You don’t need to be a hardcore fan to have seen and appreciated the work of Richard Freeda. For the last 25 years, the man has been behind some of the most iconic photographs in the history of wrestling and sports entertainment. Although his name is unfamiliar to most, his tremendous body of work has helped shape modern American wrestling entertainment, journalism, live broadcasting, and arguably, even theater. In April 2020, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) organization finally saw it fit to immortalize the man’s contributions in a 12-minute mini-documentary.
ISO 1200’s report on ‘The Photography of WrestleMania with Rich Freeda: Making WWE’ makes it very clear that the influential photographer is also a beloved figure among WWE Superstars. In the documentary, Freeda recalls how he started working for the WWE in 1994. Back then, it was still known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), a sports entertainment organization that was quickly ballooning into a global phenomenon. The WWE hired Freeda after he responded to their ad looking for a photo editor in the New York Times. His first assignment was SummerSlam, a now-classic event in the annals of pro wrestling history, the main event for which was a historic steel cage match between Bret Hart and Owen Hart during the peak of their brotherly rivalry.
Although the WWF was significantly smaller then compared to the WWE now, the spectacle of live early ‘90s wrestling had Freeda hooked since that first day – during which he took his first iconic ringside shots. Thankfully, his previous job actually prepared him for this SummerSlam trial-by-fire. Before he answered the WWF’s call, Freeda had already spent several years sharpening his action photography skills as a sports journalist in Buffalo, New York, where he covered scores of Buffalo Bills football matches and Buffalo Sabres hockey games for different publications.
Interestingly enough, before he took that job in Buffalo, he never actually planned on becoming a photographer. His first encounter with a camera happened by chance, back when he was a college student who majored in computer science. In an interview with Adorama, Freeda revealed that he would’ve never picked up a camera if it wasn’t for a sports photographer friend who took him along on an assignment to cover a hockey game. Knowing how Freeda loved hockey, his friend handed him the camera so he could pretend to take shots and get closer to the action. Unable to help himself, Freeda eventually asked for a fresh roll of film so he could take pictures for real. “I took 36 mostly terrible photos, but I was hooked. I never looked back. I changed my college major from computer science to journalism and started buying camera equipment and shooting as much as I could.”
Rich Freeda has certainly come a long way since that faithful day. If it wasn’t for his ability to immortalize the presence and intensity of WWE Superstars on film, the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and The Rock might not be where they are today. For more than two decades, Freeda has been shooting countless ringside action photos, multi-light studio promotional shots, and documentary storytelling photos for the world’s foremost pro wrestling organization. WWE staff typically work 12 to 15 hours on normal television showdays, and up to 18 hours on the days leading to WrestleMania. “WWE is a grind, and it has been for a long time,” explains Freeda in the documentary. “But as the company has grown, the demands for photography has grown along with it.”
The Photography of WrestleMania with Rich Freeda: Making WWE is a long-overdue tribute to one of the organization’s most valuable behind-the-scenes talents. We’re glad that Rich Freeda is finally starting to get the recognition that he truly deserves.