“Halting things in a fraction of a second can transform something that looks chaotic into something graceful,” said the photography professor, who has been teaching at HSU since 2006. “It almost looks like a dance.“
Hill captures the beauty and brutality of the full-contact combat sport in a new series of photographs, _Unarmed,_ which will be part of a traveling exhibition in Germany this summer.
Before venturing into MMA, Hill photographed the everyday, such as dogs and baseball fields in Nebraska where she was teaching at a community college in Omaha. After moving to California, her subjects ranged from sheep and sheep shearing to ATV trails.
But it was the highway 101 billboards for MMA fights that piqued her interest. Fascinated by the sport’s machismo and the pomp and circumstance of fighting events, she turned to an acquaintance who introduced her to an MMA trainer. With his help, Hill went to a gym in Eureka to watch amateurs train and eventually fight in front of exuberant fans.
Part boxing, part wrestling and part martial arts, MMA is a relatively new sport. In 1993, eight men who fought with different techniques were pitted against each other in a chain-link cage. From that event, known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, MMA was born, according to Slate.
Today, the UFC is a behemoth organization that features the world’s top professional MMA fighters. UFC fights are televised in more than 100 countries and territories in 28 languages, according to the New York Times.
Hill points out that Googling the term “mixed martial arts” brings up MMA’s glamorous side. “You see glossy, sexy pictures of muscle, and stoic people with arms crossed and fists up,” she said. “I’m trying to show something along the edge of that experience that is unexpected for subject matter.”
The unexpected included moments of tenderness, she said.
“The fighters are very friendly people who care about each other. When they’re fighting, they make sure the other person is okay,” said Hill.
Since 2013, Hill has explored these seemingly paradoxical sides of the MMA. Here is the sport and the fighters through her eyes.