Photographers' Blog

Derby days

Augusta, New Jersey

By Mike Segar

When I was growing up I remember each summer looking forward to visiting the Barnstable County fair in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where my family spent the summer. A tradition from coast to coast, the summer county fair is a purely American event and my family never missed it.

GALLERY: JERSEY’S DEMOLITION DERBY

What I also remember fondly from the fair after the cotton candy, rides and games was going to see the evening demolition derby races – watching as groups of salvaged and homemade cars called “beaters” or “wrecks” slammed into each other over and over on a dirt track until the last car still moving was declared the winner. It was always a fun event with lots of laughs.

As a Reuters staff photographer based in New York I am always looking out for quirky, uniquely American events and stories which can bring with them their own set of characters and atmosphere that make for interesting images and the opportunity for visual storytelling. Demolition Derby is certainly one of these events. When I found out that the Nation-Wide Demolition-Derby company was holding a two-day competition, one of the largest on the east coast, I knew I wanted to shoot it.

The first documented version of a race in which the destruction of cars was the intended goal, involved Larry Mendelsohn, a stock car driver from Long Island, New York. He began promoting demolition derbies around the area in the late 1950’s after he and others realized that the spectators at the races enjoyed the wrecks as much, or more, than the race itself. In Wisconsin in 1950, a used car salesmen named Crazy Jim held a demolition derby to promote his business using old Fords. He later became a demolition derby promoter in the region. Other sources say that the demolition style of racing was happening in Chicago also as far back as 1950. The sport grew in popularity peaking in the 1970’s with national television coverage. Now the events are mostly held at the local level at fairs and carnivals.

Despite being just 70 miles from New York City, the largest metropolitan center in the United States, Sussex County, New Jersey, is farm country – rural and open. The New Jersey State Fair Sussex County Farm and Horse show reflects that farm culture, and is typical of summer fairs held around the country. But as the sun begins to go down and the stands around the Derby track begin to fill with spectators, competitors in the demolition derby take center stage. Auto mechanics, body shop owners, welders, tire guys, metal fabricators, junk yard owners and auto dealers are all there. Men and women, young and old come to have some fun, see their friends, get some food at the fair and crash their cars. If they’re lucky maybe they win a trophy and a bit of cash. Most have built their own cars from junk with parts salvaged and scraped together which they hope can outlast the competition in a few minutes of punishing crashes.

My week at the fair

Little Valley, New York

By Brendan McDermid

As a child some of my favorite summer memories were going to the fair. I’m not sure if it was the cotton candy, candy apples, taffy or fried dough that I liked best but I’m sure all of them have something to do with my memories. I grew up in Buffalo, NY (insert winter weather joke here) which hosts the third largest county fair in the United States and the largest county fair in New York State. But none of my memories are from the Erie County fair.

Growing up my family had a cabin in Cattaraugus County, New York and we’d spent a lot of time there hiking, fishing, sitting around the camp fire and generally running a muck in the outdoors. Each year we’d head over to the Cattaraugus County fair to break up our time at the cabin and to basically give my parents human interaction outside of their five kids, and whatever friends we had staying with us. Like any other fair they have rides, games, entertainment and most importantly deep fried deliciousness! So, naturally as an adult I wanted to relive all the joy and excitement of my youth. Don’t we all?

When I came up with this assignment, one of the things I really wanted to look at was the 4-H program and the kids who take part in it. Growing up, 4-H was not very popular where I lived, but I was always curious because of my experiences at the fair. This week I’ve met some amazing young people like Keenan Tadt, who competed in the English Horse Show and showed her sheep, about 15 minutes apart. She’s best seen in the competition ring wrestling her unruly sheep while still wearing her breeches and riding boots.

A fox hunt with no foxes

McClellanville, South Carolina

By Randall Hill

In a thick strand of woods in rural Georgetown County, South Carolina, the self-proclaimed “Gullah Huntsman” Bill Green prepares for his latest drag fox hunt. It’s a cool day in early February and the stocky built African-American man sits comfortably atop his trusted horse.

