About The Cover

July – August 2006 About The Cover

BY Lyle Rexer, July 1, 2006

In the world of extreme sports, in-line skaters are the odd ones out. Their artistry and athleticism don’t draw the attention of X-games aficionados and television audiences, but in the neighborhood around Grand Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, they drew Vincent Cianni’s attention. Trained as a community activist, Cianni used his camera to enter into their community, to portray their passion and dedication. Cianni’s nine-year project We Skate Hardcore: Photographs From Brooklyn’s Southside transcends the usual drive-by shootings of photodocumentarians to achieve a deep rapport with its subjects. “Cianni tells a story about an important community and about the youth culture of New York, and so his work is right for this museum,” says Robert Shamis, curator of photography at the Museum of the City of New York, which is exhibiting 87 prints from the project, as well as video and texts from the skaters themselves, through August 6. “But what I find engaging is the relaxed intimacy Cianni establishes. The young men and women present themselves to him, and he accepts and celebrates the roles they are trying out.” Cianni watched as the skaters struggled against lack of resources, community suspicion, and local developers to build their own skate park, and they came to accept him as one of their own, even to the point where his camera became invisible. He was able to get in close for pictures like the one on our cover—Mike Doing A Far Side Torque Soul, P.S. 84—an emblem of “freedom, suspension, and risk,” as he puts it. Cianni chronicled their parties, families, and street-corner love affairs, and created an unvarnished portrait gallery in which the young men and women of an overlooked and underserved community could communicate their sense of who they are. “The cumulative effect,” adds Shamis, “is to make you feel ‘I know about these people and this place.’” Cianni follows in a tradition of photographer ethnologists who have forged bonds with their subjects, from Larry Clark and Danny Lyon to Jim Goldberg and Wendy Ewald, who, like Cianni, encourage their subjects to annotate photos with their own texts. “I come from an old coal-mining town,” says Cianni, “and the kids could tell I have respect for people who fight to overcome obstacles.” As a result, We Skate Hardcoretranscends its sport and its milieu to document lives, friendships, and the often difficult process of growing up. “Skating is really a metaphor for their lives,” Cianni adds, “for the freedom and perfection they are all seeking against the odds.”