The Tribeca Film Festival is in town and one of the films I was most interested in was a documentary called Bending Steel about a man named Chris “Wonder” Schoeck who is training to become a strongman. Like sideshow Coney Island style bending bars over your head type strongman. I have always been fascinated with the sideshow and while I sort of hate magic, I love actual feats of strength that seem like magic. When I was a kid I learned how to blockhead (hammering nails into your nose) learned to swallow hot dogs whole with the idea that maybe one day I could learn to swallow swords. Two of my favorite photographers growing up were (and still are) Diane Arbus and Bruce Davidson who both documented sideshows and circuses and there was a time in my life where I really spent a lot of time researching and learning about this amazing culture.
Eventually my interest wained, mostly because there are only so many feats you can do. Unless someone is particularly innovative or captivating eventually seeing someone swallow a sword, eat glass, spit fire, etc eventually somehow gets old. But actual strongmen are few and far between. Sword swallowing is incredibly difficult and dangerous but I have seen dozens of people do it. But before Saturday I had never seen someone bend a steel bar into a bunny head.
Let’s get to the point here… After posting the trailer for Bending Steel on my Tumblr page I was asked to photograph the after party at The Red Door. Aside from free Sailor Jerry rum and a bunch of cute girls running around there was an amazing strongman show! Adam Realman, who hosts the Coney Island Sideshow Spectacular, hosted an evening full of incredible feats of strength featuring Chris “Harculese” Rider, Sonny “Man Of Steel” Barry, Steve “The Crusher” Weiner, Gary “The Brickman” Brown, Bill Solony and of course Wonder Shoeck himself. On top of that Cardone performed a straight jacket escape which is always impressive. The highlight for me was watching Adam Realman blow up a hot water bottle. It’s a feat I have heard about and seen online but never in real life. It’s legitimately terrifying waiting for the bottle to pop, especially being a few feet away from it. A piece of exploding rubber could honestly do some serious damage. Another highlight of the show was just watching the camaraderie of the strongmen. You had four generations of strongmen there rooting each other on. It was a cool glimpse into a world the most people never see.
I didn’t get a chance to see Bending Steel yet but I know it’s playing a few more times this week. Go see it if you live in NYC and if not I am sure it will get distribution and we will all be able to see it soon! Anyway, these photos are pretty cool but you need to see this stuff in real life to really appreciate it. Some of these guys are twice my age and they are beding steel like its tin foil meanwhile I seriously hurt my back trying to rip bubble wrap. Maybe it’s time I started strongman training!