September 11, 2012

Is a photo worth 1,000 words? In women’s roller derby, yes!

Posted by WARREN PERLEY – Editor,
Writing from Montreal

We’ve all heard it said that a picture can sometimes convey the gist of a moment better than words. Some of us writing long feature articles are very cognizant of just how critical photos can be when dealing with a plethora of text in need of complementary visual elements. Especially when the story is about a fast-paced, colorful sport, such as women’s flat track roller derby, which requires seven referees and 15 non-skating officials to keep track of the action in each match.

So when I ventured forth to cover my first Montréal Roller Derby game on July 21, 2012 in anticipation of writing an in-depth story about the phenomenon of this burgeoning sport, I asked graphic designer Karen Boor to accompany me as a photographer. She snapped some good shots at that double-header and at the championship game two weeks later, on August 4, 2012.

Luckily, along the way we met some professional photographers and filmmakers who happen to love roller derby. They all made their photos available to us for our story.

Adam Chard was at the July double-header involving a match between La Racaille and Les Contrabanditas, as well as the second game between New Skids On The Block and Skate Free or Die.

Adam works as a freelance designer and photographer under the name Croatoan in Cardiff, Wales, taking photos of gigs and bands, and specializing in the design of concert posters and album artwork. 

He is the official team photographer with the Tiger Bay Brawlers of Cardiff. “I love the team, I love the sport and I love being involved in the derby world,” Adam told me. “My girlfriend Jen Clawed van Slamme skates for the Brawlers and it's been inspirational to watch her play and develop, especially when she was chosen to captain the Brawlers’ ‘B’ team, as well as skate on the travel ‘A’ team!” 

Adam was on vacation in Toronto for the summer when he visited Montreal for the July double-header. Prior to that, he covered the GTA Rollergirls’ Fresh Meat Tournament in Toronto. His work can be viewed at

Sean Murphy was shooting at the Montreal Roller Derby championship game of August 4, 2012, which was a rematch between La Racaille and Les Contrabanditas. As well, he photographed the action at the first Roller Derby World Cup in Toronto in December 2011.

Sean was interested in photography for years, but never got serious about shooting until December 2010. His grandparents were involved in photography clubs and contests in the film era, and his father has numerous wildlife photography credits. Sean started out covering roller derby practices, learning to overcome the challenges of indoor, high-speed, low-light action.

He is currently head photographer for the Renegade Derby Dames out of Alliston, Ontario and has covered women’s flat track roller derby matches throughout Ontario and Quebec. Sean is a founding member of the Roller Derby Photographers' Association and a participant in f/2.8: Fast Glass Around The Derby Track. His roller derby work can be found at

Jean-François Poirier provided us with photos of Dance Animal, which bills itself as “The World’s Only Comedy Dance Tribe”, and which provided high-energy entertainment at the intermission of the July double-header.

Jean-François is a software developer with a long-standing interest in photography. His very first camera was a Minolta X-700 in his teens, which then turned into a Canon Coolpix 995 and finally a Canon 30D.

His fascination with event photography was revived when he met the members of Robin Henderson’s Dance Animal at the Fringe Festival in 2009, telling me he was instantly “transfixed by their energy and personalities.” After he re-designed their website, he “gladly jumped in and played the role of paparazzi”, shooting photos of Dance Animal’s various appearances, including halftime at Montréal Roller Derby.

Jean-François, who does freelance web design and development, can be found at

Denver-based filmmakers Ron Patrick, Robin Bond and Dave Wruck provided us with photos taken during the filming of their fast-paced documentary titled Derby Baby! The film, which had close to 200 screenings scheduled in cities around the world between June and fall 2012, explores why women around the world are flocking by the thousands to play flat track roller derby.