“You got to treat these animals with loving kindness,” he says with a smile referring to the fox hunting hounds and horses he trains for these events. “If you don’t treat them well they won’t do what you want.”

Green pulls from a stained and worn saddlebag a wet rag tied to a long rope. The strong, pungent smell of fox urine covers the area around him like a cloud when he opens the bag. It’s an odor so strong one doesn’t need the olfactory prowess of a dog to detect.

Hanging ten on Lake Michigan

By Sara Stathas

As a photographer, I am inspired to make work about people who have an extreme passion and enthusiasm for something near and dear to them. I seek out the quirky interests that Americans, in particular, have intense love for and use that as inspiration for making photos. I moved back to Wisconsin, the place that I grew up, after being away for a decade, and I’m rediscovering and seeking out some of the passions unique to Midwesterners.

The draw of the largest freshwater surfing event in the country, the Dairyland Surf Classic, held in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sounded right up my alley as a photo opportunity.

I headed up to Sheboygan on Saturday of the Labor Day weekend, the busiest day of surf and paddling competitions, according to their schedule. I rolled into sleepy downtown Sheboygan at about 8:30am, noticing a Honda Camry with a surfboard strapped to the roof following me east towards Lake Michigan. I parked along the bluff at Deland Park, near a group of dudes peeling off their wet suits after their early morning surf session.

Free healthcare in Appalachia

By Mark Makela

July 20, 3:30am; Wise, Virginia. Early morning darkness covered the hills and valleys. Despite the rain 500 people had already lined up for free medical and dental care. You know it is a unique shoot when your assignment begins here.

The day before I had driven 10 hours from Philadelphia to get to the Remote Area Medical (RAM) three-day clinic in southwest Virginia. RAM has been providing free healthcare since 1985 for uninsured and underinsured Americans and for people worldwide. This would be their 674th expedition. RAM began as a parachuting operation in the Amazon founded by the humanitarian, Stan Brock.

GALLERY: REMOTE AREA MEDICAL CLINIC

I knew that there was positive foreshadowing when my first frame was of a bemused chihuahua named Bella standing on her hind legs with her owner.

Hunting hogs

By Michael Spooneybarger

“They are fast, smart and dangerous – the most prized hunting animal in ancient Greece, the wild boar. Considered a test of bravery, wild pigs have thick bones and a tough hide, making anything but a death shot a potentially fatal mistake.”

That was the first message I got after agreeing to a weekend hog hunt in Alabama. I have hunted pig many times as a BBQ aficionado, but that has been scanning a menu trying to decide on pork ribs, pork sandwich or going with beef.

SLIDESHOW: HOG HUNTING IN ALABAMA

The next memo from writer Verna Gates: “Photography equipment should be as silent as possible without flash as pigs are very keen and will run away. We don’t want the other hunters shooting at us….”

Where there’s smoke there’s BBQ

By Randall Hill

Sweat pours down the face of Scott’s BBQ pit worker Willie Johnson as he uses a large mop to apply sauce on a rack of chickens cooking in the pit house. The smoke pouring from the sides and tops of the 10 pits in use that day hover over him like a white translucent blanket. The early morning light pierces through the blanket and forms contrasting shades of light that seem to bounce around the ceiling looking for a way to escape to the outside.

Johnson has been at the pit house all night, like he has done many times before, watching over the process of the 12-plus hours it takes to cook the BBQ at Scott’s. It’s very hard work to cook BBQ the traditional way they do at the Hemingway, South Carolina restaurant and pit house.

SLIDESHOW: THE LOST ART OF TRUE BBQ

Workers, mostly family members of owner Rodney Scott, have to gather and cut the large amount of hardwood needed for the process. The rear of the pit house contains a large supply of oak, hickory and pecan cut in large sections to be later split and burned.

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