Lanna Apisukh started her Everybody Skate photo project in 2018 to highlight the diversity of New York City’s skateboarding scene, in particular, to show off the growing numbers of female and queer skaters around the city. Now, in 2021, her skateboarder photography feels particularly relevant in a time in which the pandemic has created a resurgence of public space and forced personal re-negotiations of identity. Skateboarding parks offer the perfect intersection of the two: a public place for connecting with a community while performing one’s own burgeoning individuality through personal style, skateboard stickers, even cool tricks. Apisukh manages to miraculously capture both the communal and the individual and the rare way they roll into each other on the ramps of a New York City skatepark.
BUST had the privilege of chatting with Lanna about her project, the rising popularity of women’s skateboarding, and the artistry of skating. Check out more of Everybody Skate on Instagram or its recent feature in The New York Times.
(This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
First, were you able to catch any of the Olympic skateboarding, and what were your thoughts?
I did, yeah. I watched a lot of it actually. And I watched the women's park competition, which was on a couple of nights ago. And that was amazing. Literally, it was swept up by 12-year-old and 13-year-old skaters. So that just was the most amazing thing I've ever seen.
Having begun as a kind of underground thing, how do you feel about skateboarding growing in popularity, but also in prestige?
Yeah I mean there's so many feelings about skateboarding being in the Olympics. I know some of the attitudes are a little divided. There's like one camp that's like, ‘no skateboarding is an art form and we shouldn’t be commercializing it’. And then there's like another camp that has the attitude of this is like a really positive thing, especially for women’s skateboarding, which I totally agree with. I think that women's skateboarding hasn’t been in the media nearly as much as men’s in skateboarding. I had done some research [on] Thrasher magazine, which is like a massive [skateboarding] media outlet. And I think out of like four hundred and eighty-eight magazine issues, only three of those issues had females on the cover, which is like crazy, because if you look around, there's like so many amazing, talented female skaters.
So it just kind of shows how much women just haven't had enough exposure in the media and also the opportunities for sponsorships and contests and things like that had been lacking for a while. But we're headed in the right direction now. So it's really, I think, a positive thing to see women's sport in the Olympics and just having it on the world stage and spotlighted. It's been really exciting.
What was the idea for this project? Was there any kind of light bulb moment? I know that you started skating when you were younger, so you have a personal attachment to this, obviously.
Totally, yeah. I picked up my first skateboard in the late 90s when my brother started. First, I watched him and his friends doing tricks on our driveway as a kid. And eventually, I just learned how to ride it on my own in the driveway. But I didn't really get into it because there wasn't that many women skating or girls skating. It wasn't until college. I went to college in Seattle, and I met three or four other young women that skated. And at that was like pretty much like the light bulb moment. I was like, ‘wow, this is amazing. There are other girls out there skating too.’ It was literally like three or four of us on campus and that was it. That's kind of how I got my first taste of it, like going to the skate park, skating street, learning how to do different tricks.
And as I changed careers and got into photography, I just was really inspired by seeing all of these females take to skateboarding in the last twelve years I've lived [in New York] now. It was just amazing seeing everyone get on boards and with such style, grace, and confidence was nothing like I've seen before. So I’ve always been involved in skateboarding. It's always been a part of my life, a part of who I am, always been fascinated with the culture. It's just so rich with culture. There's like the athletic side of it: learning new tricks and skills. It also helps bring me into the public space. So I felt like skating was really connected me to a community. It's always fun to see how skaters creatively express themselves through their clothing, like the way they dress, the fashion, and then also they'll draw on their skateboards. And I always just thought that was so cool.
Well I wanted to ask because it does seem like a sport—I know you said other people call it more like an art form than a sport—that is so apt for visual expression and self-expression, and different kinds of gender expressions, as your photographs showcase. And I wonder why you think that is? Is that because it's such a communal thing?
