Confessions of a pro wrestling photorapher

A few weeks ago, I reached a turning point in my photography career. I was giving away far too many services for free, and I was going to have a harder time maintaining my gear while still spending enough time and attention on my family. So I’ve put aside wrestling photography for now. In 12 years at ringside, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a front row ticket for just about every local show, and even some shows that weren’t so local. To shoot wrestling, you have to know wrestling, so over time, I’ve learned a lot about the sport. Generally, I kept my opinions to myself. My job was to work with everybody, I didn’t need to possibly annoy anyone or get into the middle of something. But the workers knew that if I was asked for my honest opinion about a character, angle or match, I would provide honest feedback. That’s more what I am looking to do here. I’m not looking to burn bridges or start trouble, for those of you I talked to, you know I’m not about that. That said, lets get to the first question, which was asked to me several different ways.

WOWH Vs IYFW

I was asked this question in one way or another a few different ways. Which is better, which did I prefer going to.  If you could only work for one, which would you pick?   There are a few ways to look at it, and for a while I thought I might have to pick one over the other.  And I had made up my mind which one I would have picked had it came to that.

As a fan, they both had pros and cons.  IYFW has been criticized for poor presentation.  And for the most part, the critics had some points.  A plastic linked safety rail, trash bag ring apron up until recently, microphones that didn’t work half the time.  In my opinion, it didn’t take away from the show, but it doesn’t stand up to WOHW’s presentation.  Darkened arena, lights over the ring, guard rails, it just felt more big time.  Though WOHW had problems with their sound quality at times, ironically often at the next show after criticizing IYFW for theirs.   Edge to WOHW

Treating the fans with respect would go in IYFW’s direction.  They seemed to be more responsive to the fans.  Shows started a lot closer to on time.  WOHW seemed more interested in making that extra dollar, while IYFW seemed more about giving fans a good experience for theirs.

IYFW also had superior storylines and storyline depth.  The roster was a bit more consistent, and wrestlers had more developed characters.  More matches were part of a storyline, or built to something long term.  At WOHW, there would generally be two or three matches a show tops that were part of any storyline.  The roster also seemed to be more in flux, there was a very strong core of WOH favorites, with a lot more coming and going.  Another criticism of IYFW was that their wrestlers didn’t look like wrestlers, and this is true in some cases.  But they made up for it with crowd connection and storyline development for the most part.  Both shows provide many excellent matches.  But If you were watching a show for the first time, the edge would generally go to WOHW, but the longer you watch, the more that switches over to IYFW.

As a photographer, I was treated well at both shows, short of getting paid.   WOHW generally gave me more side business in the form of interesting photo shoot opportunities, or actual paid work.  Both treated me well at ringside as well as behind the scenes.  But for overall friendliness and treating me as a member of the team, that’s all IYFW.  I was invited backstage more, invited to meetings, asked for opinions and always treated well.  WOHW generally kept me away from such things.  At the WOHW reunion show, I was asked to wait outside until the fans were let in.  Almost went right home.  For the first few shows it  was even a possibility that I would be asked to buy a ticket for the privilege of shooting a show.

Who were your favorite characters?

I think when I first started watching wrestling in 2003, my favorite had to be Buttery Bert Williams.  At least he was the most quotable from that time period.  Good Lord Willing was also a classic, and continues to be one.  Big Vigo also had a very cool unstable heel character at JP Blacks shows in Bennington.   More recently, in the last two years I can remember one experience in particular that turned me into a fan again, and made me want to pay money to go this this one person at their next show.   It was Dynasty Pro Wrestling, and that wrestler was Furio Falcone.  I am partial to soccer, and it was something I hadn’t seen before, but for a few minutes, I felt like a fan in the crowd, just enjoying the match.

Of all my recent memory though, can you really beat this?

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I mean, the guy has a shakeweight.  And it works.  I have a few friends who occasionally go to shows.  This is the biggest experience I ever had with talking to people, and telling them they need to come on down to  a show, and check this out.  In in ring work was perfect, as well as the mic work.  And I loved the slap spot he would do.  I would have liked to see more of that.  Spots where he doesn’t necessarily feel pain, but does get angry and frustrated.  Some of the youtube promos weren’t exactly what I pictured for the character.  A bit too well spoken.  I pictured him only speaking in catch phrases and clichés.  Also, I still don’t get how the shakeweight storyline was resolved in IYFW.  The Shakeweight was owned by blood money, so they could take it back.  I get it.  MA wants it back, I get that to.  So at the end of a match, where control of the shakeweight wasn’t a stipulation, it gets thrown into the ring.  He catches it, so now its his again?

What was my favorite building to watch wrestling in?

I do enjoy the Whitehall Athletic Club.    If you want to go old school, the Knights of Columbus Hall in Hudson Falls should have been terrible, but with so many “interesting” fans, crammed into such a small space, it was always a great time.  I don’t like being in a venue that’s too big either.  There were a few shows in the Dome, the first Dynasty show was in a larger venue, plus you could see right into the locker room and see future opponents jut hanging out together.  That was also a problem at the Bennington Armory, which looked and felt about the perfect size and style for this sort of thing.  The problem was that heels and faces were freely mingling on the upper level, in plain sight of most of the fans.

Who did I enjoy interacting with the most?

JP Black was always a favorite of mine.  Often had nice conversations with him before or after a show.  During the show I’d often end up somehow involved.  On his most recent IYFW heel turn I tried to get myself pushed or slapped or something, since one of the reasons he turned on the company was their use of a picture of him getting choked was used for one of the promotional pictures.  There were many others I had nice conversations with, Maxx Burton and his wife, Chuck Deep, Sgt. Fury went to the HS where I worked, and I taught his wife, so we often talk.  But really, there are too many to mention.

What are my favorite events to attend and take pictures of?

My favorite matches to watch, are my least favorite to take pictures of.  I love battle royales, the survivor series type matches, but they are really hard to shoot.  The more people in the ring, the more likely I am to get run over or landed on.  Fatal Four ways can be good, IYFW put on an epic hardcore one.  But too often they feel like filler just to get people on the card.  I’ve taken a lot of pictures, and over time, I get better at working with the same wrestler, because I knew what to expect and how to take a picture of it.  But it’s fun when there’s something different going on.  Some sort of specialty match that makes the same pictures seem new and more interesting.

What do you think of other photographers?

I think this question was more meant for my replacement.   I haven’t had too many photographers I’ve worked with to really tell you much.   Each of us tends to have our own style, and it takes a while to find your own.  I was just saying to someone else, to be a pro wrestling photographer, you need to know photography, wrestling, and the individual wrestlers in the match.  It takes time to learn that.  I remember working a show at the done, and they had another photographer there, and he was from a local newspaper I think.  He hadn’t worked wrestling before, so I told him to watch for what I did.  So Nick Neighborhood is wrestling, and he always does a spot where he takes an Irish Whip to the corner, flips over the top rope, and falls down to the floor.  So I am standing in the corner he is about to be thrown into, as is the other photographer.    I knew whats coming, so I back out, but the other guy doesn’t.    So I physically pull him out of the way.   I got an immediate dirty look, but when Nick landed right where he was standing, he thanked me.   So it takes times.

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About garybraham

I grew up in Mahopac NY, studied geology at Colgate University. I've moved to Queensbury NY to teach HS earth science. I also coach soccer and wrestling, take pictures at local sporting events, and am the Scoutmaster for the Glens Falls ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My wife and I will be married 5 years this October, and we have a two and a half year old little girl.
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