Based in L.A. Jonathan Labez is a portrait and action photographer who uses instant photography to document his experience of ‘blade’ culture amongst his local rollerblading community. Every year for the last 3 years, he’s attended a huge skating competition in Southern California and shot the events with his Polaroid camera. These are just a few of the thousands of instant photographs he captured at this and various other events whilst hanging with his crew.
My involvement with Polaroid has been a lifelong affair. My earliest instant memory was being 8 years old and taking my father’s Polaroid camera to school for Halloween. I shot with it intermittently and altogether stopped after I picked up my first DSLR in 2006. The fall of Polaroid ended any curiosity of mine for a number of years. Flip forward to 2012. I was assisting a photographer using a Polaroid 600SE for a gallery project and my mind stirred that day! I came home exhausted yet wide-awake, wanting to know more about instant film. Deep into the night, I stumbled upon The Impossible Project and their dream to resurrect Polaroid Integral film. I became instantly infatuated (pardon the pun) by the timelessness of the images. The more I clicked, the more I wanted to know. I ended up using my newly created Twitter account to tweet to Impossible and ask which film they recommended I try first. They replied that same morning and graciously mailed me 2 packs to play with. My love for instant photography was born.
“This collection is a glimpse of the faces that collectively make up the community I’ve been part of for two-thirds my life”
A year later, I was about to head out the door to a rollerblading event and I thought to bring the new Polaroid 600 I had just picked up. No DSLR like everyone had become accustomed to seeing me behind, just this non-focusing, plastic lens, black box. I figured I’d go unnoticed. What I found was a sudden willingness from subjects to drop their defences and just be themselves. It didn’t look like a camera or a phone, which left them open, curious, and candid. It was unusual and inviting all at once! I knew this was something I wanted to explore further. Thus began my documentation of ‘blade’ culture through this white-framed slice of time. I bet you’re wondering, why rollerblading? Why not the much more popular action sport of skateboarding? It’s because I’ve proudly rollerbladed for 18 years. I’m 31 now, with no sign of hanging up my boots. It was a moment of happenstance I jumped into rollerblading while in high school and just like with instant photography, the draw was immediate. It is distinctly different from skateboarding, yet in the same vein of approaching the urban landscape with wonder. It’s a freeing feeling beneath your feet, having wheels both separate and unified onto your body. Every movement is natural, every stride on the asphalt feels effortless. The world opens up as an endless playground. You’re only limited by the lack of solid ground and your willingness to roll on an obstacle!
Creativity is imbued into the emulsion of the culture and I found Impossible held the same promise in my eyes — the freedom of film to photograph the wheels underneath my feet. I hold in my hands the ability to pause moments in time in a medium without definable means. With that blank frame, I can explore the world unblinking and find the seconds that matter the most to me —unaware softened faces full of internal expression, bodies governed by the universal law of gravity, euphoric camaraderie in full swing, and the poured pride worn on sleeves for the world to see. These matter the most to me. Each memory is one I want to solidify for posterity. To say once upon a time, I knew a group of people who viewed the world with wonder and took it upon themselves to explore it in a way most don’t. Isn’t that the goal of impossible? To focus the 8 kinetic prints in our cameras waiting to spring to life into something we want to remember. It is a myriad of moments too quick for the naked eye brought to life with instant film.