At first glimpse ice rinks appear to be mundane places, all uniform and monotonous in quality but when one dives deep into the culture of figure skating, one enters a different world and is shaped by it entirely. Dimly lit rinks with an overwhelming aroma of sweat and floors coated in glitter; these spaces are transformed by the figure skaters that enter them. My goal in making these photographs is to examine the sport of figure skating and how the assessments we give women in our world is reflected into this subculture. Through this sport ideas of how women are expected to present themselves, ideas our culture has about femininity, gender roles, race, and class are made visual. Figure skating and my background within it is a means to tell a much larger story about the world.
The theatrics in the way figure skaters carry themselves across the ice is then reflected in their body language off the ice and their delicate dresses act as a form of body armor for them. All have been trained from a young age to pose confidently and beautifully, be it for their starting stance during a performance or for a photograph. From a young age these skaters train constantly, they squeeze themselves into tiny, custom-made dresses and are judged not only on their technical ability but also their poise in how they present themselves. It is through years of experience that they come to the realization that their skill must be balanced with grace and modesty. Not only must they compete powerfully but they must also look the part of a figure skater. The goal being to look glamorous and to make the sport look effortless simultaneously, when in reality competitive figure skating is extremely demanding for the mind and body; not unlike womanhood in general. When they step onto the ice they must learn to balance all the qualities a figure skater must posses. They must be strong, but also elegant, attractive but also modest, tough but also gentle.
I make these portraits of figure skaters with a 4x5 view camera. This requires me to glide my tripod with the 4x5 attached while I am on the ice wearing my skates and photographing. The 4x5 requires a great deal from both the photographer and the subject; it being a slower process and somewhat cumbersome. This speaks to the level of athleticism, focus, and passion that is required both in the sport of figure skating and photographing with a 4x5 camera. Through the collaboration with my subjects I aim to show these skaters’ confidence, struggles, pride, defeats and persistence.