“reece is a bit of a god send for leeds” — martyn hill, welcome skate ridersBack
Mike Arnold remembers his shirt was a problem for the police. James Foster remembers being hyped by Brenna Harrap. Brenna Harrap remembers a defeat. Martyn Hill remembers his mates being there; they all remember their mates being there. They can all show their bruises, and they can all show the photographs, taken by Reece Leung, of them skating a moment when nothing could touch them.
“If this photo hadn’t been taken I probably wouldn’t remember every little thing about skating that spot,” says James. “I’d never really skated a rail against a wall before; you have to half ride on the wall and the rail, and I was keen to do it. That’s what skating’s about, trying to do new stuff.
“It was quite a spur of the moment session. In ten years I’ll probably have forgotten about that day, but because I’ve got that photo I’ll remember it – who else was there, what else was going on.”
“The one thing I remember is about wearing that stupid Hawaiian shirt,” says Mike Arnold. “It was possibly from the night before. It wasn’t even summer.
“We’d been kicked out from where we were skating some stairs. The closest spot was that rail so we all went down there. But because we were just down the road we were still annoying the same people so they called the police.
“The police were nice about it, and one of them asked, ‘Who’s the best skater here then?’ Nobody really answered and he was like, ‘With a shirt like that it’s got to be you!’
“Obviously we agreed with him to leave the place. It was a bit of a grimy spot anyway, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that he was kicking us out.”
Plus, Reece had the photo.
“It took maybe fifteen minutes,” says Mike. “You can land a the trick but then it doesn’t look right on the photograph because it’s just one frame. we had to try a few times.”
Reece, when he’s there, and he’s normally somewhere, doesn’t just capture the scene in front of him. His presence and his camera makes the scene, the scene that takes Leeds riders into skate magazines like Sidewalk and Kingpin.
“He’s got stuff printed in pretty much every issue of those,” says Martyn Hill. “It’s nice when you open a magazine and there are loads of different skaters from Leeds in there, and you see the ones who have got their first photo. It gets you motivated to go out and get more.
“Different skaters do different things. I plan things out in advance, while others are quite sporadic and more like, oh yeah, I got a photo, sweet. I’m slightly different. I skate mainly for the feeling. But for this one I’d thought about it and wanted to go and get it, so I spoke to Reece and he wanted to come out as well. I’d not had a photo doing one of these yet and it was one that I wanted to see.
“You’re motivated to make it. Some days you’ll go out and you won’t get a photo and it’s so frustrating. When Reece has gone out of his way to carry all his equipment and set everything up, and you don’t get it, you feel bad. But it just happens sometimes.”
“Defeat comes to mind when I look at this photo,” says Brenna Harrap. “I was feeling pretty annoyed with myself because we’d gone here to shoot a different photo.
We’d been there a few times and I’d never done what I originally intended to do, so feeling like I was wasting Reece’s time I decided to try something else.
“It literally took about five minutes. Most of that was me telling myself not to lean forward or put my hands on the rail. In the end we came away with a decent photo. Reece is very good at making the simplest things look gnarly.”
“It’s hard to say what I was feeling when the photo on that rail was taken, because I always zone out when I’m skating,” says James. “I’m not really feeling anything. I remember I was hyped on what Brenna was doing so I was keen. It’s hard to describe.”
“You can’t really see my facial expression in this photo,” says Mike. “I guess that takes away from showing what I was feeling at the time. That’s difficult to capture anyway because your face is focused, but then what you’re feeling is quite different.”
Like a frame in a comic book, Reece’s images are packed with information that either tells or disguises what the protagonist is feeling, that makes you want to know what’s happening to them, that makes you want to know what’s going to happen next. But there’s no next page to turn to, no next frame. They’re graceful in that instant.
“You can see the danger in Reece’s photos, the beatings you take trying to get some of the shots,” says Brenna. “Your clothes are dirty and tattered. That shows the love for it.”
“I think I had one little slam getting this photo,” says James. “It was years ago but my body was in better shape back then so I could take a couple of slams. It’s only a small little rail, and when you’ve been skating for a while you know when to jump off and when to commit. Learning to bail is probably the best thing about skating for ten years.
“Nowadays from slams on the hips and the body I’ve got little lumps in places and little tender bits, especially on my elbows. If I put my elbows on a table and hit the wrong spot, it’s like, ouch!”
In a Reece Leung photo we’re protected from the skater/terra firma get together whether the trick is landed or not; maybe the camera lies, or maybe it can’t show the future. It points forward and stares and snaps and stops, and leaves you alone.
“It’s just you in the picture,” says Martyn. “That’s how they like the photos for magazines. You try to avoid having people in the background, but you usually have a load of mates there with you.
“This photo was taken at a spot called Needleside. Lee Rozee was the main one who started building it, and then a few of his mates and housemates. It’s not a normal street spot or a skate park, it’s tailored to how they wanted to skate it and how they wanted the lines to work. It’s constantly expanding and changing.
“These little DIY places pop up. From Leeds you can always get a train for a fiver and go somewhere really good. There’s one in Saltaire that’s really small, but it’s an interesting thing to go and check it out and see what their take on a DIY spot is, what they do with the space. That one’s just next to the canal so it’s a nice place to go – sometimes you’ll get somewhere and you don’t want to go in, the area doesn’t feel quite right!”
“Skating’s definitely about going out to places and being with your friends,” says James. “I do enjoy going skating by myself but I wouldn’t be doing tricks like this. I won’t skate any particular spot, I’ll just skate around Leeds, go to town, go to the shops. But when you’re with your mates it makes it a lot more fun: you go around spot to spot, get some beers in.”
“Reece is a bit of a godsend for Leeds,” says Martyn. “Every day you get a big group text from Reece asking if anyone’s coming out, which is amazing.
“He’s been out today when it’s chucking it down with rain. They’ve gone to check out a viaduct; it’s soaking wet but there’s a skater up from London to skate it and Reece has gone to have a look. Just in case anything happens.”
“It takes a lot to please Reece these days,” says Mike. “Even back in the day he’d be like, ‘Oh, give us one more, do one more, that’s not quite right, just one more.’
“He’s got these skaters trying tricks over and over again, even when they’ve landed it, just to get a photo. But we’re all perfectionists I guess, we want to get it the best we can.
“You do it for Reece’s incentives. Reece will, sometimes, buy you a coffee or even a beer if you land your trick and he gets the photo. How much you get depends on how much effort you’ve put in and how badly you’ve hurt yourself. When I did my Haunts interview in Sidewalk magazine it took us about eight months to shoot, and when we finally got it all together I remember Reece bought me a crate or two of beer for that.
“It’s a small incentive, but at the same time it works. And it gets great photos; great, alcohol driven photos.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 20