Traipsing Through Time: The Photographs of Blake Carpenter
Traipsing Through Time
Title & Photos: Blake Carpenter
Essay: Zach Moldof
Questions: Blake & Zach
Other Words: Yuto Horigome
Skateboarding has 3 components: art, culture, and sport. Everyone who rides a skateboard participates in all 3 of these components. Historically, the narratives that define these 3 aspects of skateboarding have come from small social circles that are concentrated in Southern California. There are exceptions, but on the whole skateboarding has been determined by a group of people who live in Southern California. So, when you pick up a magazine from skateboarding’s past you’re going to see a depiction of skateboarding as it existed in certain social circles in Southern California. And for the most part, the videos that have been historicized, and codified into the definitions of skateboard, skateboarding, and skateboarder are also a reflection of small social circles in Southern California. Up until now, there has been no real distinction between the culture of those few individuals living in Southern California, and the culture of skateboarding. It’s not a bad thing, and in fact it’s a necessary thing. But it’s worth pointing out that in the contemporary era, this kind of micro-regional interpretation of globalized culture doesn’t work.
Skateboarding didn’t arise from institutional support, and until very recently–and still in some places–skateboarders were treated like a virus to be eradicated, or at the least isolated. It’s pretty remarkable to think that people organized an entire industry around something that the rest of society maliciously scoffed at. Skateboarders were ahead of the times at the onset of the internet, because we had already been living in a network of personal brands, careers based around endorsements, mail-order shopping, magazine articles, videos, and skate spots that add meaning and intrigue to otherwise invisible foreign places. But by the onset of web2.0 skateboard culture hadn’t progressed, and it was surpassed by basic consumer culture. Today Instagram has all but decimated skateboarding, turning videos into a nearly fruitless retail category for companies that once relied on them as a principal revenue stream, and creating a platform for 12 small brands of varying quality to spring up and replace 1 amazing brand that couldn’t keep up with the times. Is it sad to see companies that defined skating emulating companies that came along after Instagram? Yes. But, it’s also exciting to see new people with new ideas and new companies that represent the times we’re in. It’s also exciting to see old brands that understand how to innovate and keep up.
I don’t curse at clouds when it rains, and I don’t advocate for making the future resemble the past. I value the past, but if I’m gonna be forced to decide between the past and the future? I’m going with the future. Blake Carpenter is going with the future too, and that’s why I chose him to be the featured skater for the first issue of Stoke Much. Some people who make a living skateboarding are scared of the future, because a professional career as a skateboarder will rely on more than just skateboarding. In the near future exceptional proficiency in the sport alone won’t be enough to maintain a thriving career as a professional skater. We are not far off from a time when the best pro skaters will be a class of athletes who train regularly, and maintain a regimented life intended to render optimum performance. By sharp contrast, we are coming out of an era when the best pro skaters can have serious substance abuse problems, an utter neglect for nutrition, and a complete disregard for the habits of the most basic healthy lifestyle. Of course, that’s an extreme illustration, but it’s also an apt analysis of the sport and culture of skateboarding, and the way that small social circles in Southern California have chosen to do business, and live life. Skateboarding has historically been a holdout, a safe haven for people who really don’t want to deal with most of the bullshit of society. And as it looks right now, that phase is coming to an end. I’m not here to celebrate it, or condemn people for the choices that they made, but I do see this as an opportunity to grow, rather than mourn the past.
In the year 2018 skateboarding has officially been embraced by mainstream society, and skateboarding is finally starting to find ways to benefit from the relationship. And while skateboarding could breed the next Bam Margera, it’s unlikely that he or she will be anywhere near as destructive. But, he or she won’t need to be destructive. Bam represented the fucked up tendencies of skateboard youth across the USA in the mid 90s: we were social outcasts, we were fucking agitated, and we knew how to get over. We were being roughed up by cops, harassed by teachers, jumped by rednecks, and worse. We were destructive because we were oppressed, and we needed to get even with a society that was constantly stepping on our necks. You might be able to kick us out in the daytime, but we’ll come back at night to break all your sprinklers and smash your windows. Today, it’s just not as harsh for a skater. That’s fine because being disliked by society isn’t an essential element of skateboarding. However, being disliked for skateboarding is an essential experience to the people who have shaped skateboarding.
