Photographer Amir Zaki grew up skating in Beaumont, California, but when he turned his camera on the skateparks of southern California his interest was more in the parks than the skating.
“There’s a whole history of skateboard photography, but everything is focused on the performer,” Zaki explains. “There are lots of photographers who do that, and they’re very good at it. But I wanted to do something different.”
To photograph empty skateparks, Zaki arrived around dawn, when the light was perfect for his visual aesthetic. “Skaters don’t wake up early,” he notes.
After selecting a spot, usually deep inside the bowl of the park, he mounted his DSLR camera on a GigaPan motorized tripod head that allowed him to take dozens of high-resolution images that he later stitched together in postproduction.
The final images, several gigabytes each in size, can be printed as large as 60 by 75 inches without sacrificing detail.
The final images are revelatory works of landscape photography in which seemingly lifeless concrete wastelands are transformed into thrilling canyons and calderas, plateaus and peaks.
The photographs evoke the work of Land Art pioneers such as Michael Heizer, whose monumental City project in the Nevada desert, from certain angles, looks a lot like the world’s largest skatepark.
Zaki calls his series Empty Vessels, a title that reflects both his interest in Eastern philosophy and his struggle to classify skateparks within the built environment.
“I think of [skateparks] as anti-architecture,” Zaki says. “They’re not structures, exactly. Basically, they are potential spaces.”
“[The skatepark’s] entire formation is based on an activity that will happen within them,” Zaki says. “Every curb, every hip, every element is designed for potential action.”
Zaki, who devoted a previous series to lifeguard towers, has spent his career finding beauty in the apparently mundane.