Photographs from Brooklyn’s Southside
By Vincent Cianni
In 1993, photographer Vincent Cianni moved to the Southside of the Williamburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. Once there, he quickly became enthralled with the vivid character of the neighborhood—enjoying the sounds, smells and sights of this predominantly Latino area. Soon, Cianni was taking his camera out into the streets of Williamsburg to photograph the children and teenagers he saw every day. In particular, Cianni was drawn to a group of Latino boys who loved inline skating, and spent their days building amateur skate parks and learning new stunts.
Over the course of the next nine years, Cianni continued to photograph this same group of boys as they grew into young men. He photographed them skating, hanging out with friends and family, asking neighborhood girls for dates, and eventually starting careers and families of their own. WE SKATE HARDCORE: PHOTOGRAPHS FROM BROOKLYN’S SOUTHSIDE (NYU Press and Lyndhurst Books of the Center for Documentary Studies; September 30, 2004; 0-8147-1642-3; $24.95 cloth) is the culmination of this decade-long project. Short essays from Cianni, photographs, video stills, and commentary from the skaters themselves—either written directly on their photographs or taken from Cianni’s conversations with the boys—combine in a visually stunning package that traces the lives of one group of friends with a passion for skating. A DVD—featuring footage of the skaters and an interview with Cianni—is bound into the back cover of the book.
The photographs and films of WE SKATE HARDCORE reveal the determination of these young skaters. They build their own skate parks in abandoned lots in Brooklyn, and teach themselves new skating tricks and skills. One of the skaters Cianni profiles—Richie—has gone from skating in the streets of Southside to a career as a professional inline skater. His story is illustrated in WE SKATE HARDCORE through Cianni’s photographs, Richie’s own commentary, and a short film showing highlights of his career today. Though Richie’s story is a triumphal one, Cianni also reminds us how many young men never escape this poor neighborhood in New York City. He includes photographs of memorials in Williamsburg created for young men who died as a result of gangs or drug-related violence. As Richie and his friends note, skating is a way for them to stay out of trouble and find a path out of the Southside.
WE SKATE HARDCORE documents the changing lives of one group of friends, while also showing a neighborhood in flux. Cianni was part of a wave of artists who moved to Williamsburg in the early 1990s, soon followed by young urban professionals. The photographs in WE SKATE HARDCORE bear witness to a particular time and place in a constantly evolving city.
Praise for WE SKATE HARDCORE
“An amazingly vivid documentary that runs the full gamut from exhilaration to devastation, and back. It’s more exhilarating than not, though, because it is about how kids invent their own lives, whatever life has handed them.”
“We Skate Hardcore points to a very hard reality. Cianni’s photographs bear faces of an enduring working class, the people of ‘Los Sures’ in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You see their desire for life, family, home, and community, to move forward and become someone. You also see in these bold as well as intimate portraits, scenes, action shots, and still video sequences, the life, blood, spirit, conscience, pride, and zeal of young in-line skaters and their tribes.”
—Juan Sanchez, Hunter College