PARA TI (FOR YOU): NON-LINEAR HEALING
When I first met freelance photographer Norma Ibarra, we were in Seattle at Skate Like a Girl’s 8th Annual Wheels of Fortune (WOF) event in May 2017. I had learned of SLAG (Skate Like a Girl) only a few months before and soon thereafter was invited to come up to Seattle from the Bay Area for this event. So here I was at All Together Skatepark on Stone Way, setting up my camera, a portable darkroom to make portraits of only girls for the first time --simultaneously excited and nervous as hell.
Soon, also for the first time, I needed a sign-up sheet. I made 21 portraits in a single day. Another first. One of those 21 skaters was Norma. Her smiling eyes were a joy. She is also a photographer (which perhaps accounted for her immediate warmth upon our meeting). I made a tintype of her with her camera. We chatted, and although I don’t quite recall our conversation, I remember that she was one of the few women skater photographers whom I had seen in all the eight years I had been loitering and photographing at skateparks.
A year later, in May 2018, I am back again at WOF9. Now, I have a bigger setup --I feel more confident and legitimate, as Skate Like a Girl has provided me with a tent, table, and chairs, a prime spot in the ATS parking lot among all the other vendors. There again is Norma. I photograph her with even more of her cameras. We chat a bit. I learn that, along with being a photographer, she also has her own business in social media marketing, but then she’s gotta run. Norma is busy! She is everywhere. I am stuck at my booth, but Norma is inside documenting the competition. She is outside photographing skaters skating the obstacles in the driveway. She has limited time for me --and that is just fine! I am used to this, and I am psyched that we ‘know’ each other now.
It’s May 2019, SLAG’s 10th WOF is full-on nuts! Vendors stretch beyond one parking lot and into another. I see Norma; we hug hello and, again, chat for a bit, but she needs to be everywhere; my waiting list is endless, and my assistant has to remind me to drink water. No Norma portrait! We’ll both survive.
Raised by her mother and grandmother in Hermosillo, Mexico, Norma graduated from university in 2009 and quickly thereafter moved to Vancouver, Canada, when she was 25 years old, with $200 in her pocket. An opportunity to travel and learn English was a no-brainer for Norma. Years earlier, she had had traumatic childhood experiences that eventually led to unhealthy excesses in her mid to late teens. Fortunately, Norma recognized that she had gotten herself into a bad place and chose, rather than going to a rehab facility, to do the work with the help of therapy to clean up on her own while simultaneously going to university. Clearly, to Norma, her dreams of “being somebody” overpowered the coping mechanisms of substance abuse.
Her passion and drive to do something with her life becomes blatantly obvious to this writer over the course of our conversation --and perhaps also to her mother decades earlier, who was the one who gifted Norma the opportunity to go to Canada in the first place. Norma knew being in a new environment would be a good thing for her, and perhaps so did her mother. Not long after she arrived, Norma was certain she must figure out a way to remain there, and that she did. She found a job and a home and grew her chosen family.
Ibarra’s interest in photography began in her mid-teens when her mom gave her Pentax K1000 to Norma. In Canada, although she was inspired by the natural beauty of the place, she wasn’t sure in what photographic direction to follow. She began by volunteering as an event photographer and doing social media and marketing work for a Latin nonprofit that connected Latinx in BC called Latincouver. She dipped her toes into the world of mountain biking and photographed the riders but found the extreme athleticism and cost associated with photographing the cyclists to be a barrier.
By 2016, at 31 years old, Norma began skateboarding. Her good fortune was to move nearby the Antisocial Skate Shop and get to know the owner, Michelle, who encouraged her to skate. She had always been attracted to that culture --she had wanted to skate back in Hermosillo, but her family was strict, and she felt intimidated. In BC, a women’s Facebook group, Chick Flip was her entrée to an inviting and supportive skateboarding group. As the girl-with-the-camera, she began photographing the girl skaters.
"There were lots of women skating, and no one was taking pictures!" exclaimed Ibarra.
What Norma needed and what Norma wanted were determined by two things: one broken ankle and then a second broken ankle. Broken ankles from skateboarding didn’t push her away --they solidified her connection to the community. She didn’t want to miss out and so continued photographing despite being on crutches. She recognized how much she missed skateboarding and that she could still be part of the community even though she couldn’t skate.
This motivation fueled her. Her mentors, Shari White, Kim Woozy and Kristin Ebeling supported her. Over the following five years, photographer, Norma Ibarra, documented the up-and-coming pro skaters Fabi Delfino and Breana (Breezy) Geering, among others. They all knew the industry and media were not documenting them, so these women got together and began documenting themselves, which, in turn, inspired others around the world, thanks to social media.
The historically male dominated landscape of skateboarding (this writer admits being tired of writing that phrase), although changed, still exists. Despite the efforts from brands such as Adidas, Nike, and Vans to become more inclusive with women and people of color, skate magazine’s featured stories about skaters have not evolved as much. Fortunately, new skate magazines are coming out to fill those holes, and along with that and social media, the sheer number of non-traditional skateboarders grows daily. Several new magazines have been launched, including Female-founded BIGFOOT Magazine, and Mess Skate Mag, started by the aforementioned Shari and Kristin, which highlight non-traditional skaters versus focusing on just the pros; the new generation focus on diversity, imagery, and community.
By 2021, Norma’s photographs were getting published beyond the Skate Witches Zine, despite the gatekeepers of that photographic landscape. “I want to be published,” Norma had told her friends in 2017, and now she is. “We all came up together. Everything [fell into place] organically.” Ibarra now covers Skate Like a Girl’s Wheels of Fortune for Thrasher, the internationally known, longest running skateboard magazine to this day. But --no, And she is still freelance --hey all you folks out there! Norma Ibarra is a freelance photographer who is available for hire!
And here we are now, September 2022. Ibarra and this writer are talking via Zoom. We are mere days before SLAG’s WOF11, the first in three years (thank you, pandemic). She discloses that she will shave her head (one of the challenges during the Skate Witch Hunt), and I confirm that we will make a tintype of her in Seattle with her new hairdo.
Postscript. There was so much to cover during this interview, and the two of us meandered here and there, diving into photo chat. How could I not discuss her beautiful new book, published during the pandemic? Norma’s first book, Para Ti, is available to purchase here. It is visually passionate and poetic.
Shout outs: During Norma’s pandemic, she discovered gardening and is now an ambassador for West Coast Seeds!
Norma's Playlist for withitgirl!
Jenny Sampson is a Berkeley-based photographer. Her focus is wet plate collodion and traditional film photography. Sampson is a member of the Rolls and Tubes photographic collective and writes for WithItGirl. She is a founding member of the East Bay Photo Collective, currently serving as the board president. Her work has been exhibited in the United States and the United Kingdom and has been published in Zyzzyva, Analog Forever Magazine, BBC, GirlTalkHQ, The Hand, SHOTS Magazine, All About Photography Magazine, Lenscratch, The Guardian, The Eye of Photography, PDN, WIthITGirl, and Visual Communications Quarterly. Sampson has two monographs, Skaters (2017) and Skater Girls (2020), published by Daylight Books. SkaterGirls received Book of the Month from Leica Fotographie International in September 2020. The Rolls and Tubes Collective published their book, A History of Photography, in October 2021. Sampson’s photographic work is included in the Candela Collection and other private collections, and her books are included in numerous public collections. Jenny's Instagram + Website
Norma Ibarra Documentary Skateboard Photography Video by Max Berkowitz (2018)
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