"Women Who Fly" is a collection of photographs documenting the cultural phenomenon of roller derby.

I first began photographing roller derby in June 2007 at the urging of a student who was skating in the local league (Tampa Bay Derby Darlins) at the time.  At first I was merely interested in the visual spectacle of the event (hot women in fishnets and tattoos beating the crap out of one another) and the technical challenges of photographing skaters speeding around the track in horrible lighting conditions.  I never considered my images anything other than entertaining snapshots and a diversion from my "serious" artwork.

In 2010, at the urging of my Uncle (a professional photographer, graphic designer, and artist in his own right), I began photographing derby more seriously and became more immersed in its world.  Soon, what was once a sideline hobby began to take over time previously devoted to my other artistic endeavors.  As my involvement with the sport grew, I became more interested in the juxtaposition between the women's on-track personas (which can be as athletic and ruthlessly competitive as any men's sport) and their off-track antics and personalities.

In the context of contemporary American Pop Culture, the women of roller derby embody a classic cultural dialectic surrounding female gender roles, expectations, and general definitions of femininity.  On the one hand, while their actions on the track are decidedly aggressive (a trait more often associated with being masculine), they are also tinged with an overt feminine sexuality.  In fact, many of the derby names used by the women in this sport reflect this combination of strength and sexuality with their double entendres.  This, combined with their oft-tattooed and pierced personages, tends to reflect a sense of rebelliousness and the sort of anti-establishment irreverevnce normally associated with punk and other counter-culture movements. In this same vein, outrageous outfits along with bright and colorful off-track attractions add to the "Wrestlemania"-style carnival atmosphere that characterizes many of the events. However, on the other hand, during off-track moments, one can catch glimpses of the other sides of the skaters' personalities which can range from motherly and nurturing to goofy to downright serious and professional, thus bringing these women in from the fringes of society and back into the mainstream.  This juxtaposition reflects the sort of either/or archetypes commonly found in art and literature:  the virgin/whore, mother/temptress, nurturer/warrior, attractive/athletic, and so on.

Again, to reference Pop Culture, this combination of strength and seductiveness is one that has held fascination for millennia, from the Greek Goddesses Artemis (both the Virgin Goddess as well as Goddess of the Hunt) and Athena (Goddess of Wisdom and the Arts as well as War and Strategy) to their more Modern incarnation: Wonder Woman (who in her scantily clad bathing suit of a costume can deflect bullets and pummel the bad guys as well as either of her male counterparts Batman and Superman).  All one needs to do is watch any Hollywood movie to see this continuing dialectic in action (often, it seems, brought to life by the actor Angelina Jolie, or perhaps more recently, Jennifer Lawrence).  I have become more interested in capturing the nuanced duality/complexity/dichotomy that derby brings by presenting many of these personas simultaneously side by side not in fictional characters, but in real life figures.

However, photographing roller derby is still a great technical challenge for me that I have yet to master.  For most of my photographic career, I have primarily been a staged, studio, tableaux style photographer where I can control and choreograph every aspect of the image frame.  Obviously, photographing roller derby events does not allow that opportunity and, instead, requires the blended skill sets of fast-paced sports photography with the instantaneous recognition of Decisive Moment and Documentary work.  This has taken me well outside of my photographic comfort zone.  I am rarely satisfied with the results and am constantly searching for that perfect combination of settings and mixture of flash and ambient lighting (not to mention timing and composition).  If Winnogrand’s satisfaction threshold for his Decisive Moment/Street Photography images was 10%, then my success and satisfaction rate when photographing derby is closer to 1%.  Out of the hundreds of images I shoot per bout, only a handful do I ever actually consider "good".  The images that I have presented here represent the small smattering of images that I believe begin to transcend being mere snapshots or technical exercises, and, instead, provide a larger insight into the contemporary cultural phenomenon that is roller derby.

My uncle, Glenn F. Brown, Flirtin With Disaster of the Tampa Tantrums, and me at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza Tournament, Philadelphia, PA, June 2010.

This body of work is dedicated to my uncle, Glenn F. Brown, who died of colon cancer on November 11, 2010.  Unfortunately, he never got to see his suggestion brought forth to fruition and I never discovered if the end result met his standards and expectations.


& &


All artwork, graphics, images and information posted on this site are ©copyright of either Christopher W. Weeks/Black Cat Studios or the stated original artist. Please do not use these images without permission..