It’s after midnight in the isolating blackness of an obscure street somewhere in the wilderness of Vancouver, B.C. The smell of hot, smoking asphalt hangs in the air as a group of masked figures burn, rake and shape a makeshift skateboarding ramp up against a street barrier.
Syosset native Anthony Tafuro stands nearby with his camera. Having saved and scrimped money for a year for this trip, he has come to capture images of a decidedly mysterious and shadowy faction of skateboarders known as Barrier Kult. Created 10 years ago by incognito professional skateboarders with enigmatic names like Deer Man of Dark Woods and Depth Leviathan Dweller, Barrier Kult (BA. KU.) was borne out of anonymity and a precise set of ideals translated by Tafuro’s black and white photographic style.
The images Tafuro gleaned from those trips to Vancouver fill a photography book, BA. KU., released this past June with powerHouse Books. The collection of photos tells the story of BA. KU. without revealing the faces of the skaters; they remain hidden behind balaclava masks with their mythos firmly intact.
“I had to immerse myself with them, but I wasn’t interested in who was behind the mask,” said Tafuro, who graduated from Syosset High School in 2008. “The way these guys approach what they do, it’s almost like a religion. They have their own alchemist. And they have a loyal fan base rooted in the atmosphere and the experience of it all.”
Tafuro’s photography roots stem back to his days at Syosset High School, where teacher influence and the lure of the school’s huge darkrooms drew his attention away from drawing and music as potential career paths.
“Syosset has a lot of teachers that are great and really understand where the students are coming from,” he said. “They helped me realize that I could work hard and be successful in art and photography, but also to keep the music thing on side. It’s good for sanity.”
As a high schooler, Tafuro described himself as a bit of an outcast; he didn’t ascribe to any of the traditional cliques at the school and mainly made his own way with musicians and skateboarders at other Long Island high schools. Living an alternative lifestyle compared to his classmates, Tafuro spent much time on his own.
“The more I think about it, I have to tip my hat to these people because they made an effort to reach out,” said Tafuro, who specifically named Syosset teachers Ms. Sibener, Ms. Sandel (now Mrs. Highland) and Mr. Favilla. “I felt misunderstood, but these teachers understood and heard me. I have to pay homage to them.”
High school influences aside, the idea to shoot BA. KU. and the aesthetic style used in the approach, germinated in Tafuro’s mind. He was impelled to delve into the dark Barrier Kult world by his connections to skateboarders, as well as his knowledge of the black metal/noise community—a sect that heavily influences the BA. KU. culture.
When he first approached powerHouse with an idea for a photo book, it was for something else entirely.
The resulting collection presents an eerie narrative, with Barrier Kult appearing almost as ghosts haunting graffiti-covered barriers on the debris-strewn back alleys of the Pacific Northwest. Tafuro’s decision to use black and white eliminates all distractions and brings a classical, albeit sinister in tone, feel to the collection.
“I try to always hit that perfect grayscale,” he said. “When you see the book, it’s not glossy so it comes across muted and faded. You need to have a personal connection in art and that’s hard to do in today’s world. This book needs that feeling. I’m not just using black and white to be heavy and dark and different; it’s a timeless way of capturing things.”
Tafuro’s hardcover BA. KU. can be ordered online through retailers like www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.
Turning his lens away from the dark world of Barrier Kult and toward his bright future as an artist, Tafuro recalls being younger and watching movies with his father. The way shots are framed. The style and skill of the filmmakers. The narrative pace. During those movie nights, Tafuro absorbed much and developed many of the skills that would eventually lead him to photography.
“My parents are proud and happy with everything I’m working on,” he said. “I’ve learned to be focused, driven and not to shut people out. You have to be out there talking about what you’re doing in order for people to understand it.”