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2019 SPE Annual Conference: The Myths of Photography and the American Dream / Major support by The Joy Family Legacy Foundation

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Nicole Jean Hill

SPE Member since 2004
Member Chapter: West

So You Wanna Fight?

I moonlight as the ring / cage-side photographer for amateur boxing and mixed martial arts events that take place at tribal casinos throughout California. These amateur events exist as an entry point for regional boxers and MMA fighters to make their way up the ranks and as opportunities for the host casinos to profit on alcohol sales. They are largely conducted at Native American casinos in order to circumvent state gaming regulations associated with full contact sporting events. This allows amateur fighters to compete without full regulation padding, avoid various levels of medical suspensions imposed by outside athletic commissions, and fight by rules outlined by the individual fight promoters.

In between shooting the graphic headlock images and sexy ring girl portraits that are used for the casino billboard advertisements, I make photographs for my own ethnographic art practice. Functioning as an American rite of passage, these public showdowns contain both ceremonial pageantry and messy, bodily chaos. I am interested in the rituals involved in the showdowns, the fighters’ ability and inability to harness a sense of bravado, and the spectators and trainers that surround the short bursts of violence.

From the viewpoint of a female photographer embedded in and at service to this male-dominated subculture, this photo series offers a distinct visual narrative to the sports genre. Employing choreographed images and straight visual documents, I am influenced by tough-guy personas and stereotypical images of fight culture machismo supplied by popular culture. I am constantly aware of these formulaic images of masculinity while examining the edges of the pomp and circumstance along the ring.


First Fight


Ring Girl



Sparring Partners


Title Champ

The Ghost

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