“There’s some intangible spirit there…I don’t know…there’s just something about them”.
I once had an idea for an animated film where clothing could talk. From jackets to scarves, socks and hats, it was a world where threads had both a personality and a voice. Imagine 5th Avenue (pre-COVID) during the morning commute. A cacophony of conversation bounces around as items of clothing chat amongst themselves, their human vessels making a beeline for work. Imagine if inanimate objects had the ability to speak…?
In my 28 years on this planet, there’s one accessory I wish had the gift of speech, more so than any other…Meet Alistair Skelton AKA Alske’s, Small Sunnies. At first glance, these are simply a pair of smaller than your average sized sunglasses. To a tight-knit bunch of party folk however, they mean a whole lot more. Here is a tale about a pair of rave shades, that have seen the most joyous of occasions.
It’s a sweltering summers day in the North of Amsterdam at Europe’s largest flea market IJ Hallen. Reams of people squeeze past one another, combing the maze of stalls for gems they didn’t realise they were after. “People literally just turn up to browse and hope they stumble upon something great”.
As Al and close friend Bella neared the end of the IJ Hallen circuit, it seemed like it’d just be another one of those market days that doesn’t yield anything worthy. All was not lost however, tucked into a corner, appears a quintessential knick-knack stall. Picture organised chaos. From broken cameras to odd trinkets, weathered garments and even….sunglasses.
“I just happened to stop, look down and I distinctly remember saying…well look at these!”
Sitting ever so patiently, amongst the clutter, sat these miniature gold sunglasses. “It’s the reason I picked them up in the first place. They were so god damn small!” The seller Al recalls, looked like a wizard. A partygoer of yesteryear. At only 1 euro, these were an absolute steal. The handover was nonchalant, with nothing more left to be said. From here on, Bella and Al just traded wearing them all afternoon, astounded by this rare and beautiful find. The Small Sunnies had found a new home. “Even before the dude mentioned the price, there was no doubt in my mind I was buying them”.
As a self-proclaimed “goggle collector”, Al backs himself in, hunting down shades from all ends of the spectrum. These immediately became the favourite. Fast forward a few weeks and Al finds himself bunkered down at Dekmantel Festival’s Greenhouse Stage. It’s a balmy Friday evening, surrounded by indoor plants with smoke hanging in the air, he snaps this series:
These three frames are strong. They’re classy, composed and just that little bit odd. Amongst the chaos of the dancefloor; Scott, Dolo and Wrenn (in order) find calm, stilling themselves for a brief, beautiful moment. I say…it’s all thanks to the Small Sunnies.
From this point forward, the sunglasses were the first thing Al would pack before heading to a festival. Followed closely by his 35mm point and shoot – the Yashica T4 and a few rolls of Fuji Superia 400. As Al explains, the process just started to snowball. Whenever he’d notice someone giving off a solid vibe, he’d simply offer them the shades for a snap. Old friends got papped, new friends got papped, it didn’t matter who. A sense of camaraderie soon began to build around the glasses. Each and every wearer became a link in the chain. A chain of euphoric memories, experienced through dance.
“It wasn’t til after I’d got the film developed, that I realised the true power of these portraits”.
“They’re not my sunnies…they’re the people’s sunnies”.
For the next two years, Al partied like a madman. Accruing a catalogue of strangely suave photographs in the process. Before he knew it, there were upwards of seventy characters. “I’d been thinking it’d be cool to collate these all together…haha it only took 2 years”.
Speaking on the development of the zine (appropriately titled Small Sunnies), Al comments on the mood in the photographs, lucky enough to make the cut. There’s a fashion flavour in the images, something a little bit runway. Each subject has risen to the occasion, stepped up to the plate and shined. “Although there’s novelty to them, there’s also an air of seriousness. Without fail the sunnies complement their wearer”.
Oddly, the zine’s front cover is the only non-human subject of the whole collection. For Al, this shot is defining.
“The cover sums up what it’s all about. It’s that moment where I hand the sunnies over to a chosen person, although it’s a painting, the glasses bring a flare and attitude to the portrait, speaking once more to their transformative power”.
What’s great as well is the shades bear the true heart of Amsterdam. Purchased there. Worn there. Partied there. The goggles bleed vermilion red, white and blue. Although born in Australia, Al has spent the last four years building a dope life for himself in the canal city and these shades are a symbol of all the fun and playfulness he’s had thus far.
A mood or feeling can be wrapped up in an object. These sunglasses bring people closer together, through their mutual affection for partying. Beautifully uncanny if you ask me. And just maybe, in a soon to be adapted screenplay, items like this will have their very own feelings too?
Next time you’re strolling through a market, op-shop or anything of that nature, pay close attention to what jumps out, what speaks to you. It could be the start of something pretty special…