Skateboarding will never lose touch with its roots as a safe haven for outcasts, but it can never go back to being an anti-social activity. Today skateboarding is accepted, and tomorrow the culture will no longer be a reflection of a small group of people in Southern California. Some folks are threatened by this shift, and some are shining in it. Blake Carpenter parties, and he likes to do hoodrat shit with his friends, but his lifestyle isn’t based on living without responsibilities. As has long been the standard amongst many amazingly talented skateboarders, Blake’s lifestyle is about freedom. And that should come as no surprise because skateboarding is freedom; a skateboard is a rare tool that allows us to transcend the capitalist environment that surrounds us; skateboarding sets us free from the constraints of our own human design and sends us careening through the streets like beasts of an ancient order. But what good is freedom if it can’t be guaranteed? That’s the question that Blake Carpenter is asking, and that’s what’s going to keep him in the game longer than anyone who is just focused on the sport; longer than anyone who is just focused on the culture; and longer than anyone who is just focused on the art.
For a professional skateboarder very little is guaranteed, unless you’re at the top of the contest circuit, or you’re receiving major media exposure. And on the flip side of that coin, it seems incredibly unlikely that a young person developing a career in the internet era would choose to sacrifice the freedoms of a social life in order to be a top-ranking contest skater. Blake is an amazing example because he could train hard, and win contests if he wanted to. He could also be a total pile of shit and still kill it on a skateboard. But instead he is doing the real life hard work of finding a reasonable middle ground where the freedoms of skateboarding provide him with the means to cultivate a lifestyle that guarantees those freedoms for life. Blake’s skating is a clear display that he is in the uppermost echelon of the sport, and for those who are more versed in the nuanced mechanics of art and culture, it’s clear that Blake is not someone who excels at skateboarding in a purely athletic sense.
If you talk to Blake, and have a conversation about anything meaningful you’ll likely get two things: insight, and subversion. Blake has a complex mind and the core of his person is defined by permitting the flux of duality, rather than enforcing the singularity of resolution. The right way is less important than the way that works. Blake is smart, and subversive–two essential aspects of original skateboard culture. A person who is smart and subversive doesn’t follow rules, and finds ways to get away with things, or disrupt things without getting caught. As all of us know, this philosophy extends well beyond skating and informs the way that we see the world. Skaters aren’t afraid to break the rules, because being a skateboarder is founded on breaking the rules. But in a more meaningful sense, being a skater teaches you that if you break the rules and don’t get caught, you’ll get to skate the spot and have fun. In this way, the culture of skateboarding is truly transcendental, and the people–such as Blake–who participate in this culture are able to move through society with a kind of transcendental resolution that comes from skating. Being a self-actualized skater involves involves the creation of a cultural identity, and that cultural identity is 100% usable and legible in “normal” society.
If you think of skating as one big inquiry into the meaning of human life, the act of asking questions is actually more important than arriving at a final and ultimate answer. In fact, the finality of resolution isn’t even a realistic prescription for something as dynamic as skating. No one can really say what skating is or isn’t anymore, but if you know how to inquire, you can always be part of the conversation. And back to the original analogy of life, the act of skating itself is an inquiry into what’s possible, and less a statement on what is. Blake truly embraces the inquisitive nature of skating and life, and he explores the fluctuating edges of what’s possible rather than asserting his convictions on what’s out there. The complex inner duality that keeps Blake in motion is the same complex duality that every accomplished artist learns to tame. Skateboarding has presented Blake with opportunities to develop his creative mind, and cultivate an intentional perspective the same way an illustrator, painter, graphic designer, photographer, or any other type of visual artist would. And so, when he pushes himself to take steps and seek personal development outside of skateboarding, he brings the same world-class regular/switch talent as a starting point.
Blake is not an aspiring photographer, nor is he someone who is learning to be an artist. The moment that Blake picked up a camera and started shooting he was already an artist. And the moment that Blake pushed his understanding of art and culture outside of skateboarding, he improved his chances of remaining a relevant skateboarder in the internet era. Not long after we started working on this article Blake had a minor injury and couldn’t skate for a while. At one point he told me how he felt devalued when he was injured, “As a pro skater you get hurt, and you don’t matter anymore,” and it’s not difficult to see why he’d feel that way. Even though skateboarding is made up of art, culture, and sport, a professional skateboarder’s value is determined solely by their ability to perform athletic feats. Things are far better today than in the past, but even still, professional skateboarders are not afforded the kinds of assurances that come with similar commitments in other sports.
