Elle Perez went to her first underground wrestling match a few years ago, on a whim. The fight was scripted, just like WWE, but rather than being broadcast on TV for an audience of millions, it was performed in a Bronx rec center for a hundred-odd fans. The black and Latino fighters were from the borough, like Perez, who was then just starting an MFA in photography at Yale. Feeling inspired by the way they used their wrestling personas to experiment with new identities, she started hanging around and making pictures with them. She called the series Raw. Here, alongside some of her favorite images, Perez explains the process behind them and why wrestling means so much more to her than pile-drivers and backflips.
Everyone has experienced that false dichotomy of your essential identity: the boxes people put you in versus how you imagine yourself. Online, and wherever we can control our own image, we play with constructing the identity that we desire. Wrestling is another way of doing that, and doing it in a way that is playful. You can access a certain kind of sexuality, or a comedic identity. I think wrestling is important for people in my community who are denied certain types of identities and can’t be anyone they want in the “real” world. You can be anyone you want in the ring.