Most photographers wouldn’t thank you for splattering their Nikon with projectile body fluids. Not so Liverpool lensman Brian Roberts.
Sure, he’s done his fair share of Liverpool weddings, but for bust-ups of a bigger nature, Roberts has been slugging it out with the city’s burgeoning MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) scene. For the city’s foremost cage fighter chronicler, there’s only one rule. Keep the lens clean.
Why cage fighters?
A friend, Emile Coleman, started promoting cage fighting events in the city and asked me to take some images. Prior to that point I’d just been doing fairly rudimentary landscape type pictures so really relished doing something like this. The thing I’ve really appreciated from doing the cage fighter things is that it has given me a bit of a unique output, particularly in Liverpool. When you’ve got such excellent and well established photographers like Mark McNulty and Pete Carr in the city there’s not much point trying to do similar things to them, they’re doing it already!
Have you ever had a go?
I’m a bit of a wuss with blood (especially my own) so no, I’ve not. The nearest I’ve come to being involved in a fight was last year when the doors of the cage burst open (where I was taking pictures from), followed by two fighters. My camera hit me in the face – I had the biggest black eye of the night but fortunately the camera was fine.
Do you think the sport is still misunderstood?
Yes, very. A lot of people think it’s a free for all and a bit of a brawl. It’s actually very controlled, with a referee who keeps a very careful eye on things and will quickly step in if someone gets into trouble. There are a whole load of rules and safety checks with several doctors and medics on standby. I’ve seen many women and children at The Olympia so it’s not too over the top. The cage fights were shown on the ITV network for a while and got really big ratings so, given the right exposure, it can thrive as a mainstream sport.
What do you aim to capture in your work?
When I first started taking photos of the cage fighting I didn’t understand what was going on so it was just a case of snapping away and hoping to get something interesting. I’m not really interested in doing the pictures of someone’s fist in their opponent’s face but try and look for something a bit more quirky which makes it stand out. I also like to give the photos a bit of a ‘treatment’ so the finished images look more like film, giving things a bit more drama.
Is Liverpool a strong centre for MMA?
It seems to be – we have a healthy amount of gyms across Liverpool and just outside the city centre, including Widnes and Aintree. There’s quite a lot going on in the north, particularly around Manchester and Sheffield. My knowledge of MMA is actually pretty limited but I try and use that to my advantage by looking at things as a bit of an outsider rather than being too involved in the sport.
Do the fighters enjoy your work?
All the guys I’ve met are decent chaps who are perfectly pleasant outside of the fight cage. The local guys are the ones I see most of the time at the fights (some fighters only appear once as they come from all over the country) but the Liverpool lads are all top men.
I especially enjoy working on the competitors’ portraits. This came about accidentally when the fights used to be filmed for ITV and the crew turned up with all their lights and smoke machines. I grabbed the opportunity when the producer was kind enough to let me do some shots and it’s nice to see the pics come up on the posters advertising the events around the city.
How’s work as a Liverpool photographer? What else inspires you?
Liverpool has changed so much in the recent years and confidence seems to be growing from the success of our time as European Capital of Culture. Last year was pretty busy for me with more of the cage fighting, photos for ‘One Night In Istanbul’ and some other projects along the way so hopefully things build up each year.
I do love the character and characters of Liverpool, the people of the city are brilliant and I really enjoy taking pictures of them. Mix this in with some music and a few beers and I’m more than happy.
Camera: Nikon D3/ Olympus E3