Trafalgar on Deck

May 2021 — London

5 min read by

Stepping into London this past May after months of lockdown in the quiet Midlands felt much like I imagine moving from a rural medieval village to the bustling metropolis of Renaissance Rome must have felt like in centuries past.

All of a sudden, life and joy met anger and fear in a flash of colour and heat. Walking from Seven Dials down toward Westminster took me past throngs of shoppers, a million-person march to protest the government-mandated lockdown, overflowing restaurants, and eventually to the somewhat quieter scene of Trafalgar Square. Those filling the square shuffled about, finding a seat for lunch, a spot in the shade, or pausing to gaze up at the historic monument. Everywhere I looked, I found individual energy coming together to create the buzz of a major European capital on a warm summer day.

Having spent the last hour walking, I entered the square to find a quiet spot to sit and breathe the scene in. I picked a seat next to a small group of skateboarders just in front of the National Portrait Gallery. There were about ten members of this group who were sitting in a small patch of grass, eating lunches assembled from a local Tesco, and occasionally, hopping on their boards to attempt a jump over two traffic cones that were placed on their side. Those passing by would stop for a moment as a skater took to the air, but this group was largely ignored. I snapped a few shots.

As I watched the skaters, I slowly noticed small groups of boarders trickling into the square, taking up seats around me until I was surrounded on all sides, and it was clear they had gathered with a purpose. Before long, a large group gathered, and several organizers stepped forward to welcome all to the first pop-up event of several that would take place across London over the course of the day. Boards were stacked, challenges issued, prizes offered, and the competitions began.

As I sat up and began taking pictures, the purpose and motivation of the event gradually became clear. No organizer or participant seemed to be older than 25; no film crews, sponsored logos, or influencers filled out the crowd. This was a meetup solely for the love of the sport and to strengthen their community. The more experienced in the crowd mentored the young, and skate decks purchased with personal funds were offered as incentives to complete a challenge. (Not that the added incentive was needed — the roars from the crowd when a jump was completed seemed to be an award enough.) Those organizing the event made it clear that all were welcome and everyone would be given a chance. When someone fell short of the mark, they were gathered up and sent back to the top of the run to give it another go.

After the first few competitions, I began watching the faces of those who had stopped to watch or took notice as they walked across the square. Although they had no board and clearly no intention to participate, they were a critical element of the scene. The cheers, upheld cameras, and overflowing joy they expressed filled out the environment. As those observing the skaters turned to walk away and continue their day, their smiles remained stamped on their faces. I can only assume their exposure to the event left the same impressions on their day as it did mine.

In a city where everything feels custom-tailored to signal power and opulence and after a year of being #AloneTogether, only able to attempt connection through our screens, the authenticity and pure love for life put on display in Trafalgar were captured and carried by everyone who passed through that day.

All photos in this essay were shot either on Kodak Ektar 100 or Cinestill BwXX.