Derby Through a Lens: Jessica Lena Photography

One of the most enjoyable things to do in the days following a bout is to go through all of the pictures from a game once they’re posted on Facebook. We grimace at the still images depicting a painful looking hit, we smile at the funny moments captured in between jams, and tease one another for our intense game faces and epic falls. But none of these snapshot memories would exist if it were not for the extremely talented photographers that tirelessly support this sport by bringing it exposure.

So just who are these dedicated professionals who come out to immortalize us in all our glory?

To learn more about those behind the cameras I decided to talk with Jessie Smith, aka Ra Ra Riot of the Pile O’ Bones Derby Club (PBDC), who was one of the first photographers to snap pics of me in action early in my refereeing career. In fact, one of my all-time favorite pictures involves me intensely staring down poor Jessie when I probably should have been watching the pack.

Fear the gaze of Kevlar!

Just this past July marked Jessie’s 1 year anniversary as a self-employed photographer but her love for the profession began long, long ago. “I have always been interested in photography. I would say I have been fascinated with story-telling in many different forms, Photography just happens to be the medium that works best for me. I got started by just goofing around and taking photos for friends. I did a lot of homework, I read a lot, watched online tutorials, and practiced all the time.” On average Jessie takes approximately 500 photographs during any given bout of which she only keeps a third of. One of the biggest hurdles of taking pictures of derby is surprisingly not the speed of the sport but the lighting at locations. “Often times it is super dark in a venue. Unless you have the proper lighting equipment, getting crisp, awesome photos is a challenge.”

Jessie’s most well-known photograph is from a game between the Redneck Betties and PBDC Grave Diggers this past May 12th. In this particular photo, which is still circulating around Facebook today, she managed to snag a brutal photo of Ruby Rawbones (Gravediggers) landing on Funkie Bruisedher of the Betties. “It looks quite painful, but thankfully Funkie sustained no serious injuries. She still played the rest of the game,” said Jessie. “I like the pic because it shows how real the game is. Even though the sport is growing and popular, there are still misconceptions that it is a staged event.  This is very real, we don’t aim to injure other players but sometimes it happens. We play hard and try our best to help out our team.”

The fall felt around Saskatchewan.

But Jessie doesn’t just take pictures of the sport she has also been playing it for just over 4 years! Known to fans as Ra Ra Riot, Jessie chose her name based on what she felt were some of her most important qualities as an individual and athlete. “My derby name is Ra Ra Riot. I chose it because I wanted something that would sound fun and tough at the same time.  “Ra Ra” is the part to get people excited, it’s cute and fun. “Riot” is the aggressive/tough part. So I guess it is pretty accurate for my personality. It is important for me to treat other people with respect and have fun, however, sometimes you have to lay the smack down to get the job done!” She currently plays for two teams in Regina’s Pile O’ Bones Derby Club. She has been playing with the All-Star Sugar Skulls for quite some time now and just year joined the new PBDC house team the 306th Bombshell Battalion. “I love being a bombshell! I am really enjoying getting to know my teammates better. We have a very inclusive team. It’s important for everyone to get an opportunity to play and grow. I am so proud of how much my teammates have improved. Overall we are a very relaxed bunch of ladies who just want to have fun and try out best and stick up for one another. The term, “derby love” is thrown around a lot lately, but I think out team really has it.”

Besides playing the game and taking photos on bout days she is not competing in, Jessie also does many photoshoots with derby girls around the Regina area for posters and calendars. These shoots have time and time again been some of her favorite portfolios of work as she gets to play with various themes and really showcase her creativity. “One of my most favorite derby photography sessions was a derby poster photo shoot that Jacey ‘Bunny Slugger’ modeled in. Jacey had a huge, nasty looking hematoma on her butt/thigh from a game a week previous. I wanted to show it off with her derby attire, so I had her pose with her derby equipment and in booty shorts to show off her bruise to its full glory,” she explained. “I wanted to convey the idea that derby is a real sport, it’s raw, tough, and a whole lot of fun. I think this translated well in the photo because that is basically Jacey’s personality. She’s a no B.S, fun, strong, beautiful lady who can tear up the track with the best of them.”

“Even though the sport is growing and popular, there are still misconceptions that it is a staged event.”

Needless to say, Jessie is incredibly grateful for all of the business she has received from connections in the roller derby community and beyond. “I would just like to say that I am very grateful for all the love and support I have received in my first year of business. Word of mouth has been my best marketing tool, so I would like to say thank you to anyone who has helped me out!” But roller derby isn’t Jessie’s only photographic subject. She regularly receives business from many locals to shoot weddings, family portraits, baby photos, pin-up/glamour sets, and is currently working on a 365 project in which she has challenged herself to take at least 1 photo every day for 2012. To book Jessica Lena Photography or to see a portfolio of her work visit her official website at www.jessicalenaphotography.com or on her Facebook page. She can also be contacted at Jessicalena@gmail.com.

Catch Jessie, aka Ra Ra Riot in action tonight at the Caledonian Curling Club located at 2225 Sandra Schmirler Way in Regina, Saskatchewan as the PBDC All-Star Sugar Skulls take on the Oil City Derby Girls All-Stars from Edmonton, Alberta!

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4 comments

    1. Thanks Terri! Hahahah yeah I couldn’t stop laughing when I first saw it, totally didn’t realize I looked that serious while reffing and didn’t even recall the moment happening!

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