Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

An intimate, lyrical and poetic portrait of wrestling in Senegal

July 27, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Two men wrestle in Dakar, Senegal. (Nico Therin/)
Men grapple with each other as they compete in Dakar, Senegal. (Nico Therin/)

Nico Therin has been a photographer for 10 years. As a curious child, he was attracted to form and color, but it wasn’t until he moved from France to the United States for college that he entertained the idea of studying photography. After exploring the medium for a while, Therin realized what he liked about it: It gave him an excuse to spend time with people who are different from him, and “the photographs end up being the by-product of honest moments that I’m lucky to have shared with my subjects.” It is no surprise, then, that Therin would eventually find himself in Senegal, where he came face to face with wrestlers there.

Before heading out to Dakar, Senegal, Therin did some research about Senegalese wrestling and became connected to a man named Lut Pathe Boy who goes by “Big Pato.” Big Pato is a Senegalese wrestling champion who also happens to be a police officer. Therin says that Big Pato was with him throughout the project. Of Big Pato, Therin says, “He’s an incredible athlete with a huge heart. He once told me, “I get up in the morning to serve others.” He was with me at every moment while I was there and really helped me carry out the project. I was so lucky to have spent time with him, and we still keep in touch.”

In the beginning, Therin was drawn to the Senegalese wrestlers purely for aesthetic reasons. But after delving into the subject and doing more research about the sport, he was drawn in by its mystical aspect as well. Therin told In Sight that one of the most positive moments he experienced while working on the project was “the moment that I realized how intimate and graceful the peak of the combat actually is. It’s what shaped the way I captured the wrestlers.”

Therin says that wrestling in Senegal is so prevalent that you can see kids practicing the sport in the streets and on the country’s beaches. Therin’s images of the wrestlers paint an intimate, lyrical and poetic portrait of the men who take part in what is a national sport in Senegal.

A wrestler lays on the sand in Dakar. (Nico Therin/)
A wrestler flexes his muscles in Dakar, Senegal. (Nico Therin/)
Sand covers a wrestler’s clenched fist. (Nico Therin/)
Wrestlers are entangled while practicing Senegal’s national sport. (Nico Therin/)
A wrestler in Dakar shows off his muscles. (Nico Therin/)
An overhead view of men wrestling on the sand in Dakar. (Nico Therin/)
A close-up of sand-covered men grappling with each other as they wrestle. (Nico Therin/)
A portrait of two wrestlers in Dakar, Senegal. (Nico Therin/)
A close-up of two wrestlers in Dakar. (Nico Therin/)
A portrait of two wrestlers. (Nico Therin/)
Sand coats the skin of a wrestler in Senegal. (Nico Therin/)
A wrestler lies in the sand in Dakar. (Nico Therin/)
Wrestlers stand together in Dakar. (Nico Therin/)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

More on In Sight:

Thousands entered the iPhone Photography Awards contest. These are the winners.

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Haunting images of life on the St. Lawrence River in Canada


Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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