American Death Match. June 2014. The portrait of Mean Mitch Page at the IWA Midsouth tournament in New Albany, Indiana is part of a larger body of work photographing the wrestlers and fans of this niche of choreographed violence.
Professional wrestling is a huge part of American culture. The mix of athleticism and violent theater has more in common with Shakespearean Revenge Plays than actual sport. Dialogue recited before and after each match frame the character development of the “Faces” and “Heels” while the performance of sport uses practiced and choreographed stunts to create the illusion of combat. The 1950’s saw the introduction of blood as a theatrical element which crossed many lines of social taboos but at the same time boosted audience levels to new heights and began what is now known as hardcore wrestling.
Today, independent promotions specializing in Ultraviolence and Death Matches go in search of audiences performing in fields, social clubs and carnival like events with ever increasing levels of violence. Crowds of sunburnt men, women and young children crowd close to the ring as every fall into barbed wire and every broken pane of glass elicits gasps and eventual cheers when the wrestlers show off their injuries. In a very extreme way the theatrical self mutilation for the crowd’s enjoyment highlights our attraction as a society to violence and questions where entertainment ends and our taboos begin.