At age 10, Andréanna Seymore was whizzing around the old Hampton Bays roller rink with her friends when she wiped out, knocking the wind right out of her.
That was it. She vowed to never skate again.
Now 39 years old—and a retired roller derby player—Ms. Seymour laughs at the memory that kept her out of skates for decades before she finally laced back up in 2008 for a two-week photography assignment capturing roller derby women.
The assignment stretched a little longer than she expected—five years and approximately 70,000 pictures. With a new perspective, Ms. Seymour fell in love with the sport, an affair culminating in her debut monograph, “Scars & Stripes: The Culture of Modern Roller Derby,” an intimate look at a world unseen by most, hitting bookstores later this month.
“I realized quickly this would be a difficult world to infiltrate,” Ms. Seymour recalled last week during a telephone interview, “because they were wary of photographers at first. But once I started to skate, I always had my camera with me, so I got access to things that other photographers would not get normally.”
Born and raised in Hampton Bays, Ms. Seymour discovered her love for photography during her junior year, quickly leading her to take weekend courses at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan—where she earned, in 1997, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography.
The rest, she says, is history.
With credits ranging from New York magazine to Fortune, the professional photographer came up with the idea for roller derby through general interest. She approached New York Times Magazine with her pitch and, soon after, was on her way to Feasterville, Pennsylvania, with an assistant, to cover what has since been dubbed the East Coast Derby Extravaganza.
Ms. Seymour met some resistance from the tight-knit group of athletes. To ease the women’s minds, and to gain their trust, Ms. Seymour did the unthinkable. First, she learned the intricacies of the sport. Then, she hit the rink.
She immersed herself in roller derby—a sport involving two teams that race in the same direction around a track; a designated scorer earns points by lapping other players. The sport can get violent, as teams will do anything possible to stop the person from scoring.
After her assignment with New York Times Magazine ceased, the amateur moved upstate to join one of the smaller leagues in Albany, the All-Stars, before switching to the nearby Hellions of Troy. There, she found her vision for the project and worked up the confidence to approach the larger, Manhattan-based teams.
But Ms. Seymour needed the talent to back her up—which was the hardest part, she admitted. After several months of practicing, and learning the best ways to fall, she eventually got the hang of it, oftentimes with a camera in her hand. It earned her the nickname “Point N Shoot” in the rink.
After a year of intense training and research, she returned to her roots to join up with the Bethpage-based Long Island Roller Rebels before retiring from the competition four years later with countless memories and thousands of photographs.
“I pulled myself out of a lot of games to work on getting shots,” she said. “For me, it was hard to focus on being an athlete and being a photographer. It just didn’t go hand-in-hand. But because they were so familiar and so comfortable with me being around, I still had the same feelings [as being in the rink]. I had embedded myself in that culture.”
Sitting on the sidelines—often recovering from an injury—the photographer developed an eye for the best shots to take, when to snap them and how. But she was no longer just shooting the women of roller derby. The project had evolved. By the end, she was capturing her friends.
One day, Ms. Seymour was seated next to Captain Morgan, the founder of the Long Island Roller Rebels, who wore a personalized mouth guard for every match. Just before they got into the rink, the photographer asked her to look up and smile. Instead, her teammate gave her a playful snarl, revealing the word “Captain” scrawled in white script across the black rubber protecting her grin. And, of course, Ms. Seymour has the photo to prove it.
During her years competing—she has since retired to playing recreationally with the Gotham Girls in Manhattan—Ms. Seymour formed a network of friends across the world. If she found herself abroad on a photo assignment abroad, she would always look up the local teams and practice with them, camera in hand.
“Everyone was really supportive,” she said. “I felt like a backpacker, part of a circus crew that would go town to town, and people would welcome you to do this.”
With the book finally coming to fruition, Ms. Seymore is happy to be sharing the experience with her close friends.
For Deer Park-based skater “Breakneck Brie” Lepa—who was Ms. Seymore’s carpool buddy to and from Long Island Rebel practices—the coffee-table book has earned her some boasting rights. “It is really neat,” Ms. Lepa said last week during a telephone interview. “I have been bragging and telling all of my friends and family. I have been having fun, with rubbing it in to people.”
The photo-selection process was a painstaking one, Ms. Seymour explained, which started after retiring from competition last year. Not only does the final product pair the photographs with an interview from each skater, it shows the evolution of roller derby over nearly a decade.
Skater Jean Schwarzwalder, who goes by “Suzy Hotrod” in derby circles, explained last week during a telephone interview that roller derby is now a sport for people uninterested in traditional sports.
“I wanted to be different,” said Ms. Schwarzwalder, who wrote the book’s forward. “So roller derby was just, I had played in a punk band and it was a sport that came up out of similar roots, so it was a natural fit.”
Currently, Ms. Seymour is focused on the book’s release, slated for Tuesday, October 28, before traveling to Puerto Rico for her destination wedding.
And waiting for her at the end of the aisle will be fellow roller derby player Tim Travaglini, who skates for the men’s New York Stock Exchange team.
“I am totally excited,” she said.
For more information on Andréanna Seymore, visit andreanna.com.