I think so. I think skateboarding is inclusive. And so I think it attracts also people that are inherently creative and different, and maybe that's why there's a queer community, nonbinary, trans skaters. You're seeing them a lot more than you did 20 years ago. They feel comfortable in this space now. And a lot of that has to do with some of the women-led organizations that have created a safe space for skateboarders to come into these public spaces and not feel like they're going to be made fun of or threatened in some way. Also, it takes genuine skill and talent to like do some of these crazy tricks that these skaters are doing: turning a space that looks just like garbage cans or a ledge to a normal person, but skateboarders are going to see that as something that they skate on. So I feel like it always attracts these creative, radical minds. And then also the way that skateboarders dressed, as I said earlier, it is a creative form and a form of self-expression and an art form for sure.
When you photograph the skaters, do you feel like you're kind of like collaborating with another artist?
Yeah, absolutely! I think it's definitely always a collaboration when I'm shooting with another skateboarder. When I go to the skate park, oftentimes I'll skate around a little bit to be comfortable in space and talk to people. I'll have a camera with me, have a little conversation where I start shooting with them. But it's always a collaboration. They might have like an idea for a photo; I might have an idea for a photo. And then we just make a photo.
Do skaters approach you and are like, ‘Hey, I want to be part of that.” Or is it you going up to them?
It's a little bit of both. I think in the beginning it was me more approaching first. And then once they realized that I'm not here to do any harm, I'm here to make photos with them and sharing them with their community. They started approaching me more after that. And then eventually a lot of them come to me now for photos or some of them come to me now like, ‘Oh, I need to get headshots for this thing.’ Now that they know that I'm a photographer, they'll ask for even lighting tips or help with photography. Skateboarding is just a very visual activity. So already I feel like a lot of these skaters have a natural eye for photography and most of them are filming each other at skate parks, filming their progress on their iPhones. So it feels like they kind of go hand in hand: photo/video and skateboarding.
I guess a skate park is kind of like a place to see and be seen. So maybe it's perfect for photography in that way?
Yeah, totally. It definitely feels like the perfect subject for photographers. Because it's a spectacle. You're in the public space for one. I mean sometimes people do feel uncomfortable or shy in front of the camera. So it's always good to ask, I don't like to shoot unless I have consent from a skateboarder. I'd rather that than like going and shooting and then running away. And I always share the portraits with them so that the skaters can share them on their social media or use them for their personal use. That's kind of like a nice favor in return, exchange.
What is their reaction usually?
Oh, it's all mostly positive. Which is great. I think a lot of them are really just excited because the way an image looks when you see it on film is a lot different than just shooting with your iPhone. So there is some satisfaction in that most of the time.
I want to ask about the New York community specifically? Because I know you mentioned that it is very different from Seattle.
It's certainly more diverse now in Seattle than it was when I first started skating. I think it's just demographics too, Seattle is very white, there are some Asians out there, too, and it's becoming more of a diverse city. But, I think New York City is just like a melting pot of people. And they're all gathering together and supporting each other. And it just feels so inclusive. And so that's just that really caught my eye and my attention, which is why I started the project.
I was wondering if you started it with the idea of wanting to make it more inclusive, or did you just want to showcase the diversity that already existed?
I started out shooting events first in like 2016 and then eventually I started making more portraits, just individual portraits with each and skateboarders that I would meet. And yeah, I wanted to showcase some of that diversity that I was seeing bubbling up to the surface here in New York City, especially showing marginalized genders in my work.
I just have one last question, which is what you're planning on doing with it next or what your thoughts are for the future of the project.
Yeah, that's such a good question. I have thousands of photos now, so I think eventually I would like to exhibit the photographs, I've done one smaller exhibit, but I haven't done anything specific to Everybody Skate. I did an exhibit last year for just the general local skateboarding community, but I really to exhibit the photographs and maybe even make a book sometime and so everyone can enjoy it.
That’s great, I look forward to seeing the book sometime!
Oh my gosh I yeah. That's like a whole other thing, yeah I definitely want to do that.
Top Photo: Cami Best/Photo by Lanna Apisukh
Kelsey lives in New York City and is a student at Barnard College, where she studies Anthropology.