Being a professional skater involves a lot of skateboarding, but it also involves a lot of planning and strategizing if you want to have a fruitful career after you’re not a top pro anymore. Here’s where Blake’s lack of regard for contests comes back around into something productive. He’s carrying a camera around and shooting photos, and being creative, and putting himself out there to accept duality and expand his world. Right now a professional skateboarder who makes art has a lot of appeal outside of the skateboard industry. The rest of the world is desperate for “real people with real stories,” and we all know that there are no fake skateboarders. So a skateboarder who is also an artist has a lot of value to people who understand that legibility in today’s marketplace comes from endorsements, and not advertisements. A skateboarding artist represents the kind of free-spirited action-oriented values that our society currently places in very high regard. And while there may be some skateboarders who train harder than Blake, at the end of the day Blake’s personal brand adds up to have value far beyond skateboarding by bringing skateboarding into other social spaces.
Skating is a mix of art, sport, and culture, and unless you have enough capital to build a private training facility, skating always takes place in a social setting. In Blake’s case he is leaning into the art more than the athleticism as a means to continue developing both as an individual, and as a career-minded professional. Skateboarders are the original 1-person-brand-business-and-celebrity. Before the internet provided the masses with the tools to buy clicks and influence people, skateboarders were using videos, magazines, skate shops, and skateparks as a means to forge a new type of culture. In skateboarding’s early social network Ed Templeton stood out by virtue of his skill and unique vision. Insightful people saw the value in having their products endorsed by Ed, and through the release of videos, photos, and limited products Ed went viral in the skate network. That virality benefitted Ed, as well as the companies he endorsed. Eventually Ed used his status within the skate network as an opportunity to create his own company: Toy Machine.
When Ed created Toy Machine he used his momentum in skating–which is a combination of art, sport, and culture–to create a business that empowered his creativity. He also presented himself with the means to self-actualize because he created a business, which is the main thing you need in order to succeed in the capitalist society of The United States of America. And it’s no coincidence that Blake has found a home on Toy Machine because Blake is on a path very similar to Ed’s. It maye be relatively early in Blake’s career, but make no mistakes, he is just as much of an artist as Ed Templeton. Truthfully, that’s the same for all skateboarders, but the reality of that truth is determined by our capacity to recognize the potential and act on it. For Blake, the continued exploration of photography is certain to play a part in his perpetual growth as a skateboarder. And ultimately, this all leads to Blake living a life of freedom that he can guarantee. An injured skateboarder who spends all their time conditioning for contests doesn’t have a lot of options. And a retired skateboarder who only knows people in the skate industry doesn’t have many favors to call in. But, an injured skateboarder who is a professional artist still has a whole career worth of options to run through. Similarly, a retired skateboarder with an art career, or a speaking career doesn’t have a lot of worries. And in a time when sustained economic solvency independent of a sole employer is the key to freedom, the skateboarding artist rings true as an unstoppable juggernaut disregarding the walls of the labyrinthine stretches of capitalism we call a career.
In today’s world of peer-oriented capitalism, and peer-oriented celebrity institutions skateboarding provides a uniquely productive usefulness. Skateboarders use social media to share skateboarding, and the new on-demand small scale artist economy has lent itself to creating some incredibly apt skateboard companies. Blake may not be someone who posts incessantly, but he is certainly someone to watch. He is methodical and calculated. You won’t see him following the paths that are already identified because he has too much work to do–those pre-tread paths don’t offer adequate challenges for his personal development. In the meantime keep an eye on Blake because whatever he does next will probably be switch, and he’ll probably flip in, and whatever he does after that is gonna be something to remember.
1.) What’s the best/worst thing about the USA?
The skating in the States is so rad and the weather here in LA is prefect for skateboarding! I don't really like that I can't eat Japanese food everyday though. Not until I've got the money to anyways haha.
2.) What does being a pro skateboarder mean to you?
Being a pro skater has been my dream ever since I started skating as a little kid!
3.) Who was your favorite person on the trip, and how did they impact you?
Bobby Worrest and Daan Van Der Linden! In the van we were mostly together for the whole trip. It was so rad! They would always get me hyped to skate whether it was a demo or street. But actually I think I was influenced by most everyone. It was my first time seeing them all skate in person and they all rip so hard so it was sick. I think seeing Stu skate street for the first time influenced me a lot too.
4.) What surprised you on the trip?
Whether he's skating or not, Daan is nuts! Haha Alex Olson showing me all these sick, old skate videos had me tripping too. And also, everyone on the trip helped me with English so I taught them a bunch of dirty Japanese words. I'm so glad I got to be a part of the trip. It was a blast!