The photographs from Swamp Buggy Days explore a world unfamiliar to most Americans: the long-standing Florida tradition of swamp buggy racing, and the culture that surrounds it.
The sport originated in the early 1900’s when hunters built vehicles that would penetrate deep into the Florida Everglade, using scrap metal and parts salvaged from old Model T Fords and Hurricane planes. The racing potential for these homemade buggies was obvious from the start.
The Swamp Buggy Races, and the buggies themselves, have evolved over the years. The site for the races has moved several times, the buggies are bigger and faster (and more expensive—the best of them now costing up to $100,000) and no one uses them for hunting anymore. The spirit of swamp buggy racing has remained remarkably unchanged, however. It is still an intensely patriotic yet distinctly Southern pursuit, and one which reflects the nature of the predominately white, tough, hard working families who take part in the event.
Racing swamp buggies is something passed down through the generations, from fathers to sons (and now, increasingly, from mothers to daughters). My own interest in the event also comes through family. I’m a fourth generation Floridian. My great uncle was one of the first ever racers, and my father attended the events when I was a kid. It was much rougher then—there was a lot of drinking and the men still carried guns in holsters. But despite all these layers of connection, I had never seen the races myself until I started this project in 2002.
Since then I have been back many times and I have tried to capture, through my photographs, the feeling of being in Florida—the heat, the mosquitoes, the close-knit community. I grew up in the same kind of environment as these people, and now that environment is fast disappearing, victim to urban planning and ever-expanding golf courses. Working on this project has been a way of exploring and preserving both my own heritage and a threatened facet of American life.
Malcolm Lightner is a freelance photographer living in New York. He teaches at the School of Visual Arts and Media Bistro. More of his work can be viewed at http://www.malcolmlightner.com.