Hey, You’re Cool! Jonathan Rentschler
Love Park's final days captured on black and white film
Philly’s Love Park was a national landmark for skateboarders. It was a destination for skaters from around the world. Those days are now gone, but thanks to photographer Jonathan Rentschler, they’re not forgotten. In a collection of black and white 35mm photos, Rentschler captures its last few years in his new book ‘Love,’ in partnership with Paradigm Publishing. Below, he tells us about his passion for the park, the dedication it took to shoot those final days, and the process for making the book itself.
So how long have you been shooting for, is this your first photography book?
Yeah, it’s my first photography book. I haven’t been shooting that long. Early 2013 I got into it. I was living with a photographer at the time and he always had film cameras laying around. I ended up borrowing one and got hooked immediately. I was just kind of getting my bearings and learning the technical sides of photography in 2013 and then in 2014 I was just shooting my surroundings, which at the time was Love because I was skating there every day; hanging out there, chilling there. So that’s kind of how it all started.
And when did all that end?
Love Park closed in February of 2016, but people continued to skate it pretty long after the fence went up. The last image in the book is probably May 2016, maybe sometime in the summer. The actual last photo is basically, there’s nothing left, it’s essentially a hole in the ground.
How long have you been skating for?
Probably a little more than 20 years now. I’m pretty serious, or I was when I was younger. I guess now I just do it as much as my body will let me. When I got into photography I was maybe looking for another way of being around it. It kind of just went hand in hand and worked out perfectly. I was skating and shooting for the two and a half years I shot at Love, so it was a good balance.
You shoot exclusively in 35mm?
Yep. The entire book is 35mm. Actually, I maybe only shot with a digital camera once.
When did you realize this could become a full project?
I never intended it to be a project or a book. I never envisioned that when I first started. Shooting at Love, I was just shooting photos of my friends, and the daily occurrences and things that were happening at Love. Probably after a year of shooting there and going through what I had, and organizing my archive, I started to see a narrative form. And there were already rumors going around, loose rumors that the city might be trying to renovate Love in the next couple of years. So I felt like maybe I should follow through, dedicate myself to showing what was happening there, and see how it panned out, how the rest of the narrative would go. So that’s kind of how it developed.
How were the Love images printed?
The images that are in the book are scans of the negative. The old school way is to make a print in the dark room and then scan that. You pretty much have to be an expert at printing to get the quality that PhotoShop and a scan can do. There are very few people that do that anymore, that’s a completely whole other ballgame. I feel like most books now that are being shot on film are scans of the negative.
How did you find your publisher?
Towards the end, maybe March of 2016 where I had this huge number of images—I mean, I probably shot over 10,000 images at Love in that span of time–I started to kind of try and play with the narrative and lay it out with the images. I ended up making a dummy of the book and started to reach out to people that I knew in the publishing and photography world. A mentor of mine tried to help me try and find a bigger publisher. At the time, and old friend of mine was revamping his publishing company. He had put out a couple books in 2014, 2015. It seemed like that was a better option for me as far a wanting to lay out the book and include everything I wanted to. With Paradigm, they gave me complete creative freedom to do what I wanted and tell the story that I wanted, without any filtering, which would happen in a lot of other publishing companies. You know, they want to make something that is number one sell-able… and a lot of filtering happens to a certain extent with certain publishers. Paradigm was the best option for me in putting out exactly what I wanted to do and telling the story I wanted to.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Redding, Pennsylvania, which is a little over an hour outside Philadelphia. I’ve been living in Philly for a good 13, 14 years. I originally came to Philly because of Love, and for skateboarding. The first year I started skating, I think I was 11 years old. I was all about Love at such a young age. We would take day trips down here, me and my friends, and we would skate Love when we could. I got hooked very early on with the atmosphere there. It was so spontaneous. You just never knew what was gonna happen, and you always had to be kind of looking over your shoulder for the cops, especially back then because there were so many undercovers. Philly was just where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a part of that scene and that place, so that’s what originally brought me here.
What do you hope is the main thing that people take away from your book?
I hope people just realize how special Love was. I mean, that’s a very obvious thing to skateboarders, but I wanted to show it to a wider audience and make them understand what was so special about the community there, the people, and why it was so unique. Also to shed light on a lot of the issues that are currently facing this city. Gentrification is one of the main components of why Love is no longer there. I mean there were a lot of factors, but revitalization and gentrification are the main reason why it’s gone. It was just an eyesore for the city, and there’s definitely a different type of person inhabiting Philadelphia now compared to even when I moved here 14 years ago. So that, and kind of skateboard culture in general–the issues we have with the police, and everything that goes along with skateboarding. Because I feel like when most people see skateboarding they just see the tricks, and they don’t understand all the other things that are happening, so it’s an insider’s perspective of that place.