In-Depth

Over the past year I have on a number of occasions questioned my own sanity regards my PhD, so let me put you in the picture…

Born out of conversation, inner personal debate and a chance opportunity to undertake a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, this research is the result of a lifetime working in the photography, skateboard and fashion industries. Undertaking a part-time PhD with the Royal College of Art London, I am currently in the third year of what will most likely be a six-year program. Studying in London, means commuting most weeks from Cornwall to undertake research lectures, workshops and supervisory meetings. Alongside studying I work part-time, co-running a degree in Fashion Media and Marketing at Plymouth College of Art as well as raising an amazing eight-year-old girl who skates, surfs and lives life to the full.

In 2017 I was awarded an LDoc grant from the Centre for Doctoral training in Design Research. A world class hub funded by the AHRC, LDoc promotes and supports outstanding design research study and knowledge exchange. It offers a concentration of high-level skills and expertise in creative, critical and ethical thinking within the creative and cultural industries.

Over the past year the focus of the research has been to orientate my research questions in sound theory and methodology. Here is a snippet of where the research currently resides.

Atheistic codes, originality and rebellious attitudes are the cornerstones of contemporary skateboarding culture. Yet skateboard mavericks have at times been crucial to informing and in some cases, directly shaping new trends in fashion design and the way in which fashion is portrayed. These DIY approaches have increasingly garnered the attention of fashion innovators. Significant notice by the fashion industry has been bestowed on those traditionally associated with nonconformity as being the new representatives of a new ‘Cool’.

The relationship between skateboarding culture and couture fashion has long been played out on the global catwalks and through the production of related photographic imagery and fashion films. The practices and consumption of these mediums interconnect through the frames of visual imagery and physical artefacts, inspiring rhetoric that explores both acceptance and conflict from the skateboarding community.

Fuelled by personal passion and commitment and guided by intellectual curiosity, professional integrity and a sense that the parameters of scholarship need to be extended to include new perspectives on sub-cultural practices, by participants rather than academic observers, this practice-led PhD research aims to identify and represent the intersections where cultural relationships and behaviours have contributed to the appropriation of skateboarding’s visual past by the couture fashion industries. It aims to analyse and construct a new narrative through documentary film and experimental works that will contribute to (sub)cultural-based aesthetics, generating an insightful in-depth study into the visual experience of skateboarding’s past and present.

Exploring media ethnography the research examines the dichotomy between the methods of visual communication utilised by the skateboard industries in comparison to the fashion industries. It explores the borders and junctions where visual communication intersects, where the medium is used and how the media is consumed and by whom. Drawing from visual ethnographic methodology and auto-ethnographic experiences the research will undertake a series of case studies involving qualitative data collection and participant observation.

For further information email: Kirsty.smith@network.rca.ac.uk