Concrete Girls is a photo collective of UK’s skate culture.Often understated, the United Kingdom has brought out some of the most talented rippers to push on 4 wheels. Like Geoff Rowley, Tom Penny to name a couple. So we chatted with author and photographer Charlotte Thomas, to dive into what this project has meant to her since day one, and what to expect in the coming years as this it floods coffee tables across the map. As a one-man army, she reminds us to stay true to one’s craft and capture moments organically.
WHAT YOUTH: Do you remember the first photograph you ever took?
CHARLOTTE: I can’t say for sure because I would be the main photographer on family holidays from a very early age. The one that sticks in my head is of an old man oil painter (artist) in the city of Malaga. There was something so warming about him, peaceful. I looked at him and just wanted to be him, a very cool hat too! I still have that image framed in my house. I think I was 15 -years-old when I took it.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small city called Hereford. I started getting into skateboarding at the age of 16. I’d just started college in Hereford and through friends of the family, I was introduced to skateboarding. There wasn’t really anywhere to skate in Hereford at the time, except for a wooden skate ramp in Whitecross, which was really difficult to skate for a beginner. It was massive and broken. So when you fell off you would get splinters, not that much fun. Beyond that, there was also Maylord’s underground car park and B&Q car park that were spots in Hereford. But at that age, I was intimated by the other skaters so I tended to go out when it was quiet so as to not to be seen. I was a bit of a loner to be honest. It was only when I moved to Leeds in 2003 that I came into my own. Hyde Park was my old stomping ground. I’d be there every day without fail. I think I can say that my studies suffered due to skateboarding back then too. Sorry dad! I was what you’d call a “slammer.” I would try so hard to skate that I would slam so hard over and over again that the guys would be often picking me up off the floor and my legs would be covered in bruises. But with years of practice, I managed to get my head and my body around it in the end. My nickname was “Charlie Boardslide” for years because that was the only trick that I could do at that particular skatepark until my trusty heel flip came about. After 8 years in Leeds, I moved to Barcelona for a while and lived with Maria Falbo, a fellow skater. There we just spent months skating and enjoying the freedom. I think every skater in their mid-twenties should do a stint in Barcelona. It’s amazing.
How did you first get introduced to documenting this movement?
The idea of the book came from my first photography experience producing some work for Sidewalk. They asked me to photograph and interview pro-skater Stefani Nurding and spending a weekend with her. Creating those photos inspired the project. “ConcreteGirls” aims to celebrate a side of the UK scene I felt had been missing from documentation or general discussion. Not enough people at the time were talking about the scene and these women in the book were empowering and inspiring both myself and other girls to get into the sport. I wanted to produce a book of memories for them and the scene itself. I call it my retirement piece and I hope it will inspire a younger generation to start skateboarding. The project was also a chance to make new friends and give something back to the one thing that had given me so much freedom and self-confidence throughout my life, skateboarding.
After your injury, do you still skate to this day?
I do, but I’m not pushing myself like I used to. However, I still cruise regularly.
Geoff Rowley, and Tom Penny are certain legends of skate in England. Do you feel anyone else has been underrated but have influenced you?
When I was in my prime of skateboarding back in the early 2000’s, I met Leon Walton whilst studying in Leeds. He’s one of the Lads I’ve dedicated my book too. Leon is a totally underrated skater in the UK. He has such a chilled out style, not taking things too seriously and has some effortless tricks. He’s a really funny guy with an amazing playlist of music and some very funny ones like Paramore. Leon, come on mate. I know he loves a bit of Taylor Swift too ha! He’s a total working-class hero and he deserves a shout out.
How can this movement in the UK make a difference to the scene worldwide?
I think it shows just how versatile we can be. The UK is always raining and the spots we have are not the smoothest to skate. So we have to be quite inventive. As a humble bunch who are known for not being terribly polite and forthcoming, the book project and Instagram are definitely starting to put the us on the map.
How much has the scene changed as a whole since the early 2000’s?
To be honest, I was the only girl skater in Leeds for 8 years, or it felt that way at least. Lois Pendlebury was a northern lass, but she was studying at Birmingham University I think. So I didn’t get to meet her until my last few months in Leeds. There was also another girl called Jess but she only skated a few times. She got injured really early on, plus she loved smoking weed, so she never had any motivation [laughing]. Ness and Kerry were also there at times but I only ever skated with them a few times. So in the main, it was just me. We didn’t have social media back then or fancy mobile phones, so hearing about another female skater was through word of mouth. That was really it. I skated with guys the whole time. The scene in Leeds was huge at the time and there were a lot of people who worked in the skate industry who lived in Leeds or in the surrounding areas, plus a lot of the local guys were getting picked up by skate brands or getting sponsored, so it was an exciting time to live there.
What is your go-to camera?
I found this old Minolta camera in a charity shop with a flash for £10 – its needs tin foil to connect the battery to get power but I love it so much. Shoots such lovely film photography. Shooting skating at the moment with a 5D Mark II or III.
What did you shoot with the most throughout the development of this book?
It was an equal split between digital and 35mm film.
Do you have any mentors in broadening your knowledge of the craft?
Yes, Ryan Allan, Arto Saari, Nils Svensson, Leo Sharp, Chris Johnson and Reece Leung.
Any interests outside of skateboarding?
Yes, I love English Football, I never miss a game. I’m a Manchester City supporter, so I’m loving the premiership right now. I’m very good at Fantasy Football too. I’d love to manage a football team. That would be the dream career if I wasn’t doing this. I love everything Manchester: music, fashion and football. Surfing when I can, yoga, working out and taking care of my mind, this is a must in my life. I’m also a volunteer in my local area. I walk neighbors dogs for them and house sit when they need me. I’m a total dog avenger.
What is your goal for Concrete Girls in the future?
The main goal is to complete Volume II and III as its a self-funded project. This may take another 10 to 20 years as I’m now very poor, ha! And build awareness and give the UK Girls a platform and to take gorgeous photos of them all. I was so excited when I started the project. I didn’t know half the UK’s scene and now I meet new girls everyday. I’m already planning next years trips to start documenting the scene for Volume II. I also want to bring out a clothing range and just build the brand.
Pick up your copy here: www.concretegirls.com