Mile O' Mud
Photographs (c) Malcolm Lightner
"I've been delighted by Malcolm Lightner's 'Mile O' Mud' series for several years now. His photographs capture the country culture surrounding Florida's Swamp Buggy races. I can almost hear the racing engines propelling the swamp buggies through the mud with a chorus of cicadas singing along the banks. These photographs bring out the southern roots in me – gators and pistols, mud wrestling and beauty pageants, Budweiser and BBQ – images full of my favorite rednecks and they are proud of it. Southern charm at its best."– Elizabeth Avedon
THE PROJECT: Before embarking on my “MILE O' MUD” project in October 2002, my encounters with the swamp buggy races consisted of a few abbreviated visits to the track as a child, with my mother, who was not interested in the races but in locating my father, who had gone missing for several days.
I began to photograph swamp buggy racing to pay homage to my family heritage and to document what I consider to be a rare slice of Americana. On my first visit to the track, I drove into the parking lot of the Florida Sports Park, heard the engines of the buggies roar, and witnessed the great plumes of water trailing behind the boat-dragster hybrids. I could feel the vibrations from the raw horsepower pound against my chest, and it almost took my breath away. I thought to myself that this was going to be fun! The races occur three weekends out of the year, and I managed to make the trip at least once a year from 2002 to 2013 except 2005, when the races were cancelled due to Hurricane Wilma.
In my own mind, this project felt like time travel. I experienced firsthand the people and culture that were a large part of my parents’ life that I never witnessed but that felt somehow defining. Initially, it was the buggies themselves that attracted me, though I soon began to discover endless narrative possibilities and connections among the drivers, spectators and enthusiasts. I unveiled family connections that I did not know existed and heard numerous stories about my father, who had the reputation of a hard worker in the plastering and construction community. He was an all-around tough guy, someone you would not want to mess with.
I came to understand Swamp Buggy Racing as a metaphor for life’s daily struggles and the innate drive to overcome obstacles against great odds while trying to maintain a sense of humor and grace. The races demonstrated to me the All-American desire to compete to win as well as the power of family and community.
MILE O' MUD BY MALCOLM LIGHTNER
Introduction by Padgett Powell and Essay by Malcolm Lightner. Clothbound Hardcover, 12.125 x 11.875 inches (landscape), 136 pages. Photographs: approx. 86 in color. PowerHouse Books: November 2016