Sol Neelman documents the wild and the wacky in competition, from live monster wrestling to Big Wheel racing and, of course, ostrich racing.
The Portland photographer has spent years traveling far and wide chronicling competition in all forms, many of them silly, some with potential. He made a book out of it called, appropriately enough, Weird Sports, and it was so successful that he’s back with a second collection, Weird Sports 2, which he’s trying to fund on Kickstarter.
“I’m pretty much a one-trick pony,” Neelman says.
That may be true, but it’s been a successful trick. WIRED Magazine first wrote about Neelman in 2011, which earned him a recurring WIRED gig chronicling the wacky games, races, and events he’d managed to find.
The latest collection includes everything from flaming tetherball to unicycle football to a zombie run. It would be hard to overstate just how weird some of these sports are. Take wife carrying, for example. Men must carry their partners through an obstacle course; the winners are rewarded with beer. (Beer plays a role in a surprising number of events Neelman covers.) Flaming tetherball and unicycle football are exactly what they sound like, and in the zombie run, racers navigate a 5K course with the undead nipping at their heels.
This is very much a passion project for Neelman, who never makes fun of his subjects. Instead, he appears to be in on the joke and wants to share it with us. He makes little or no money photographing these events and supports himself as a commercial and editorial photographer. He used the money from a large commercial shoot to fund the first Weird Sports, but now has to rely on crowdfunding to get Weird Sports 2 off the ground.
“This is the photography I really care about, even though I don’t make much money, and I just want to find ways to keep doing it,” he says.
Fortunately, Neelman lives in the capital of weird—Portland, Oregon—and can occasionally walk out his front door and find things to shoot. Last time around he photographed people playing urban golf in his hometown, and for Weird Sports 2 he photographed a naked bike ride that drew thousands of participants.
“If you’re gonna ride a bicycle, you might as well do it without any clothes, right?” he says.
From here, there’s still plenty of weird sports photograph, but Neelman says he might have to start venturing out of the country more. In Russia, for example, there’s a swim race where participants have to hold onto sex dolls. And in Japan, there’s a race where teams ride huge trees down grassy slopes. One sport he’d love to photograph that’s only been played in Thailand so far is something called Tazer Ball, which is like football with Tasers. It hasn’t officially landed in the States yet because the organizers haven’t been able to secure a permit.
“I would love to shoot weird sports forever,” Neelman says. “There’s certainly plenty out there for me to do.”