Words - Leon Humphies
Photography - Gareth Morton
Available Now : https://sellfy.com/p/3cwfym/
I've been friends with Jonny for 20 years. Aside from my immediate family and a select few friends from 'back in the day' this is each of our longest standing relationship. There are good reasons for us to have stayed close.
For instance, we each have a serious obsession with skating. We met at the then named 'Playstation Skatepark' in Ladbroke Grove west London.
There are so many things I struggle to remember, especially things that Jonny reminds me of. Despite sometimes foggy recollections of events or periods of time, I do remember our first meeting. Jonny had a pair of Rollerblade skates that had not been released in the UK. Another friend who I was with wanted to get a closer look and we met Jonny to have a closer look at the skates.
Some years went by before establishing a closer relationship with him. From the outset, Jonny struck me as someone who would go the extra mile for skating. My initial experience of him was owning new and exclusive equipment no one in the country had. At the time I wondered what lengths he had gone to acquire them.
Throughout the years of our relationship, some things started to cement in terms of our knowledge of each other. The early impression, that Jonny was someone obsessed with skating grew. Jonny is a talented skater in his own right, in the early 00s before his significant wrist issues, Jonny skated a lot. I remember filming Jonny sometimes. I remember him doing hand rails, most notably BT rail at Blackfriars in London. At this stage in the early 00s, me, Jonny and a few others had video cameras. I played my part in 'doing' the skating but I loved to film too.
We literally grew up developing our perspectives on skating and life with camcorders in our hands. We were taken to many intriguing places in the pursuit of documenting what we were up to. Jonny leaned towards filming and documenting, his path seemed set to work on video projects. He worked on a series of films that were collaborations. These projects such as 'Egg' 'Sidetracked' & 'Lords of Movement' are classics in the UK skate video canon.
Jonny's style of direction and filming has evolved since these earlier attempts. His techniques were honed using a Canon XM1 camcorder. At the turn of the century, this camera became the industry standard for skate films. A lot of us had them, using zoom and developing a basic understanding of angles & light in relation to trick shape. Despite my love for filming, I never felt accomplished using a camera. I always felt intimidated to experiment with it and develop my style and filming techniques. My journey & commitment as a skater contributed to that conflict. Whilst I concentrated more on skating, Jonny continued on with his journey.
Our experiences of skating in London were pretty crazy sometimes. Its dense and diverse population leads to a full spectrum of interactions. I would be lying in saying that all of these interactions were positive. We were seen as nuisances, or criminals. Sometimes approached as if we were lunch money. We had to evade or fight. We had scary moments together where our safety were in real question. We always held each other down in those situations. With this integrity and bond, we shared cosmically funny moments too. More positive interactions with our community started to occur as we grew a little older. Our immature but fiercely protective attitude relinquished to a more mature embracing one. Over these years are some stories that can't be told here. However, such experiences together assimilate us to this environment. Jonny found a way to communicate all of this experience.
Jonny sometimes keeps the camera recording in certain situations. Doing this provides a richer context to what is happening. Security guard interactions are common, their position usually to prohibit what we are doing. Other interactions gravitate towards us. The prohibitive stance usually taken by owners of property or businesses. In this kind of situation an engagement has to take place. Earlier in our lives our capacity to 'talk round' or allay concerns about what are doing was limited. A more mature position allows for less tense interactions, unless one of the parties is dead set on confrontation. In the heat of the trying a trick, with cameras set up, these interactions are crucial to the experience of being out skating. At times these interactions leave a lasting and profound effect. I can explain more later.
In more recent years Jon became associated with brands like Dirt Box & now Muzzle.These platforms helped to focus who he worked with and what sort of material he intended to produce. The truly epic film 'Sober' in association with DirtBox, showed a gritty, fun and chaotic aspect of London street skating. Jon, who holds himself to a high standard, reflects on that period of time with reticence and gratitude in equal measure. The film title 'Sober' anchored the film, and represented the struggle for a stable mental state in a chaotic world. The skaters who appear in that film are protagonists alongside Jon. At the time, his story converged with theirs in ways that cannot be described. Capturing these stories gives those who were involved a way to reflect on who they are. Those who appreciate the work as merely a skate video or perhaps film art translate those stories and feelings into their own concept of life.
