In the late 1980s, when James Edson was a nine-year-old growing up in Sheffield, his cousin gave him a present that would change his life forever: a small skateboard adorned with a vivid, psychedelic pattern. Edon took to it like a duck to water, bringing it along to his local skatepark where he would study the older boys in acid washed jeans pulling ollies and kickflips.
“It was one of those weird tie dye things from the 70s,” Edson recalls. “I wasn’t into football and all that kind of thing, and skating was different to team sports – a bit more outside the box. So it made sense, and I looked up to the guys around my area who looked cool and whatever with how they dressed.”
When he turned 16, he picked up a camera for the first time and began to take pictures of his friends at the skatepark and beyond. But it was when he moved to London and joined Palace Wayward Boys Choir (PWBC), from which the now iconic fashion brand would be born, that his passion fully kicked into gear. In the pre-smartphone era of constant connection, he would take the pictures and have them printed himself – the physical photographs becoming a means of holding onto the memories, as well as for his friends.
“I always liked film,” Edson says. “It was before the days of Instagram as well, so it wasn’t shareable unless you did something with it. So people would have makeshift art shows and that kind of thing, which is cool – that DIY aspect of things.”
After building up an extensive archive from the past quarter century and founding East London’s (now sadly closed) Wayward Gallery, several of Edson’s favourite pictures are being presented in his newly published photobook Rabbit Hole, made in partnership with MPK Studios. Featuring chipped teeth, hanging out at London’s iconic Southbank Skatepark, friends in baseball caps and baggy jeans leaning up against bollards and unexpected trips to the hospital – the book is a celebration of the friendship, fun and most of all community that he fostered through skating over the years.
“I think the running theme [in skate communities], wherever you go, is that people see like-mindedly,” he says. “There’s quite a supportive network and it’s positive. There were times when it wasn’t quite like that. I think it was a kind of defensive mechanism because you’d get bullied and or get called a ‘grunger’, but that seems to have changed.”
The book also features a quirk when it comes to looking at the pictures. Each photo is rotated 45 degrees from the previous, so the reader will rotate the book as they flick through its pages, literally taking them down a spiralling rabbit hole of photographs. “You can read it both ways, so it spirals from front to back, back to front,” he explains.
Other cities also make appearances, with Edson having travelled to several of the world’s biggest urban jungles to skate – from Paris, Berlin, New York and beyond. “All the travelling was the best thing, you get to see so much other stuff as well as skateboarding,” he says. That’s the heart of skating for Edson: it’s not necessarily who can pull the most rotations on a ramp, but sharing those important moments with friends and exploring the world.
“Skating has always been in the background for me,” he reflects. “I always preferred documenting it, meeting people, travelling, different experiences. Those are the main things, really.”