Going to the Mat

“I trained in martial arts from an early age, and was always interested in all forms—including sumo,” says British-born photographer Craig McDean, who undertook to create the images of super-sized wrestlers that appear in his new book, Sumo (Morel), during a year he spent living in Japan in the early ’90s. McDean first encountered sumo the way a lot of Westerners do—on TV. But it was after visiting a training school in Tokyo that he began documenting his fascination with the gladiators of the Japanese sport. “I shot them off and on for a year,” says McDean, who will also unveil the images with an exhibition that opens September 12 at Half Gallery in New York City. “I really never thought about ever publishing the pictures at the time—I just photographed these men because I was living in Japan and I enjoyed the experience. But looking at the pictures now, I am inspired by the fluidity and elegance of movement of the sumo,” he says. “I came to befriend some of the wrestlers, even with the language barrier. Luckily, some of them spoke a Hawaiian dialect, so I was able to communicate with them a little that way. But I admired their dedication to the art and spiritual will.”

Photo: Untitled, 1993, Tokyo, Japan.