Tag Archives: Perceptions

Wheelchair Bodybuilders Muscle Their Way to the Top

When he was 16, Nick Scott was in a near-fatal car accident. He was left paralyzed from the waist down. Nonetheless, Scott, now 30, is also known in certain circles—namely, the wheelchair bodybuilding world, a universe in which his is perhaps the most recognizable face—as “The Beast.” The Beast isn’t sure of his bench press limit, only because he hasn’t yet stopped reaching for more weight. The metaphor’s an obvious one, but true: ”If you want something bad enough, nothings gonna stop you from not getting it,” he has said.

And The Beast wants to spread the word: he was instrumental in the creation of the first-ever competition for certified International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) Pro Wheelchair Bodybuilders, which was held last fall. The 2012 IFBB Pro Wheelchair championships took place Oct. 13 in Houston, an event open only to Scott and the dozen other men who have qualified as pros. Harold Kelley was named the winner in 2011 and 2012.

Photographer Lauren Fleishman has been documenting the sport for over a year, including that first competition. She first heard about wheelchair bodybuilding via a phone call from her cousin, who works in a hotel where a bodybuilding event took place. “I got so excited that I hung up the phone and began researching the sport,” she says.

Fleishman says that when she first began exploring the topic, she noticed that almost all of the photographs of bodybuilders, at least the ones that she could find, portrayed the participants in an almost grotesque manner. She wanted to avoid that look. “In showing a different side to it, it’s a way of connecting people, a way of changing their perceptions about the sport.”

Wheelchair bodybuilding competitions date back about 15 years, and both amateurs and professionals compete in worldwide events throughout the year. After following the participants for months, Fleishman says that, besides the normal suspense that comes with any competitive event, there’s another layer to it. “Seeing what being on stage does for them, they really, really shine,” she says. “You have a whole range of reasons why they compete, but the dedication and perseverance is really inspiring.” And it’s not just on stage: last May, in a Wal-mart in Texas, Fleishman accompanied Scott—the de facto spokesman for the sport—when he went to purchase batteries for his wheelchair, which is rigged to light up when he performs. Outside the store, a teenage boy, also in a wheelchair, approached Scott to say that he hoped one day to be like him. “You can obviously see that Nick has muscles,” says Fleishman. “The kid was impressed. It was a really nice moment to see that.”

But there has been one drawback to immersion in the wheelchair bodybuilding community during her year of photographing the project—and, as the work continues, it may only get worse. “It’s really hard,” Fleishman says, “because you want them all to win.”

Lauren Fleishman is an award-winning photographer based in New York City and Paris. See more of her work here and or on LightBox here.

Matthew Gamber

One of the best rewards of being in Boston last week was meeting photographers.  I’ve been a fan of Matthew Gamber and his compelling imagery that challenges us to rethink how we see, think about and perceive color, so it was great to finally put a name to a face at the Flash Forward Festival.

Matthew holds a BFA from Bowling Green State University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University.  His star is on the rise as his work seems to be everywhere: included in the 2012 deCordova Biennial, the the Abstract Photography Then and Now exhibition at the deCordova, at the Flash Forward 2011 Exhibition, and last year at the Sasha Wolf Gallery in New York.  He has also been granted numerous awards and fellowships, and just got off the plane from Santa Fe, where he attended Review Santa Fe.

Matthew’s new project, Any Color You Like, is a bit like losing the sense of  taste right as you are about to bite into something you have been looking forward to eating, and the expectation of that enjoyment usually comes from the memory of having eaten it before.  By removing the memory and one of the senses, the experience changes. Matthew’s images look at objects that we have traditionally seen in color and that speak to the idea of color, and force us to see and think about them anew.  It’s a terrific project that challenges our perceptions, pays homage to an era where all objects were captured in black and white, but also creates tension (the bird image particularly) where the mind leads one to wonder about the image in color.  

The photographs in Any Color You Like are an experiment in how photography can confuse our perception of information. These photographs represent objects whose primary function is to simulate our observation of color. When these items are rendered in a traditional black–and–white format, the information that remains is merely an abstraction of its previous form.

