Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland man who took snaps of action figures as a child grew up to become one of US wrestling’s top photographers

Photographer Rich Wade from Glengormley, who now lives and works in New York
Photographer Rich Wade from Glengormley, who now lives and works in New York
Some of his work
Some of his work
WWE superstar Kofi Kingston
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A Northern Ireland wrestling fan who now photographs the superstars of WWE has spoken of how he turned his childhood dream into reality.

Rich Wade (29) from Glengormley moved to New York to pursue photography in 2016 and has carved out a niche capturing the loud and often bizarre world of professional wrestling.

Waiting in the wings while the likes of The Undertaker and The Hardy Boyz psyche themselves up for their big entrance, to getting the shot of a death-defying backflip - it is a job with a difference.

As well as taking on more commercial photography work from his home in Brooklyn, Rich spends most weekends travelling up and down the east coast of the US to cover wrestling events.

These range from arena shows to the smaller and often more hardcore outfits like Ring of Honor.

"I was always a huge wrestling fan as a kid and would actually take pictures of these action figures doing moves," he said.

"So it's actually funny that that's what got me into photography and I've ended up doing it for real."

While studying at the Belfast School of Art, Rich started out by taking pictures of boxers as a side project.

"The reason I did that was it was the closest thing I could get to wrestling.

"I ended up putting on a show at the Titanic museum in 2016 as part of the Belfast Photo Festival," he said.

"When I moved to New York to do a Masters in photography at Parsons, they said I could do whatever kind of project I wanted which for me was professional wrestling.

"I started with one company and it just grew and grew to the point where I was photographing for major companies like the WWE."

Rich is now working towards a documentary book, painting a vivid portrait of the hugely varied subculture.

"You can actually gauge the type of politics in the United States as you travel around different shows," he said.

"States like New Jersey or Florida tend to get more violent with things like barbed wire and glass, whereas if I go to New York, there's a drag queen wrestling show which is much more inclusive.

"The wrestlers and characters change, so what might get a cheer in New York would be completely booed elsewhere. Politics can be like that too."

The often surreal nature of the events, he said, meant stand-out moments were never hard to find.

"I've seen wrestlers backflip off ladders about 30ft up on to crowds of people. I've shot a 'Tournament of Death' in a cornfield in Delaware," he said.

"They call it America's most violent sports event. I was in a farm in the middle of nowhere and I took portraits of all these bloodied wrestlers in the corn field."

Rich said it was all about creativity for those putting their body on the line.

"I spoke to one before who told me the wrestling ring was his canvas and his blood was the paint," he said.

"Some people go to an art class or play five-a-side with their friends. These guys like to get in the wrestling ring and try and tell a story. It's always changing and you never go to the same show twice.

"I've shot a lot of the big WWE names, although that experience can be a little less personal as it's such a big operation, but they will go to a lot of the independent events too.

"In 2017, I was at my first Ring of Honor show and the big surprise was that the Hardy Boyz were returning, nobody knew.

"When I was shooting through the curtain I got a tap on the shoulder, it was Matt and Jeff Hardy. They very politely said 'do you mind, we're about to do our entrance'.

"Usually I pride myself on being very professional but it's the one time I had to get a selfie because I was their biggest fan growing up."

Rich said he can never tell who will turn up at a show.

He added: "I was backstage in Madison Square Garden about a year ago for the WWE and The Undertaker was walking around before his entrance.

"So moments like that are really interesting. I still enjoy it as a fan and I'm always looking forward to the next show."

Belfast Telegraph

From Belfast Telegraph