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photo-eye Book Reviews: Skate Park

Skate Park, Photographs by Arthur Tress.
Published by Birch Books, 2010.
Skate Park
Reviewed by Daniel W. Cobrun
Arthur Tress Skate Park
Photographs by Arthur Tress
Birch Books, 2010. Hardbound. 100 pp., 78 duotone illustrations, 12x12".

In Skate Park, photographer Arthur Tress begins by describing the park itself, presenting each curve and undulation of this concrete landscape as a sculptural work of art. Dreadlocks and tattoos appear shortly thereafter; tanned and leathery skin stretched tightly over the lean frames of young men competing for air and glory. Tress romanticizes their condition. Wheels become wings as they use gravity and momentum to launch a fleeting attempt at freedom. Each skater casts his shadow over the unforgiving surface below as he momentarily achieves weightlessness. Tress unapologetically presents an idealized and sometimes erotic representation of the male form. These photos ooze grit, glory and testosterone.

The photographer uses his medium format camera in a way that captures the energy of these gravity-defying athletes, using motion blur and a toy-camera aesthetic to emphasize the velocity and rotation of each trajectory. At times his subjects seem to engage the camera but in other instances the photographer becomes an anonymous and invisible observer. Careful attention is paid to the details of each skater's accessories, glamorizing the fashion aesthetic of the skatepark. Baggy pants, bling, ball caps and bushy hairstyles seem standard issue for those navigating this maze of concrete waves and chain link fence. While Tress dramatically captures these skaters upon their ascent, he gives equal attention to the hard landings. Bloody elbows, broken boards, and bandages hint at the physical sacrifice made for bragging rights. Most of these photos are taken under the reign of mid-day sun, adding an additional layer of intensity to the heat and sweat of the skatepark narrative. The artist masterfully frames and crops these images, sometimes masking the identity of the skater, but emphasizing the physicality of the sport.

Skate Park, by Arthur Tress. Published by Birch Books, 2010.

Skate Park, by Arthur Tress. Published by Birch Books, 2010.

 Tress describes the skatepark as a male dominated arena governed by the laws of machismo and bravado. He simultaneously objectifies the male body, in many instances presenting these figures as if they were carved in stone by a Classical sculptor. The overtly masculine aura of this work is underscored by the complete lack of a female presence in any of the photographs - the only representation of a woman in this monograph appears as a topless mermaid in tattoo on the shoulder of one of Tress' subjects. One begins to wonder if the artist is celebrating or critiquing the patriarchal nature of the skatepark.

Skate Park, by Arthur Tress. Published by Birch Books, 2010.
This 100-page volume includes 78 black and white photographs. The book and the images are square format, which represents a welcome departure from the typical rectangular photo book. The cover is wrapped in a black fabric and one of Tress' glossy images is fixed to its surface, making the exterior of this monograph just as sexy as its contents. While the narrative seems relatively superficial, this book will undoubtedly appeal to those who enjoy skateboarding, but it also celebrates masculinity and the beauty of the athletic male form in a way that can be appreciated by both sexes. As someone who fumbled around on a skateboard as a teenager, this album offered a nostalgic return to the wasted summer days of my youth. This collection of images will surely be treasured by photography lovers and those looking for a bit of eye candy.—Daniel W. Coburn

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Daniel W. Coburn is a contemporary photographer whose visually arresting images have garnered national and international praise. Selections from his body of work have been featured in prestigious exhibitions, including Top 40 at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the National Competition at SOHO Photo Gallery in New York. His photographic works are held in the permanent collections of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, the Mariana Kistler-Beach Museum of Art, the Mulvane Museum of Art and the Moraine Park Museum. Daniel has published two monographs of his work: Between Earth and Sky and Rediscovering Paradise. His most recent body of work, OBJECT:AFFECTION, represents a photographic study on the process of self-objectification. Coburn received his BFA with an emphasis in photography from Washburn University and is currently studying photography as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico.