There’s Worse Thing Than Being Alone was essentially a continuation of my early work, only now I was in an unfamiliar and bigger city. I was still learning how to make pictures and thinking a lot about racial identity. The truth is, I didn’t know what I was doing and I certainly didn’t know how to articulate it, but I knew that I wanted to make photographs about it. I found myself walking and riding my bicycle a lot, trying somewhat to familiarize myself with my surroundings, but I was also just looking for photographs.
The pictures, again, primarily consisted of portraits of African-American people, something that feels a bit strange and difficult trying to explain now. I’ll say this, though: unlike New York or Chicago, the public transportation in Memphis isn’t very diverse — you won’t find many white people riding the bus. And when I lived in Chicago, I encountered white people for the first time who didn’t grow up going to school with Black people. These observations aren’t the work, I know, but I think to some degree they motivate me to live and work a bit differently. I can choose to either engage in a certain separation of realities like so many people do or I can attempt to learn from and relate to someone who doesn’t necessarily look like me. If anything, that’s what I was attempting to achieve with There’s Worse Things Than Being Alone.
The Indies is a series of photographs looking at independent wrestling I made while in graduate school. I needed to find a new way to make pictures during a Chicago winter, rather than continuing to wander about hoping that the outside world would provide a picture. For the first time, I knew when and where I’d be photographing, contacting local promoters asking for access and using artificial light.
I grew up as a wrestling fan in the nineties during the height of the “Monday Night Wars” — a time in television and wrestling history when Sting was on one channel and Stone Cold Steve Austin was on another channel. For simplicity’s sake, professional wrestling is more or less a long form theatrical performance whose plot relies upon the classic trope of good vs evil, one of the initial ideas I was interested in attempting to translate photographically.
I was particularly attracted to photographing these men and the people that came to watch them for several reasons: the events themselves, which typically took place on a Friday night at a local VFW hall or highschool gym, served as a hub for these small rural communities to gather. The crowds ranged in size, but often the wrestlers would perform for a very small audience, which meant they were getting paid very little, if anything at all, to put their bodies through a significant amount of pain. What I found beautiful though, despite this, was how evident their passion was for perfecting their craft. In many cases, they admire and study tapes of past wrestler’s performances and dream of being someone like The Rock. The truth is though, that most of the guys I was photographing will never earn a valuable contract or get recognised by a larger audience. I found this dynamic to be both beautiful and sad.
The pictures I made don’t quite do a good job of documenting anything tangible or factual about independent wrestling in the Midwest. I photographed in a way, both by how close I was to the subject and how I used a handheld flash, that often completely eliminated any environmental context. This resulted in highly descriptive images, but not in the same way you would find if you were watching wrestling on television. A lot of the pictures consist of men lying face down or yelling inaudibly in pain. I think the work was ultimately my attempt at visually subverting (not with malice) and having fun with the common conception of masculinity.