Demolition derbies are spectacular celebrations of car culture, carnival culture, and a maximalist desire to be loud and destructive, all because… well, why not? They’re chaotic, a ritualized nihilism of automotive destruction, metal and mud everywhere, but in Ken Graves and Eva Lipman’s Derby, an understated poetry emerges from the scene. There is not a collision to be found; instead the couple focuses on the nuanced moments that surround the event, crafting images that are equally anthropological and expressive, yet surprisingly quiet and kind, revealing the inexplicable beauty of a community in complete control of its own entertainment.
As viewers, we become privy to an endless cycle of wreckage and repair. Before an event, amateur mechanics make ad hoc repairs with full knowledge that their hard work will be undone in half the time. Sisyphean to a T. Chicken wire replaces windshields and gangly teenagers gut the interior of someone’s former dream car, which they likely bought the day before for the price of an old lawn mower. The cars are merely something to use and abuse, and possibly provide some laughs along the way. Hell, you might even break a rib or two.
For more than three decades Ken Graves and Eva Lipman were partners in both life and art. Always shooting as a singular entity, they blurred the lines of authorship and shared equal artistic credit for their images.