by Geoff Decker
As a photographer, when you first pick up a camera, no one warns you that dodging projectiles might become a common occurrence. Its not uncommon that a rowdy audience might throw plastic cups or beer cans (empty if you’re lucky) during a show. But avoiding a 200 – 250 pound person (on average) hurling towards you is a whole different kind of adventure.
I’ve been shooting wrestling for almost eight years now. When I first picked up a camera I would never thought I’d ever shoot a wrestling show, let alone look forward to each and every show I’d be lucky enough to shoot. Truth be told, I was never interested in wrestling shows growing up.
It was maybe three or four months after I had moved to Denver from Orlando. A common acquaintance introduced me to Nick, who had just recently started a local show, Lucha Libre & Laughs at the Oriental Theater. The idea behind the show was to combine wrestling matches with stand up comedy and Nick was looking for a photographer. When asked, I said yes, I’d try. I have never shot anything of this caliber before; basically sports photography in what most would consider a low light situation.
My first of many close calls was my third show in. Still new to the show, I was still learning the wrestlers movements. One of the two wrestlers, Gold Star, was outside the ring, on stage, standing close to me. All of the sudden the second wrestler shot out of the ring, between the ropes, and was on a collision course toward Gold Star. I had to jump back and out of the way quickly while maintaining focus and out of somewhat pure luck snapped the shot at just the right moment. From that point on I was hooked.
So from there on out I was a part of the show. Years later, I started shooting a second show, Respect Women’s Wrestling. Another fantastically put together show meant to showcase the talent of women wrestlers. And honestly, a much more difficult show to shoot. Unlike the Oriental where I have free range of the stage to shoot on, Respect is held at Herman’s Hideaway. A bit worse lighting and much less room to shoot. I typically share the stage space with videographers and surrounded/compacted by an audience who get to cram around the ring and cheer on the wrestlers.
If you’ve attended LLL or Respect, you know there is something special about the shows. Everyone in the ring and involved in the show loves being there. They all put their heart and soul, blood and sweat, into the show. Wrestling often has the stigma that its staged, its fake, et cetera. But from first hand experience, there is nothing further from the truth. The talent, acrobatics, agility, that the wrestlers expend and the injuries they endure is proof enough. And truly if I had not kept an open mind and challenged myself to shoot a subject matter I was not familiar with, I would have missed out on shooting one of my favorite experiences.