Disclaimer: Foo was an event producer for Skatopia from 2004-2010. While bias is possible, his insight of Skatopia provides a deeper analysis.
Silver Eye Center for the Arts hosted photographers Matthew Conboy and Dylan Vitone for a conversation about perspective. Both survived a visit to the anarchist skate compound Skatopia outside of Rutland, Ohio. Both came back with surreal photographs that captivate the imagination. Yet each have a divergent experience from the other when it comes to immersion and stylistic choice.
Matthew Conboy – Objects in the Mirror
After the Mattress Factory’s Urban Garden Party, I met Matthew. Recounting other crazy events, I told him tales of Skatopia’s annual event Bowl Bash. Eventually I offered him a ride if he wanted to go the following morning. The first surprise was seven hours later we drove towards the fire. The second surprise was how Matthew had captured the event.
Within minutes of entering commune, Matthew almost lost his camera as a falling skater turned projectile launched towards him. Unphased, he pressed on to document this hot zone in a refreshing way. Conboy’s approach largely ignores the sensationalized aspects of the compound and focuses individuals and Appalachian landscape.
Conboy’s presentation recalls the human experience as he retells stories form the subjects on and off camera. He mentioned one conversation: an attendee as described his facial tattoos as outward rejection of a capitalist society. This he commented, showed the intentional and meaningfulness to the lifestyle.
Dylan Vitone – Rutland
Vitone displays the surreal inhabitants and their unusual situations in wide panorama. Scenes range from a nameless beauty laying in her tent during the morning sun to a forced genital tattoo resembling something straight from Mad Max. Despite many glitches with his panorama technique, including duplicate people and hard transitions, the dramatic content successfully pulls the viewer into the world.
In contrast to Conboy’s soft spoken stories, Vitone’s presentation had a boastful telling of his stay. To him, Skatopia was one filled with true grit: a secluded wasteland of youth wandering a fog of heroin. Vitone would go on to describe his subjects as active participants who would knowingly perform for him.
DYLAN VITONE’S WORK IS not documentation, but an ARTISTIC Portrayal.
I asked Vitone about how his viewpoint of heroin and ruin was completely divergent from others. He admitted that he might have ‘overemphasized’ parts. Nonetheless, his stories contain major holes. For example he doesn’t know the residents but claims to have stayed weeks at a time. Thus it’s important to note: Vitone’s presentation of Skatopia is not documentation but an artistic portrayal.
Either way Skatopia’s owner, Brewce Martin, is happy. His dream spreads as the mythology grows.