Prior to commencing work with Jon on 'Devotion', the above ideas were already calcifying. I wanted to work with him more and wondered in what way that could happen. We worked on two parts since 2014 that were pre cursors to the filming of 'Sober'. Those two parts, in association with Loco Skates, became a template to aspire and build from. I was injured for the duration of the filming of Sober and had also been engaged in other projects. Once I became fit again, there was a moment when our collective visions of working together 'clicked'. Our mutual friend Gregory Preston was visiting London and we were out together on a brutally cold day. A session in London is always amplified by a visitor. That day, the energy of us together had resulted in going to a certain spot to do a certain trick. The trick in itself was a 'hammer' and required some coordination between us. We stayed out in the bitter cold that day, Jon recalls this as the definitive moment we decided to work on something special together. That was late 2017.
We never intended to take two years to film this. A spot we kept revisiting was the legendary Wandsworth Roundabout in South West London. We visited the spot over that two year period, shooting three tricks there. One of these tricks ultimately took three visits to complete. Three intense and excruciatingly difficult visits. I was unsure whether it could be done. After the first attempt an idea emerged. The idea was that this trick would become the fulcrum of the video, an 'ender'.
Jonny, felt that Wandsworth Roundabout was a special spot with marquee tricks completed there over the years. More recently, the collective boundaries have been pushed between inline skating and skateboarding.
James Bower & Harry Lintell, a London based professional skateboarder, have been there with serious intentions. James can be seen flying over a fence into a huge Bank in his and Jonny's soothing and expressive insight into London street skating 'Sweet Shin Music'. Harry Lintell recently & unfathomably tre flipped from a high wall into one of the other huge sharp banks.
We knew about the spots history. We knew that icons in the respective disciplines gravitated towards this grandiose and rough terrain.
We had a trick there that nobody had done before. Jonny emphasised this point to me gradually. I had built the move up in my head to be important, and started to factor in why it was important in the continued dialogue with Jonny. I felt the trick represented unknowns and danger. Not exactly a surprising confrontation. However, the trick required several elements for it to work. Part of Jonny's appreciation for the idea and gentle support of us completing this was his skate IQ. He deconstructed the trick and helped me to realise how it could be done & its significance. He communicated his belief in me. Jon emphasising these points was crucial in me preparing to go back there to engage in a real battle of attrition. After the second visit I was very disappointed. I didn't feel I was courageous enough. I wasn't able to implement the things I wanted to or had thought about intensely.
At this juncture I will say that there are always external factors that impact whether you can be successful or not. On both occasions we visited the spot with a larger group. If the trick is completed within 30 minutes we don't have a problem. Everyone can continue with the day, exploring spots and getting their practice in. However, the group endured the battle on two occasions, with nothing to come away with. Once some time has gone by, the seeds of anxiety and doubt start to grow. Problematic thoughts emerge and make the whole process more challenging. You think you are wasting everyone's time including your own. You start to look for ways out. Crucially, focusing just before an attempt proves a real challenge. Walking away from this trick on the second occasion was tough but necessary. I had nothing else to give and got hurt on both occasions
Some time passed until a third visit. Only 3 of us on this occasion. Jon and Gareth Morton AKA Stig. We had all but finished filming the rest of the part. All that there was left was this trick to conquer. Never had I focused on a trick like this. Sometimes I'd fade off into a day dream about landing it. I would visualise each step, each adjustment to make in order to get to that point of ultimate courage. I would day dream on down time or for a split second whilst at work.
We had said prior to the day that success or not, we would not return to do this again. We eliminated the need to return here ever again.
We had begun, about 20 minutes in, a lady approached us and stopped. She spoke calmly, appreciating what she had seen. She said to us, that we were an example for younger people. She said that the determination and perseverance we demonstrated was a positive message we put out into the world. She said that we made the area safer. Apart from her intervention giving us a needed rest, her words filled our hearts.
An hour later, we were in the deep waters. My thigh was injured from repetition. Maybe we were 150 attempts in. My will power had dissipated. I had gotten to the stage where I was drawing strength from the sky. Jon stayed with me, maintaining his support, fetching me water at times. He had little technical advice for me. We were staring down the barrel of walking away defeated.
Jon drew my attention. He said to me that the same woman had returned, this time on her way back from the shops. She had stopped to watch again. A short dialogue ran between me and Jon. We intended to do this trick here and now, for her. What went through my mind was the wise things this woman was compelled to say.
Other street interactions over the years came into my awareness. It struck me that these connections represent profound meaning. We interact with our environment and the souls who pass through it. If we can appreciate each other, even slightly, our community and environment richer. We don't feel alone or feel like what we do doesn't matter. In that moment she represented the best aspects of people amidst the chaos of London.
As I flew down the second rail, landing fakie, it was like all of this meaning converged. The woman's name was Jane. We celebrated with her, describing our epic journey. Jane's intervention and wisdom brought this trick into reality, and brought mine and Jon's efforts to a magical conclusion.