Photographer Sol Neelman might be the only person in the world who can say he narrowly survived being knocked unconscious by a rogue bronco at Oklahoma State Prison’s annual rodeo. “I briefly forgot who the president was,” Sol Neelman tells Co.Design. It’s something he's proud of as documentarian of the world’s weirdest sports.
On top of prison rodeos, Neelman has shot lingerie basketball, live monster wrestling, lightsaber fencing, flaming tetherball, and 200 other hilariously deranged games. The Portland-based photographer had so much success with a 2012 book, Weird Sports, that he’s compiled a second, Weird Sports 2, which will become a reality in Spring of 2015 if it’s successfully funded on Kickstarter.
“All these events have a commonality: costumes, cheap beer, and laughter,” he says. These sports are more colorful and visually driven than traditional ones, though their perceived "weirdness" is sometimes just a matter of perspective and cultural conditioning. "I remember when snowboarding was seen as weird," Neelman says, "but now it's an Olympic sport." (He hopes flaming tetherball will follow a similar path.)
Neelman was initiated into this world of non-traditional athletics in 2005, when he shot the Rat City Rollergirls roller derby league in Seattle. After that, “someone asked what I love to do, and I said well, I love sports, photography, travel, and weird shit. And I just had this epiphany that photographing weird sports is what I wanted to do.” Neelman is laughing with, not at, these freaky athletes, though they don’t always trust that--the president of a combat juggling association once refused to be associated with the book because he didn’t want to be dubbed “weird.”
Weird Sports is Neelman's passion project, but he makes his living as an editorial and commercial photographer. “I’ve shot two Olympics and college sports and presidential campaigns and things that sound important on the surface, but access is limited and the photo ops aren’t always very interesting,” Neelman says. He much prefers shooting naked bicycling and Ostrich racing--something you can help him keep doing by clicking here to support the Kickstarter campaign for Weird Sports 2.