It’s called California Concrete but it’s not a review of the brutalist buildings of the American west coast. Because to design the sunny panorama of Los Angeles and San Diego were also the numerous skate parks that since the 1970s have multiplied together with the notoriety of sport, determining a strong identity and at the same time marking the history of photography.
A story that has the legendary and that is suggestively told by the two essays that accompany the photographs of Amir Zaki in the book by Tony Hawk and Peter Zellner. It all started in the days of calm, when the surfers, bored, decided to stick the wheels to the tablets to continue training on the street. An event also briefly mentioned in the cult movie Big Wednesday.
But the real turning point is in ’75 when a group of teenagers managed to get finance from a store called Zephyr to take part in some competitions. They took the name of Z-Boys and soon they would invent vertical skateboarding as another movie, Lords of Dogtown, tells.
Summer is torrid, so much so that families are forced to ration water and drain the pools, which remain empty. With that rebellious spirit that still characterizes the skater world, the boys are introduced in some villas starting to make their tricks. Their exploits are immortalized by local photographers, marrying perfectly with the milieu of the time. It is the year in which the New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape exhibition, curated by William Jenkins, explains to the world that photographers have changed their log. It is no longer the curves of nature that sublimate the aesthetic experience, but the artificial landscapes, crudely cultivated and almost amateurish. As a status symbol, swimming pools are bent to emergency and change their use, entering the photographic and sports imagery.
Forty years later, the collection of Amir Zaki now has the responsibility of documenting what has become in effect one of the characteristic features of California. They are parks where the photographer himself grew up, or where Tony Hawk developed his latest numbers. The technique chosen recalls at first sight that of a master of analogical experimentation: David Hockney. In fact, Amir combines a series of shots made with telephoto lenses, thus eliminating distortion but still having a wide viewing angle, two things that are usually mutually exclusive. But Amir, unlike the British artist, does not show the collage, and eliminates any distraction, starting with the human figures. No guys with baggy pants and caps in reverse, no epic fail and epic wins. Only the space, taken from the inside in the morning light, as from the point of view of a solitary skater. Concrete curves dug into the ground. Volumes that rise. An anti-architecture, as Amir calls it, which leaves room for imagination, inventiveness and fun.