I made these photographs of oil wrestlers during practice sessions and tournaments in villages throughout Turkey during the summer of 2011. I gained entrance into the world of Turkish oil wrestling via respected referee Osman Cazgir, who introduced me to several wrestlers and offered to live and travel with him and his wrestling friends to practices and tournaments. Without this introduction, it would have been difficult for me to gain the trust of this highly traditional community – a community that in recent years has been impacted by gay voyeurism and foreign tourism.
While participating in oil wrestling training sessions, I quickly came to realize just how seriously its practitioners take the sport. You have to get your opponent off balance and totally dominate him, and the best way to do this is to get a handle on their leather pants. The matches are won on points, or if the opponent is lying on his back. In Turkey there are a few hundred wrestlers that are living well on the sport as professionals, with paid sponsors. It is the dream of many young Turkish men to one day become acclaimed professional oil wrestlers.