Photolucida: Nicole Jean Hill: Unarmed
Nicole Jean Hill takes Mixed Martial Arts to new arenas, capturing the violence and conflict, yet reinterpreting the sport into striking portraits and tableaux of bodies intertwined. The guts and the glory of a complex sport become beautifully heroic in her project, Unarmed. A selection of this work is currently part of Friestil, a traveling group exhibition in Germany this summer. Unarmed will also be exhibited at Camerawork Gallery in Portland, Oregon in August 2016.
Nicole received a BFA in photography from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and an MFA in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her photographs have been exhibited throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia, including Gallery 44 in Toronto, the Australia Centre for Photography in Sydney, and the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been featured in the Magenta Foundation publication Flash Forward: Emerging Photography from the U.S., U.K., and Canada; the Humble Art Foundation’s The Collector’s Guide to Emerging Photography; and National Public Radio. Hill has been an artist-in-residence at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah, the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, and the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in Humboldt County, California and is a Professor of Art at Humboldt State University.
Rooted in traditional martial arts and ancient combat sports, mixed martial arts (MMA) is unarmed one-on-one combat in a cage or ring. Since the term was first coined in the mid-1990s, MMA has surpassed boxing and professional wrestling in popularity as a spectator sport. Below the structure of nationally-aired pay-per-view bouts and officially sanctioned title fights, several amateur leagues exist that act as an entry point for local and regional MMA fighter hopefuls to make their way up the ranks. I photograph a community of amateur fighters in northern California and the periphery of this fervent subculture.
As a spectator of this spectacle, I am interested in the ceremonial pageantry of the public showdowns and the messy, bodily chaos in and outside of the cage. The photographs explore the tactical choreography of training, the pomp and circumstance of the performance, and portraits of fighters before, during, and after fights. I equally embrace the show-worthy tough guy personas alongside of the seemingly vulnerable moments when the fighters become lost in themselves – from adrenaline, exhaustion, fear or relief. I try to imagine what it would be like to engage in, and mentally prepare for, such a physically brutal and frenzied encounter, but I am just a bystander looking for evidence of something other than violence.
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