Images from over a decade shooting the Texas Rollergirls, the godmothers of modern day roller derby.
About this project
Howdy, my name is Felicia Graham and I have been photographing the Texas Rollergirls since 2005, when I was attending graduate school at the University of Texas for photojournalism. I was looking to shoot something outside of my typical school work in the spring of 2005. My friend, Electra Blu, was a founding member of the Texas Rollergirls league. She suggested I come shot a bout during SXSW at the Austin Music Hall. What I thought would be something I’d do one time quickly became an addiction. I have been shooting for the Texas Rollergirl league ever since. Not only have I shot the local bouts, but I have traveled across the country to capture their images, and even their first international trips to Canada and London. Over my 11 years, I have shot thousands of pictures. This book will be a showcase containing the best of the best. This has been my labor of love.
If you ask any modern-day rollergirl where the heart of derby lies, she’ll answer Austin, Texas. Flat track roller derby is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. What started as one league in 2002 grew to 63 in 2005 to over 450 leagues in 2010 and 1741 today. Now, derby has gone worldwide. What started in Austin in 2002 has grown to the far reaches of the planet in 2016.
Flat track roller derby is a sport. Points are scored. Skill is necessary. There are offensive and defensive strategies. According to Woman’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) rules, the game consists of two action-packed skating periods, but the period is split up into jams. Each team has five players on the track. One jammer, one pivot, and three blockers from each team line up on their designated line. They are released to get the jam started when the whistle is blown. The jammer wears a star on her helmet and is the only player that can score points. The first objective is for the jammer to get through the pack legally without track cutting or other penalties accrued. The jammers begin to score points during their second pass through the pack. For each opponent they legally pass, they score one point. The more times they pass through the pack the more points they score.
A new sport for women wasn’t developed until 2002. This sport, roller derby, is a full-contact sport. The roughness of the sport may imply that it’s only for certain types of women. This is a fallacy. Truly all types of women love the sport. Despite their differences in stature and reasons for joining the sport, the women that play roller derby get the same things from their experience: confidence, and camaraderie. Across the board, women of different professions, ages, and lifestyles play the sport. These women use their brains not just for playing the game strategically but also for work keeping the league running.
Not many of these women fit the stereotype of a rollergirl. They spread the gamut in manner and personal history. All types of women skate flat track roller derby in these modern times. From scientist to teachers to state employees to students, each and every skater is a truly different woman. Their ages range from eighteen year olds to woman in their forties. While some women were athletes in their past, others had never played a competitive sport. None of these differences stops aspiring rollergirls from joining the league.
The same goes for the reasons for joining roller derby. Some do it to compete since they were involved in sports in their younger years. Others play to keep fit in their twenties and thirties. Some just want to belong to something larger than them. The motivation it takes to draw a woman to roller derby, it becomes part of them. And this is not something that changes once they retire from the sport.
Though they are different in so many ways and play the sport for so many reasons, the skaters get similar benefits from the sport. As soon as a new skater joins the league she immediately has up to sixty new friends that will support and take care of her. This is one of the major benefits to being rollergirl. The camaraderie that comes with roller derby is as strong as any close-knit group in existence. Each and every woman in the league gains strength and confidence. They might have come in as wallflowers but they become strong, independent women.
What the sport is today is a place where woman can be what they want to be. They dedicate themselves to a bigger picture. Flat track derby started as something fun and new for women to do in Austin, Texas in 2001, and is now worldwide covering six continents. It is justly one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
With all types of women from all over the world, roller derby is on the move. The creation of flat track roller derby by the Texas Rollergirls has spawned a new sport revolution. Woman might have joined for many different reasons, but most of the skaters get the same phenomenon from playing the sport, and that is camaraderie and confidence. And providing these benefits to women is never a bad thing.
The reason I want to do this book is to bring my extensive documentation of the godmothers of modern day rollerderby. These amazing woman need to been seen by regular everyday folks. I envision a large 200 page coffee table book full of the black & white images. I have secured Melissa Joulwan, a.k.a. Malicious, a former Texas Rollergirls and author of Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from the Track, to write my foreword. And Dennis Darling, my mentor and head of photojournalism department at the University of Texas, to write a little something at the end. I’ve hired DJ Stout and his team at Pentagram to design the book.
Risks and challenges
I’m are currently exploring our options when it comes to how the book will be published. Most likely, I will decide to self-publish, but I might shop it around to publishers. Either way, this has been my dream since I started on my thesis. If I don’t reach my goal. Not sure what will happen. Because of these uncertainties, production delays may come up, the publishing date may be pushed back, and the final format cannot be guaranteed.