July 5, 2011

Spread the Infection!

Two important things happened to me last week, things that really made me stop and think. Let me tell you about them.

First, I took a little trip to shoot the inaugural bout of the Rodeo City Rollergirls in Ellensburg, a town about two hours east of Seattle. It was a new experience for all of us, since I’d never seen nor photographed any league’s first public bout. Needless to say, it was a blast! The skaters were pumped, the audience was fired up, and the score was close right up until the final jam. But the thing that impressed me the most about this league was that they understood the value of great derby photos.

Rodeo City Rollergirls in their inaugural bout (1/400 sec, f/3.5, ISO 3200, two remote flashes)

You see, unlike every other league I’ve photographed over the past six years, Rodeo City offered to pay me to shoot their bout. That says a lot. And their hospitality was second to none — they treated me like a rock star. But something nagged at me, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Many of the skaters were overjoyed that a "big city" photographer like me (if Seattle can even be called a big city) would take the time to shoot their "small town" league. I totally appreciate their gratitude, but I was surprised by that notion. Why wouldn’t I want to shoot their league?

A few days later, the other important thing happened: I watched this talk by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire people to follow them. It’s only 18 minutes long, and I urge you to watch it, but I’ll summarize it in case you don’t have time right now. Great leaders, Sinek says, tell you why they do things, instead of merely describing what they do or how they do it.

Focusing on the "why" is such a simple, powerful idea, but until now I’ve focused on what I do, and I created this blog to explain how I do it. I’ve never taken the time to describe why I do it, or why you should care. So without further ado, here’s the reason why I’m a derby photographer:

I want to infect the world with roller derby.

Roller derby, as you know, is a highly contagious viral infection — a pleasurable one, but an infection nonetheless. Mere exposure to derby practically guarantees its transmission, and immunity is rare. Infection typically follows a three-stage progression: In Stage I, the virus gets under your skin and causes a recurring derby itch that must be scratched. In Stage II, the virus enters the bloodstream and triggers an autoimmune response known as derby fever. Finally in Stage III, the virus occupies the brain, causing the host to seek out new victims and actively spread the infection. This is the stage I find myself in, and happily the disease is incurable.

Joking aside, I want roller derby to become tremendously popular. I want to watch weekly bouts on ESPN. I want to hear derby commentary on SportsCenter. Why do I want this? Because it will increase my own personal enjoyment of the sport. I realize that some fans and skaters are opposed to this goal. Some are concerned about the changes and compromises that will happen as derby becomes more mainstream. Some are reluctant to give up their small, intimate venues and move to large, impersonal arenas. Some just want to keep derby as an underground sport that only the cool kids know about. I respect these opinions, but I don't agree with them. I believe vastly increased popularity will make the sport even more competitive, and much more fun to watch.

Now that I've covered the "why", I can talk about the "how" and the "what". If you want to infect the world with roller derby, how do you do it? You cultivate the derby virus, weaponize it, and dump it into the water supply of every town you can. You take a bunch of dynamic, dramatic derby photos, show them to the unsuspecting public and say, "See this? This is roller derby. You don't know it yet, but this is going to change your life."

By now, it should be clear why I agreed to shoot Rodeo City's inaugural bout — I couldn't pass up the chance to infect a new audience. The same rationale prompted me to create this blog. I can't shoot every league, so I want to help you capture the best photos you can. Together we can expose millions of people to the derby virus. Now go out there and spread the infection!


Eric J. Keller (Derby Advocate) said...

Speaking as a "victim" that has been infected since 2004, I couldn't have put it better myself. Even though I live in the middle of the high desert of New Mexico I am constantly spreading the good word (or rather the infection) of roller derby, and I likely always will. I don't want the cure!

BagelHot said...

It's interesting that he uses Apple. It explains why the Apple's consumers are more like a cult then people that actually know or want to know what's going on inside their computer.

Hale Yeah said...

Best of luck with the strain train, Joe!

Joe Rollerfan said...

BagelHot, I don't want this to become a discussion about Apple, but Sinek's point is that you need a great message in addition to great products. Apple's customers believe in what Apple stands for, as well as appreciating the high quality of their products.

Preflash Gordon said...

Sometimes I think you and I were separated at birth. This is *exactly* how I think of my mission in roller derby. To me it's this under-seen, under-appreciated amazing-cool sport that the general public is going to love if they ever give it the chance; and one of the ways I want to get them to notice it is by taking way-cool photos and then lobbing them like hand grenades into the public consciousness. Hopefully at some point people will go, "WTF is that!? That looks really cool!" Then our work ... or at least, phase one of it ... will be done.

Six years after my first bout, I still feel lucky and excited when I shoot derby, no matter what level it's at. Something I used to say during my acting years applies just the same to this sport: "You're surrounded by people who mostly aren't earning a dime but are here anyway because they're passionately in love with what they're doing. Who wouldn't want to be surrounded with such people on a daily basis?" For me, that's what life is about.

Anonymous said...

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I knew from the first time I saw my daughter skating that I would love this even more than we had when we watched derby in the 70's. Although, it's grown as a sport in ways none of us could have imagined back then, I can't wait until the world sees it as it has evolved and legitimizes it. I'd like to see it recapped on tv, and like Joe I'd love to see bouts on television. Not just to watch my daughter, but to watch these women pursue a full contact sport and to be recognized as athletes. And, I hope in the not too distant future we see it at the Olympics.
They may say we are dreamers, but we're not the only ones!
Thank you Joe, and Frank, Eric and Axel ~ your support and knowledge has inspired me helped along the way in my journey into photography. I frequently stand it aw at what I see through the lens.
Way to go Joe! Derby rules!
Jenny Evans

Anonymous said...

After intending to check it out for a long time, We got to our first Oly Roller bout in January. The second bout, we had season ticket passes around our necks. We schedule meetings and other events around derby events. We are going to Portland in Sept. and trying to figure out how we could get off time to go to the nationals. I think we are hooked! Part of me wants the world to know about this sport and the amazing women who take part in it. I like talking to the skaters. I love the passion they demonstrate on the track. I like the fact that they are part of my community. I think they are great role models. The other part of me worries that if this becomes too big, they'll be like any other pro sport: a business where players come from everywhere and just skate for the money. Kathleen

Hockey Honey said...

Keep on keeping on Joe, you are awesome!

Todd Bradley said...

Great post, Joe. And thanks for the link to the TEDx video. I did watch the whole thing, and am going to put the main lesson into action this week!

Varla Vendetta said...

I really love hearing this Joe. I'm a photographer as well, but a skater first in this universe :) Since 2004, I've understood why women compete in this sport. So it is enlightening to be able to read why others in our crazy derbydom are satiated by the vital roles they play, too. Thanks for posting this. The passion of the players (metaphorically speaking, because "players" are not just the skaters in this sense!) is what I continue to love about our sport. Glad to have people like you aboard!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for articulating what I've felt deep in my heart for a long time. I too love shooting the non-WFTDA and apprentice leagues who are just beginning. You get the same feeling and energy with those leagues as was felt when derby was going through it's rebirth when there 5 leagues total. The photos of those leagues go a long way towards infecting the friends of their fans and brining new fans to the sport. ...Smopho

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