Mile O’ Mud, a forthcoming photo book by Malcolm Lightner, documents the world of swamp buggy racing, a subculture unique to Lightner’s hometown of Naples, Florida. SVA Close Up recently spoke with the longtime BFA Photography faculty member, who is also the department’s director of operations, to learn more about his project and the little-known sport.
Swamp buggies, Lightner says, were first built in the 1940s as a means for local hunters to traverse the marshes of the Everglades. What began as an annual buggy race held to kick off the hunting season gradually grew to become a new sport, with its own association, corporate sponsorships, prizes and media coverage. At one point, ESPN even televised the races.
Though one of his great-uncles was among the first swamp-buggy racers, Lightner had little to do with the rowdy, rough-edged pursuit while growing up. “I lived a block away from the beach,” he says. “All I wanted to do was skateboard and surf.” After finishing his education and moving to New York, however, he started thinking more about his roots, and a 2002 trip to Naples to photograph one of that year’s events began a decade-long process of documenting every aspect of the races: their competitors, their fans, their grounds and concessions, even their ancillary beauty competition.
The resulting photographs comprise Mile O’ Mud, which, pending the successful conclusion of its current Kickstarter campaign, will be published by powerHouse later this spring. The book will feature an introductory essay by celebrated writer Padgett Powell, who accompanied Lightner to a 2013 competition where they witnessed, among other things, one of the sport’s grisliest accidents in recent years. Of that day’s high-speed races, Powell writes, “It is a sufficient aberration of sanity that the idea of insanity and the word itself, insane, fills the brain looking at it, and the people looking at it are thrilled and want to watch it all day.”
For more information on Mile O’ Mud, click here.