Fight Night | A photobook about mixed martial arts in Iowa
In 2009, I began exploring the MMA in central Iowa. The fights were only part of what was happening. Fight Night tells that story.
Experiencing Fight Night
Iowa has a long history in the sport of wrestling. At the international level, Iowa has produced Olympic gold-medal winners. At the collegiate level, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have won national championships. At the high school level and below, wrestling approaches football and basketball for prestige among the athletes. Wrestling is a way of life in Iowa. It’s part of who we are.
The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) came into the national spotlight in 2006 with the pay-per-view fight between Chuck Liddell and former champion Tito Ortiz. Iowa was already a natural location for development of talent and passion because of the state’s long history with wrestling, which is one of the key fighting disciplines used in MMA. Following the Liddell/Ortiz fight, MMA’s popularity in Iowa exploded.
Fight Night is a photography book that explores small-time MMA fighting in Iowa. Culminated over four years, this book captures some of the most intimate moments as fighters explore the highs of victory and the devastation of defeat. It also chronicles the journey leading to the ring, from training and life outside the ring to impromptu amateur fights in bars and professional fights in front of thousands of fans. The goal of the book is to envelop the audience in the same experience that fighters and millions of fans enjoy. The images give readers the feeling that they are ringside and hearing the roars of the crowd, the cracks of the punches and kicks, and the sights of gladiators fighting to have their hands raised in victory.
Selections of Fight Night have been published on the New York Times Lens Blog, Burn Magazine, and The Photo Brigade.
Why Photograph Mixed Martial Arts?
My story with MMA began in 2009 when I was looking for something interesting to photograph. So when I happened across an ad for a mixed martial arts event, it seemed perfect. It was something that was very local, yet completely exotic to me. Just as important, it was an opportunity to learn and explore something completely new. I contacted the promoters, and was immediately welcomed to come photograph the event. I was lucky. The man in charge gave me free rein to wander everywhere and photograph anything. For that I am forever grateful.
When I arrived at the event, I was unprepared for what I saw. What was happening outside the cage was at least as interesting as what was happening inside. I found that the fights were only part of the story. The fighters were just as interesting. They have created a world for themselves as they train, compete, and dream of glory in the cage.
With that, I was off and running. In exchange for access, I made my images available to organization's promoter, and started photographing every event I could. There were professional fights in front of thousands of fans, but there were also amateur fights every Wednesday night at a bar that were even crazier due to the unpredictability of the fights mixed with large amounts of alcohol.
The first in-depth work was following 44-year-old Ronnie "Warfrog" Britt as he trained for his final fight. A local blue-collar hero, Britt had realized that his declining abilities were going to keep him from making it to the UFC, and he needed to balance the increased workout requirements with family life. The culmination of my six weeks of work was a combination of images with interview and fight audio. After publication, the fighters were excited to see what I had done, and adopted me into their inner circle, which made continuing the work possible.
Audience for Fight Night
MMA is a sport that has exploded in popularity over the past ten years. Organizations have sprung up all over the country, with the largest being UFC, which holds regular pay-per-view events that can sell more than a million subscriptions. Smaller, local venues draw thousands to see the events live. With television shows like Ultimate Fighter, live events broadcast on Fox, video games, and movies like 2011’s Warrior, the sport continues to grow in popularity and in its influence in pop culture.
Fans of the sport have an insatiable appetite for all things MMA. This appetite includes going to events, watching fights on television and pay-per-view, and buying clothing featuring their favorite fighter’s name or clothing labels that are favored within the culture. This level of dedication is similar to what NASCAR enjoys, and it means fans want a piece of the sport they can take home and enjoy at their leisure. Fight Night is photographed around central Iowa, but the images of the fighters sacrificing everything to pursue their dreams will resonate with people everywhere, whether they are fans of the sport or not.
About the Book
The vision I have for Fight Night is approximately 100 monochrome images, combined with excerpts of interviews, spread over 120 pages. Printing on bright white, matte paper will allow for maximum contrast and a slightly unrefined feel that is true to the subject matter. Images are paired together on each spread to create a unique feel every time the viewer turns the page.
The choice of using monochrome for the images was made the first night. I wanted to showcase the emotions and the effort of the fighters, and I felt showing the images in color would make blood the only thing viewer saw.
The final edit and design treatment is complete. I am in the process of finalizing the sequencing and making minor tweaks to the text.
Introduction by David Alan Harvey
Harvey was raised in Virginia and began photographing at age 11. He graduated from the Graduate School of Journalism, University of Missouri, in 1969, and worked for National Geographic magazine. He was named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association in 1978. He joined Magnum Photos as a nominee in 1993 and became a full member in 1997.
Harvey's first book, Tell It Like It Is, self-published in 1967, documented the lives of a black family living in Norfolk, Virginia. His two major books, Cuba and Divided Soul, are based on the Spanish cultural migration into the Americas, and Living Proof deals with hip-hop culture.Martin Parr and Gerry Badger say of Harvey's book (Based on a True Story) that it "takes its place as one of the best of the more extravagantly designed photobooks at a time when extravagant design is making a comeback".
He has photographed extensively for National Geographic magazine,and in 1978 was named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association.
In recent years Harvey has redoubled his efforts to help emerging photographers with his many workshops, launching of Burn Magazine website and the annual Emerging Photographer Fund. Burn was the first outlet to publish a selection of photographs from Fight Night, and to have Harvey continue to be involved with this project is an incredible honor to me.
Sample Book Spreads
Risks and challenges
Although several publishers have shown interest in Fight Night, I have not secured a venue for Fight Night to get published. A photographer bringing money to a publisher does increase the chances of publication, but does not guarantee it. If I meet my goal on Kickstarter, and cannot get Fight Night published through traditional channels, I will self-publish a limited run.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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