Los Angeles-based photographer Christopher Baliwas has captured the LA First, a robotics competition held annually, known as the “Superbowl of Smarts” according to its organisers. 60 high school teams battle it out as they design, build and programme robots in six weeks to compete in a “sporting event of the mind.”
Capturing every moment of the big comp, Christopher starts the series with wide shots of the the main arena, giving glimpses of the the medieval-themed styrofoam obstacles that sit at odds with the wires and machines that whir around them. “There were hundreds of kids on one half of the arena drilling, inputting data, taking apart and reassembling their robots to get ready for competition,” says Christopher. “In the other half, teams were going head to head in the most insane looking course, and teammates in the stands chanting and cheering.”
These panning shots give the tighter crowd crops and individual portraits some context. “I felt that even though all these high school competitors had this one thing in common of robotics, they still had yet another unique identity outside of this tech world,” says Christopher. “It wasn’t like how things were perceived when I was in high school, where you were either a ‘jock’ or a ‘band geek.’”
All the emotions are recorded, from the jovial camaraderie to the inner turmoil and tension of the high schoolers. The real draw for Christopher though was seeing the teens working together: “It was super inspiring to see all these kids excited about creating and solving problems,” says the photographer. “Coming into all this, I thought I’d be on the lookout for crazy robots, but it turned out to be a bit more human driven at the end.”
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