Skating With Others

Photographing skaters from a local roller derby league, I investigate ideas about the gaze, gender performance, spectacle, and sport. These concepts intersect wonderfully and confusingly in the world of roller derby.

The arena of athletic competition, like any other site of social interaction, is not a gender-neutral space. Women have had to battle for inclusion in most athletic contests, and codes of gender conformity influence the look and popularity of many sports. Competition and spectatorship occur within “the gaze,” that underlying societal field of vision within which all our actions are seen and shown. Roller derby, dominated by female participants and biased towards an audience of women, has exploded in popularity since its re-emergence in Texas in 2001. The sport, a full-body-contact skating contest, encompasses 450 recognized leagues worldwide. Skaters compete under aliases – AKT 47, Mother Pucker, Rollin’ Polanski – which both obscure and confer identity, perhaps providing women cover for an unwomanly activity. Team names project cheek, sometimes fury — Suffer Jets, Assault Squad, Wall Street Traitors, 5280 Fight Club. Banal uniforms, protective padding and mouth guards are embellished with a surprisingly consistent set of accessories: tattoos, ripped tights, theatrical makeup, and vibrant hair dye. Derby “girls” invite, but then manipulate, the voyeuristic gaze.

Working primarily in portraiture, I remove skaters from the rink, shuffle the visual elements one finds in a derby contest – athlete, gear, woman, gesture, — and suggest a complicated meaning for the entire endeavor.


Jennifer Blessing and Nat Trotman, Curator and Associate Curator of Photography at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, write in their introduction to the 2010 Haunted exhibit catalog, that photographs possess a layered temporality — past acts referenced but perceived in the present. This quality suspends the viewer between history and the immediate: “…photography is seen from its inception to have a kind of magical power, if not to transcend death then to constantly remind us, as a memento mori, of the inexorable passage of time.”

Our family photos often shock us. A parent casually paging through a photo album is bound to feel the authority of time’s passage; there is no softening of the blow. And this authority supersedes every other experience of the image we might have. Our full memory (sounds, smells, peripheral vision) of a moment photographed is blocked by the resulting image that seems only to represent time — time’s passage. Could that picture have been taken only three years ago?

What this photographer/mother desires is time, poised – a romantic and sentimental notion that guides the making of Florescence. Can a future time be represented in a book of family photographs as a counter weight to all that has passed?

At work in my book is the memorial quality, the here-that-is-no-longer-here, of all family photographs, but it is balanced by signs that point towards the future – a future when orthodontia is removed, acne clears, first loves become true loves. The photographs represent a future retrospect — of the photographer, the mother, the family. If photographs are suffused with death and the modern anxiety that accompanies death, let it be softly, softly. With referent firmly planted in the past, all photographs, according to Barthes, signal the future death of the subject, a death observable in any photograph. Let the leave-taking and aging be accompanied by gestures that repeat infinitely, without duration or completeness – our eyes closing, our lips kissing, our arms reaching out.