Another great submission from our Issue 12 call for entry! Combined with his wild subject matter, William’s blend of still life imagery and portraiture brings the viewer front and center into the world of Alternative Pro Wrestling.
William Major is a documentary photographer from Johnson City, TN. He currently lives in Athens, GA attending the University of Georgia seeking a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography. His work currently tackles issues surrounding the south among fringe sporting events such as independent wrestling.
Babyfaces & Heels
Upon entering the Alternative Pro Wrestling promotion in Royston, GA one notices a culmination of interesting sights and sounds: the dilapidation of the old gymnasium in which the event is held, children playing with their action figures while their parents laugh and converse with other members of the community, the soft blast of popular country and rock music, attendees flocking to the concession stand for off brand carb-loaded snacks, and the gentle hum of excitement that radiates throughout the air. This scene would at first look and feel like a community center in a small town or the gathering of a congregation of a local church for an agape meal. But underneath a makeshift spotlight in the middle of the arena sits an omnipresent ring – bolted to the ground with its turnbuckles, rivets, and ropes shimmering. The audience watches the empty ring in anticipation until the ambient music stops and the disembodied announcer comes over the PA system to summon the participation and recognition of our country’s national anthem. Standing with reverence with our hands and hats across our hearts we watch the screen hanging over the performance entrance light up with an image of the American flag slowly waving in the wind. An uproar of applause and cheers erupts after the anthem is played, the spectators take their seats, and then the announcer appears in the ring like a ballyhooed carnival barker shouting, “Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Royston! We sure have a show for you tonight!” A thunderous roar ensues from the small crowd and the spectacle of wrestling – one of the last bastions of violent theatrics – begins.
The myth of the wrestling persona is broken and created behind the veil of the segregated locker room. The male athletic performers reside in this forum until summoned into the ring. Their hyper-masculinity is pampered and prepared in this setting as well as the generation of the evenings plot-line. The theorist Roland Barthes likens this transformation like a play of sorrows, and this is ultimately what these individuals are preparing to enact when crossing through the door into the arena. Henry Jenkins’ essay, “Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama”, states that, “Wrestling, like conventional melodrama, externalizes emotion, mapping it onto the combatant’s bodies and transforming their physical competition into a search for moral order…it offers complexly plotted, ongoing narratives of professional ambition, personal suffering, friendship and alliance, betrayal and reversal of fortune” (Jenkins, 34). Each player has their own role either as a heel – someone to be feared and hated – or a face – an individual who is revered and loved.
This series is site specific in the sense that it tells not just the story of independent wrestling as a whole, but that it shows a regionalism through specific signifiers. Christian crosses, overt patriotism, Chevy and Ford decals, Bojangles cups, cans of dip, the confederate flag, and other symbols are flamboyantly abundant in this space. There are several personalities that are crowd favorites in Royston such as Sam Kooper who flaunts the confederate flag on his costume, wears a camouflage trucker hat, and comes into the ring to the country song “Workin’” by Big Smo (which is high beat anthem for southern working men), Scott Mayson who has created the persona as the “Habersham Hero,” which is a county several miles northwest of Royston, and Jamie Hall who floats between an Iraq war veteran and local farmer – and when bare chested you see a tattoo of the state of Georgia with one half shaded in stars and bars and the other half depicting the Browning gun company’s logo. This southern superhero myth resonates with fans as the white working class champion, which shows their voice is still worth hearing in this venue. The crowd identifies with these entities strictly because they see themselves within their mythical characters – southerners fighting for their pride. These photographs don’t glorify this trait; rather, recognize these symbols with their loaded meanings and demonstrate the humiliation and fallen from grace nature these individuals have endured through socio-economic and political stress outside the ring. Broderick Chow in his essay, “Muscle Memory”, explains that, “the physical struggles of wrestlers are analogous to social struggles, explaining wrestling’s popular, almost ritual appearance, since, in the conflict in the ring, the people will be able to recognize itself in it. The body of the wrestler is thus intended as a point of identification for its audience” (Chow, 145).
This series deals with the body, sexuality, the obsession of the sport, theatrics and the spectacle, and the regional aspects that motivate these individuals to get in the ring weekly in search for validation, glory, and recognition. It also deals with symbolism outside of the ring such as the space these performers work in each week, which better identify who they are and bring to question deeper archetypes.
To view more of Will’s work please visit his website.