Hugh Holland’s “Locals Only” Captures the Wild, Carefree Spirit of ’70s Skate Culture

Nothing looks quite as free as Southern California a half-century ago

May 23, 2023 6:00 am
kid skating on skateboard
The name of the book, "Locals Only," comes from a tag prominently displayed in one of Holland’s images.
"Locals Only: 30 Posters"

These days, locals take it for granted that skaters rule the streets of Los Angeles. That wasn’t true back in the 1970s, at the inception of what was then a truly  countercultural movement. Few had the foresight to see a historic moment for what it was — but a handful of local photographers began to capture it on film, mesmerized by the style that “sidewalk surfers” brought to their communities. 

One such photographer was Hugh Holland, a now-legendary figure in the visual arts community who captured not just the skaters themselves, but the landscape they lived, worked and played in, and the spirit of the era. “Hugh’s work has such a beautiful and artful style, and his earliest street photographs captured a special time in California history,” says Steve Crist, who has served as the publisher and editor of several books of Holland’s photography. “Hugh came to California from Oklahoma, and I know the sunlight and the scene here were really inspiring to him. Hugh has always considered himself a street photographer — not a sports photographer or a ‘skateboard photographer.’ His photographs of that era are now celebrated, vintage time capsules of the 1970s aesthetic.”

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Holland’s work has been showcased all over the world, and the books Crist has published and edited include Silver.Skate.Seventies, the corresponding postcard-set Sun.Skate.Seventies and the original Locals Only. This year, Crist worked with Holland on the release of a new, oversized version — fittingly titled Locals Only: 30 Posters that lets readers take 30 of Holland’s photos from the book and display them. 

“I find Hugh’s work to be as important as any photography I have ever published,” Crist says. “Hugh’s story and his three years of photographing this work will forever be an important record of California history. I think this confirms how powerful still photography can be — even today. Something ephemeral is happening right now, and it will disappear unless someone as dedicated as Hugh captures it with a camera.”

Both editions capture a world that was both effervescent and durably influential. “The lifestyle of these teenagers, their streetwear of Vans and tube socks, and the quality of Southern California sunlight still stands as fashionable,” Crist says. “There weren’t many street photographers that captured this local scene in color — nor many that captured the lifestyle. At the time, there were just a few news and sports photographers covering this phenomenon. 

“Skateboarding was just starting when Hugh made these photographs, and no one was yet wearing protective helmets or knee pads,” he adds. “It was a very different world than that of skateboarding today. I think when people see these photographs, they’re experiencing the beginning of a subculture that was very free.”

The name of the book, Locals Only, comes from a tag prominently displayed in one of Holland’s images. “One of Hugh’s best photographs contained the words ‘locals only’ spray painted on a concrete wall,” Crist says. “This was a typical phrase of the time. The kids were territorial of their skating areas and neighborhoods. As skateboarding became more popular, kids from other areas would find their way to these best areas to skate.” 

Crist says that Holland feels like the phrase has evolved over the years — and what once read as clannish has become celebratory. “Hugh is a very polite and sweet guy,” Crist says. “He originally was concerned that the title might come across as exclusionary, but ultimately, we felt it was a real phrase from the era, and it summed up the vibe from the kids. Recently, Hugh said he felt the title had a different connotation nowadays, and that it felt more like a celebration and inclusion of the neighborhood locals. Luckily, the title worked. Just recently, Hugh and I passed a restaurant that used the book’s cover typography to promote a ‘Locals Only’  happy hour!”

Locals Only: 30 Posters by Hugh Holland, published by Chronicle Chroma is available now.

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