Archives and Paper Bags

Leaving LA, I headed out to Washington DC while Leo headed home to be with our daughter. Feeling exhausted from interviews I arrived two days before my official start date at the Lemelson Center, which gave me plenty of time to settle in, orientate myself with local spots including bed, bath and beyond, wholefoods and local skate spots, Dupont Circle brick banks, Freedom Plaza and the World Banking area.

My induction day fell on the third of July and as the city was gearing up for celebrations I headed sic blocks over from my university digs, past the White House to the Smithsonian Innovation Centre. After a couple of hours, I had my access badge, my logins and already felt welcomed by the team. With plenty of advice on how to commemorate the forth of July I headed back to my room mate to discuss our plan of action for the following day.

The forth was an absolute scorcher. We positioned ourselves just to the right of the White House, inducted ourselves in with the masses, shared food and drink and spent vast amounts of our time watching the parades of uniformed participants head down the main street in procession. After a good four hours the festivities moved into bars and we headed back to make a wholesome pot of pasta and cheese!

Having previously spoken with Jeff about my intentions I spent my first few days’ head deep in hard drives full of archival material from the previous two Innoskate programs. Most of the material was yet to be edited for online, which meant I had access to raw material. In the second week I met with Betsy Gordon. A project manager at Smithsonian Institution, Betsy was an instrumental character in the development of the Smithsonian’s Innoskate program. Betsy described to me her involvement in American Indian culture and the positive impact skateboarding was having on reservations. She talked with extreme enthusiasm that I knew I had found a kindred spirit. While Betsy had never skateboarded herself, her knowledge and passion for the subculture was vast.

Over the next few weeks I submerged myself in archival libraries, video content, visiting collections, reading transcripts and documenting the Innoskate program. Evenings and weekends were spent at local skate spots and on the weekends I took every opportunity to visit landmarks. Towards the end of a fellowship all participants present their findings at events called ‘Paper bag presentations.’ I shared my knowledge from the position of European skateboarding relating my findings to the Innoskate program archives. Focusing on innovative approaches to skateboarding’s digital infrastructure I examined the spaces where media brought communities together.

The fellowship was instrumental in my understanding of research programs and how a PhD would be the first stepping stone in a long journey. The access to archival material gave insight into contextualising and framing the discourse around skateboarding’s far-reaching impact on society as well as narrowing my vision towards a focused question. I came away from the Smithsonian with clear intentions and a firm belief that while fashion had always been my main focus it was actually the way in which skateboarding was being visually communicated that attracted my attention most.

To make sense of the fellowship at the time would have been an incredibly difficult task. Looking back, I amassed a huge amount of data both primary and secondary research. I captured my experiences through film and photography, documenting my days as they unfolded.