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MMA Behind The Lens: Inside the world of combat sports photography

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An exploration of MMA photography with Esther Lin, Ryan Loco, Gary Vasquez, Andy Cowan, and Amy Kaplan.

MMMA is chaos. Watching a fight – be it live, at a bar, or at home – borders on sensory overload. The athletes are quick (for the most part), the action is often esoteric, and the end can come in a split second. In the mayhem that encapsulates three rounds – and sometimes five – the real story of the fight is often lost. To tease out what happened between the bells, fans can pore over replays, listen to experts, or debate wildly with their peers. And in doing so, they might find that winning blow, a crafty tactic, or the indefinable display of ‘guts,’ ‘heart,’ or ‘soul’ that won the fight.

However, all those methods of postmortem pale in comparison to what can be revealed – and thus learned – in the moments from a fight that have been frozen for all time. Photographs, that isolate the bend of an arm, the ripple of a cheek, or the feral yell of a combatant, give us the most telling, and intimate, windows into the sport.

Who are the people who capture these stories in a millisecond and preserve them for the ages? How do they do it? What is racing through their minds as they watch – and snap at – the most intense sport on Earth?

The following two-part feature article seeks to answer those questions. Within are interviews with MMA photographers Esther Lin, Ryan Loco, Gary Vasquez, Any Cowan, and Amy Kaplan.

Other feature articles by Tim Bissell include Blood Sports n’ Body Paint: an interview with the infamous ‘Just Bleed’ guy, Taekwando and Terror: a story of two brothers’ disparate paths, Behind The Pain: the scoop on how STEMM and Dana White created the sound of the UFC, and The Male Gaze in Women’s MMA: a five-part series on how female fighters’ appearances have shaped the sport.


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