It’s been two and a half years since I last covered a wrestling show. I had no intention of photographing one again. It’s important in any creative industry to always move forward, to try new things and to find the area outside of your comfort zone. This is how you develop and learn.
The truth is that since 2019, wrestling in the UK has been problematic and in decline. The boom and bust economics that naturally trend within the industry have been accelerated downward at the worst possible time.
So, when Riot Cabaret contacted me to capture their show, as many wrestling companies have since the pandemic, my knee-jerk answer was no. Normally at this point, I wouldn’t hear from a promoter again, but the team at Riot were persistent. Over the course of a short email exchange three things happened that changed my mind, and these are the reasons why you as a fan should consider them for a night out in London, but most importantly…why you should consider taking your non-wrestling fans with you.
Firstly, when I asked to see what protocols had been put in place to maintain a professional working environment, I was sent copies of a Workers Agreement, a Dignity at Work Policy and a Concussion Protocol. These documents, the norm in almost every other professional environment, are missing from too many places that encourage their workers to put their lives in danger every time they step through a curtain to perform.
James Lawrence, Owner and Ring Announcer at Riot Cabaret explains, “British wrestling in particular is a sector that has a lot of work to do if it is to regain the confidence of its audience and workers. Our mission in that regard is simple: to leave British wrestling in a better place than when we arrived. That means treating every person who works with Riot Cabaret or comes to our shows with equal care, so that we can facilitate a great experience for everyone who walks through our doors”
Secondly, when I asked what service they wanted me to provide, I was told, “We want to you to capture the experience of coming to our show as a fan, the scenery of this beautiful venue in Clapham and how a show feels”.
Now, I love shooting with no brief. It’s scary and daunting and requires confidence, but I love it. Possibly the only thing better than that as a working photographer, is to take a client’s brief and supersede their expectations.
With this in mind, I knew I needed two lenses at polar opposite ends of the scale. Firstly, I needed a wide lens (Canon RF 14-35 L) to capture the arena in all of its glory as well as close up, ringside-feel fan reactions, to make the viewer feel like they are actually there.
Secondly, I needed a long lens (Canon 70-200 2.8 L) to capture close up shots of the fans from a distance, making use of the shallow depth of field, to isolate their natural reactions, without knowing I am there, from those around them. Natural reactions are key to creating believable portraits.
Lastly, the team at Riot were clear that their goal was to bring new fans into the product - people who may never have considered watching a wrestling show before. This is key. Too many in the industry work and put their effort into attracting the same group of fans over and over. Fan loyalty is precious, but will only take you so far, as there are only so many fans to go around and only so much loyalty left to be spent.
As James Lawrence explains, “We know as fans, that when it's good, wrestling is the best thing in the world. Some of the most memorable moments of our lives have probably been at wrestling shows. We've all completely taken leave of our senses at surprise debuts, long-awaited wins, or moves we've never seen before.
Our ultimate focus is putting together shows that mean people can leave their troubles at the door; building a world that people can lose themselves in. If we can show casual discoverers why wrestling is the best thing ever, as well as giving dyed-in-the-wool wrestling fans (like us) something to fall in love with all over again, then it's mission accomplished.”
What impressed me most about the show was the simplicity in variety. Every match was different, was diverse, was representative and provided its own unique genre of entertainment, from high-flyers to comedy acts, from beach balls in the crowd, to burlesque style 90’s WWE tribute dance acts in the ring. The team at Riot Cabaret had worked tirelessly to produce a product that could be enjoyed by all, fans of wrestling or not, and that is key.
Their next show is in Clapham on Tuesday 18th October 2022