Revenues from the screenings are available to be used as fund-raisers by women’s flat track roller derby leagues around the world. In addition, DVDs and Blu-rays were scheduled to be sold online at with a sizeable percentage of the gross revenues going to the charity Plan International, which promotes children’s rights and fights children’s poverty in 50 developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

When Toronto-based photographer Joe Mac snapped photos at the December 2011 Roller Derby World Cup in Toronto, it put him on the radar of derby leagues and publications around the world.

He had been introduced to roller derby action just two years earlier, at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival where the Hollywood movie Whip It! was screened; he photographed Toronto Roller Derby players skating around Yonge Dundas Square, shouting Whip It!

“I knew I was hooked,” he told me. “Little did I know at the time, I would eventually become one of the photographers at Toronto Roller Derby.” 

His “blood began to boil” when he heard that the first ever World Cup would be held in Toronto and he was subsequently engaged by event organizer Blood & Thunder Magazine to be an official photographer at the December 2011 tournament. These days, he travels extensively around Ontario shooting roller derby and is also covering games in New York state, always looking to “capture the magic moments in derby, on and off the track.”

For our story, Joe supplied us with the photo showing the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup team MVPs posing together in Toronto with tournament MVP Smack Daddy of Montréal Roller Derby. His work also appears in the documentary Derby Baby! and he is a contributor to Canuck Derby TV.

Joe’s derby photos can be viewed at:

Last but not least, many thanks to Montreal Roller Derby — — and its communications director Plastik Patrik for allowing us to use photos from their team site shot by Dany Boivin and Anne Keough.


For those readers who might be interested to know the origins of the expression, “A picture is worth 1,000 words”, here is some journalism history which may surprise you with its intellectual connections to women’s flat track roller derby.

Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936), a New York City reporter who went on to become editor of William Randolph Heart’s New York Journal, was quoted in a March 28, 1911 article in the Syracuse Post Standard as saying in relation to journalism and publicity, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

Time magazine reported that Brisbane’s syndicated column had a daily readership of over 20 million, which represented one-third of the U.S. population at the time. When Brisbane died in 1936, Hearst said: “I know that Arthur Brisbane was the greatest journalist of his day.”

Upon Brisbane’s death, Damon Runyan, an author and newspaperman who started as a sports writer, was quoted in Time magazine as saying: “Journalism has lost its all-time No. 1 genius.” This is the same Damon Runyan who convinced film publicist Leo Seltzer in the mid-1930s to turn roller skating marathons into a competitive contact sport which has evolved into women’s flat track roller derby.

Arthur Brisbane’s dad, Albert Brisbane (1809-1890), was an American utopian socialist who wrote books and articles in support of that movement, including a weekly column in the New York Tribune founded by Horace Greeley (1811-1872), a reformer known as one of the greatest editors of his day. Utopian socialism supported the principle of autonomous cooperative enterprises, which also happens to be the basis for the 21st century revival of women’s flat track roller derby.

Albert Brisbane’s theories of utopian socialism were themselves based on the works of French philosopher Charles Fourier (1772-1837), who is credited with coining in 1837 the word “feminism”, which again comes full circle when applied to the empowerment of women through the revival of flat track roller derby.

So it seems as though much of the egalitarian philosophy underpinning the revival of women’s flat track roller derby has been “skating” through the annals of history.

[See teaser below]

Published: SEPTEMBER 2012
Sassy, flashy roller derby chicks skating like hell and kickin' ass

Reporting from Montreal

It’s a sports phenomenon sweeping the world: a punk subculture of fishnets, tank tops, spandex and short-shorts stirred in a frenetic cocktail of full-body contact skating. Women's flat track roller derby attracts athletes ranging from the ordinary to the stars, such as Smack Daddy (inset) of Montreal Roller Derby, voted tournament MVP at the first-ever Roller Derby World Cup, and Suzy Hotrod of New York City’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby. It's more than a sport; it’s a lifestyle. Join us at the rink and at the bar to find out why these gals love to play and party hard!

9,066 Words | 41 Photos

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