yearbook of a university one never attended. Photographers and videographers post outtakes, contact sheets, raw footage, and clips of whatever the viewer deems as their “golden age.”
For skateboarding Chris Sedition, archivist and operator of @thepastparticiple, that age is now even though his handle is devoted to common folk of the past. The images are raw, often capturing skateboarders so green they look like neighborhood bullies, dirts, dorks or just awkward pre-teens who stumbled upon a complete.
So why focus on documenting common people of decades past if the future is now? We spoke with Sedition to learn more about his extensive collection of noteworthy nobodies to find out.
Can you give a quick backstory on your involvement in skating?
I started skateboarding when I was 11-years-old. I was sponsored by a small company in the mid-1990s. I didn’t skate as much while in law school or while recovering from assorted broken bones/other injuries over the years but I have more or less been continuously skating since 1985.
How long did you mine material before starting your handle and where are you getting it all?
How long did I first mine material for? I’d say approximately 8-12 minutes. [laughs]. A friend and I were about to go skating, and we were getting coffee. While we were in line, I was posting a few old photos to my personal Instagram account. I suddenly thought, ‘Oh! An Instagram feed of old, non-pro, photos would be cool.’
I asked my friend what he thought of the concept. His face lit up. He said it was a great idea. So, that’s how it started. There was no big plan or anything. Now Tony Hawk, Tommy Guerrero, John Lucero, Jeff Grosso (R.I.P.), and a bunch of other big names all follow the feed. It’s humbling, but I guess that’s essentially what the entire feed is about anyway.
The material comes from all over. I search for it, but the account has become popular enough that people are now always sending me pics (via direct message, tagging, email, etc.). I was honestly shocked at how much the feed concept resonated with people, and how popular it has become. I figured at most it would just be me and few friends who would find the material interesting. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Sometimes I get these really incredible, touching, and personal backstories that come along with a photo. I have literally teared-up reading some of the stuff people send me. Stories about dear friends in the photos who passed away, parents who sacrificed everything so their kid (skater in a given picture) could have a first skateboard, parents who were horrifically Unsupportive of skateboarding. All kinds of really incredible stuff.
When stories like that arise, I always include it in the photo caption.
What resonates with you about the images you are curating and what story they tell to you?
I describe the feed as “A visual history of the underclass”—raw pics of average, non-pro skaters from the ‘80s and early-‘90s when skating instantly made you a social outcast. These photos tell a story of reality, humility, and passion. Skate media (then and now) shows fancy pros, at incredible spots, documented by professional photographers. This is not the world most people live in or have access to, especially during the ’80s and early 90s. The reality was horribly built backyard ramps, mediocre ability, and a passion that burned brighter than a thousand suns.
What we saw in magazines is what we all dreamed of but these old photos show what we actually were. There was a stark contrast between the two. To that end, these photos tell a great story of passion—the passion to do something you love, despite the world being against you, and despite being of average or below-average ability. There is real merit, nobility, and inspiration in that—a type of inspiration that can be tapped by any person, at any point in their life, and applied to almost any subject matter. Over and over we may fail. That does not mean it’s not worth doing. These photos are a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit, and to me, that is a beautiful thing.
Why does that resonate? It resonates on a few levels. First, because it was our collective reality. These photos show similar experiences of skaters from all over the earth during the time period. Skaters from Germany were doing the same things as skaters from Canada or Texas. Any one of these photos could show my friends or me. What resonates is how existentially relatable it is. These are the photos that show the reality of the common skateboarder.
Second, it resonates with some people because of nostalgia. To be clear, I personally do not conceive of this project as nostalgia-based. I do not think it “was better back then,” only different. If people enjoy the feed because of nostalgia, that is awesome. The feed is about celebrating the common skater during a period when it was really hard to be one.
I view it as more akin to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
Last, these photos resonate because they all contain hidden aspects of time, place, and humanity. For better or worse they represent ghosts of our own collective past and provide context to our present. They are part of skateboarding’s archetypes to our collective unconsciousness.
Do you think that digital images or old Instagram posts will have the same significance going forward?
I do not think they will have the same significance, at least not to me. Neil Armstrong went to the moon and took about 40 photos. Now people can’t go to the bathroom at a nightclub without taking about 400 selfies. Society is now flooded with photos and videos. These were rare things for the common skater in the 1980s and early 1990s. Moreover, photos from that period show the birth of modern skating and depict aspects of a true subculture that has since moved out of the shadows and into the limelight. Hence, existing photos from that time period hold very different historical importance.
Do you have a favorite image from your handle and also, is there a holy grail you're looking for?
I have a few favorites. Usually, they are ones that capture something representative of the time period and show how stark, raw, gritty, and unpolished everything was. The feed is about coal not diamonds. A holy grail? They are all holy grails to me.
Any plans to expand into print or other mediums?
Despite being asked by many people to produce a coffee table type book, I currently have no plans to do so.
Check out the account: @thepastparticiple
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