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For skateboarder and photographer Colin Bane, pain has become a kind of muse. It’s not that injuries inspire him. He just has a hard time being artistically productive until a nasty spill sidelines him, forcing him to carry a camera to the skate park instead of a board. In fact, Bane didn’t start shooting for a September exhibition at a local record store until he took an early-August tumble at a Maryland park.
“I took a 6-foot vertical drop onto my left shoulder,” says Bane. “I was out of commission for a while.” Even with the bum wing, though, he shot everything for the show in about a month.
Being relegated to the sidelines isn’t such a bad thing for the 28-year-old Bane: As a photographer, he seems more interested in the sport’s communal vibe than in its X Games/Mountain Dew aspects. Viewers expecting to be “stoked” by a fusillade of stylish action shotsthink Craig Stecyk and early Skateboarder Magazinemay be disappointed with Bane’s work, which is mostly about, well, hanging out. In an exhibition of 12 black-and-white photos he staged recently at DCCD in Adams Morgan, static human facesincluding that of Bane’s then-3-month-old son, Aidan, who’s pictured beside a skateboardwere more common than blurred bodies in motion.
“For me, there are two things at work in skateboarding,” says Bane, who teaches world literature and photography at the Maya Angelou Public Charter School in Shaw (and has contributed freelance articles to the Washington City Paper). “The first is a really solitary thing. You do it on your own, for your own reasons, over and over and over, until you get it right. But the other is a community thing. You do it with groups of friends. There’s a thing that happens around the skating, on the sidelines, like a group bonding.”
Bane started skateboarding at age 7 in suburban Denver, where he and neighborhood friends built ramps and worked on their tricks in his cul-de-sac. He skated throughout his junior-high years, as the name Tony Hawk was entering the American lexicon, and on through high school and college at American University, where he picked up the camera for a journalism class. “The first thing I did with my camera was take it to a skate park,” he says.
For the DCCD exhibition, Bane spent an evening shooting kids at the skate park at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, where his wife, Jennifer Bane, teaches, along with a couple of nights at the VANS Skate Park in Woodbridge, Va. “A lot of documentary photographers have a fly-on-the-wall mentality, [hoping] to catch people before they realize they’re being shot,” says Bane, who started a photo-documentary program at Maya Angelou. “I do a lot of that, but I also do the opposite. I’ll make the camera so pervasive for so long that it becomes a nonissue. I’ll keep it in your face long enough so that it just goes away.” He’s found that the intrusive style works better on his own teenage students, whom he photographs regularly in his classroom, than on the kids in Mount Pleasant. “Whenever they saw the camera, they’d flash their neighborhood gang signs,” he laughs.
Bane shoots everybody from adolescents to aging skate rats like himself, in part to show that the sport is more a lifelong pursuit than a youth thingsomething he suggests in the bookend photos of his exhibition: The first is of a child’s vintage toy skateboard, the last of a ’57 Volkswagen Beetle with Virginia vanity tags reading “SK8BRDR.”
The latter image captures Bane’s sense that skateboarding is more a culture or lifestyle than a sportan idea the photographer says doesn’t always come across in his chosen genre. “There are a lot of skateboarding photographers that are a lot more talented than myself,” he says. “But I don’t think action is the sole thing, like a single trick captured on film. It’s less about isolated stunts than a creative flow, an energy that happens when people push themselves and one another. To flip through pictures of tricks one after another doesn’t do it justice.” Dave Jamieson