Mark Steinmetz’s Summertime

Mark Steinmetz works in the venerable tradition of photographic prowling that bets everything on the ordinary. Each picture is the fruit of an unplanned encounter: Though the photographer may know more or less where he is going, he can’t know precisely what he will find. An accumulation of these improvised perceptions can make both a world and a way of looking at it.—Peter Galassi

A series of three books—South Central, South East and Greater Atlanta—published between 2007 and 2009 brought the work of Mark Steinmetz to prominence. His quiet, yet confident, black-and-white portraits reflect the isolation and detachment of youth. They suggest transience and are an intimate connection to the lives of strangers.

His latest publication, Summertime, released this month by Nazerali, echoes the sentiment of his previous three books and features images taken over the last decade. Steinmetz tends to think about work over long periods of time, keeping the various bodies of photographs in his head and weaving pictures of the same spirit together. However it is not only process but also circumstance that resulted in the work taking so long to surface. When Steinmetz, who studied at Yale, began making his intimate black-and-white portraits in his twenties, interest rested in fabricated color photography, not photography documenting the way the world actually looked. With the world in a more sober place, viewers have been more receptive to Steinmetz’s point of view.

Although Steinmetz has at times worked in a more scheduled manner—including a series on Little League Baseball and one on summer camp—his preference is not to nail things down too specifically. “I don’t begin a project with an agenda that is going to over-determine the outcome,” Steinmetz recently told American Suburb X. “I think it begins with a faint vision—one of those whispers on a breeze—that somehow gets a grip on me.” The photographs in Summertime are the product of an intuitive roaming approach of a photographer who always has his camera with him, in search of people where they might be out in public.

Summertime opens with an image of a boy laying on his back with an empty school bus and deserted school yard in the background, which sets a school’s-out-for-summer kind of tone that continues throughout the whole book. The photographs are more widely spread geographically than those in the earlier publications concentrated in the South, as Summertime sees Steinmetz getting out more into the country: to New Haven, Conn.; Boston; Chelsea, Mass.; Chicago and rural Illinois. The images were taken in places where the photographer was either living, visiting his parents or teaching. That connection affords Steinmetz a familiarity and comfort and enables an ease he strives for with the strangers he photographs, which is reflected in the pictures. In black and white, things can rest a little easier in the frame. Summertime is more about the kids and that feeling of having all the time in the world in summer—and in the middle of winter, Summertime is what we yearn for most.

Summertime was published this month by Nazraeli Press.

Caleb Charland

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” –Albert Einstein

It’s hard to ignore an image like the one above, and it’s hard to ignore someone who is really enjoying the art and science of our craft. From the home page on his website, it’s obvious that Caleb Charland is a unique and exciting visual force. As Caleb puts it, “For me, wonder is a state of mind somewhere between knowledge and uncertainty.” This wonder was developed growing up in rural Maine, where he spent much of his childhood helping his father remodel family homes. These experiences “installed an awareness of the potential for the creative use of materials”. Caleb went on to earn a BFA in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a Trustees Fellow in 2010.

The way we understand the world relies so much on our ability to measure it. Given that many measurements are based on the proportions of the human body its clear we measure stuff to find our place amongst it all and to connect with it in some way. By exploring the world at hand, from the basement to the backyard, I have found a resonance in things. An energy vibrates in that space between our perceptions of the world and the potential the mind senses for our interventions within the world. This energy is the source of all true art and science, it breeds those beloved “Ah Ha!” moments and it allows us to sense the extraordinary in the common.

For me, wonder is a state of mind somewhere between knowledge and uncertainty. It is the basis of my practice and results in images that are simultaneously familiar yet strange. Each piece begins as a question of visual possibilities and develops in tandem with the natural laws of the world. Serendipitously, this process often yields unexpected results measurable only through photographic processes. The human presence and artifacts of the process provide a clue to the creation of the photograph while adding to the mysterious nature of the image. My hope is that this work affirms that even within the well tested laws of science there are, and must always be, pathways to reinterpretation and discovery.