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The wrestling season is finally over (cheer)! Its duration—and my 16 years spent in the bleachers for this particular sport—always test my heart and stamina. Wrestling tournaments bring a special kind of torment to both spectators and participants. Two people wearing nothing but a singlet and flat sneakers circle each other like panthers, trying to vanquish the other by pinning him or her, helpless, to the mat. Spit, blood, and sweat are often involved.

It's primal and intense, a display of strength and athleticism nothing short of astonishing. And if you are a parent of one or two of those ripped, twisted bodies being taken to the mat, it's sheer fear. Necks aren't supposed to bend that way. Backs should not fold, and bloody noses deserve more than a coach ramming a twisted piece of Kotex up the nostril. O child of mine! I can hardly watch.

At the last tournament, tired and desperate, I took up my camera. Thus armed, I stood at the edge of the mat, 20 feet from the action, with the lens to my face, but all was changed. Now it was about snapping a decent photo, not worrying about the other guy snapping my son's back. It was about recording a drama, capturing a moment of art in the spar.

From that vantage, Russian author Anton Chekhov's famous prescription for writers came to mind:

"A writer is not a confectioner, not a dealer in cosmetics, not an entertainer; he is a man bound under compulsion, by the realization of his duty and by his conscience. To a chemist, nothing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist."

I thought, too, of the essential role of the artist writer as a witness, a dispassionate recorder of the often unpleasant.

I needed no further justification. I was now the photographer-witness, ...

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A Wordless Presence
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In the Magazine

September 2011

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