Last year I photographed the Women’s International Parkour Weekend hosted by Parkour Generations. During the lunch break, I shot around 30 portraits of those attending and was struck by the happiness that this small side project seemed to create.
This year I did the same, shooting even more portraits and was again left with a need to say something about them. Having written and talked about inclusivity recently, I wanted to discuss the importance of female representation and found myself addressing a question presented to me at the Parkour Research and Development Forum: why is it that parkour photos tend to show men in the air but women on the ground?
44 badass women presented as a collective that do not require comparison based on their gender or anything else.
Trying to answer this question led me down a few dead ends. I asked if there was a new visual language of parkour that could be created by photographing more women – one that was more relatable, with less ostentation and narcissism, and thereby more accessible. Simple answer: no. I asked myself if we should be trying to produce images of women that are as impressive as those of men. But then I wondered whether this was just copying men, and risked erasing or overlooking aspects of women that made them unique, rendering everything homogeneous and boring. I was tying myself in knots.
It wasn’t until another white, middle-class male asked me a really good question: “Just to be provocative, what does the opinion of another straight white privileged man offer to this subject? Particularly *this* subject. If you have a platform – and you do – is it not better simply to ‘pass the mic’?”
As a photographer, I feel that I need to understand my role and responsibilities, not just in what I choose to shoot but also in how I present my work. “Maybe the debate and the process is the important bit, rather than trying to achieve an outcome or revelatory position,” I explained, and suddenly things seemed to click.
Last week, writing about women’s sport in the Guardian, Marina Hyde explained: “I can’t help feeling that any and all narratives which cast women’s sport as desirable in contrast to the men’s version, as opposed to in and of itself, risk playing conveniently into the divide-and-rule strategy which has done so much to keep women’s sport down.”
So here’s me stepping back from the debate, still seeking answers but not expecting to find them anytime soon. Instead, I pass the mic and I let these images speak.
Here are 44 badass women who trained their bodies really fucking hard and celebrated that fact by allowing me to capture them. I present them as a collective that do not require comparison based on their gender or anything else. They just are.
Huge thanks to Bane and everyone else on Instagram for their thoughts, especially to Emily Aoibheann and Jen Slater for their invaluable input. And to Alister O’Loughlin of the Urban Playground Team for providing the lightbulb moment. And of course to all the amazing women who wanted their photos taken. Add your thoughts in the comments below, please!