Heroes can raise and fall in the ring. A man can go from nothing to national hero in the span of a single bout.
[ visit the gallery of images here ]
I started this project a few years ago and stumbled across it just last week…It’s great to slow down and revisit your past work…you may find something that you missed, or you may find your interpretation and viewpoint has shifted, giving the images a new meaning.
Before beginning this project, I had not watched a boxing match since 1982. That year, I watched Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini defeat Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim. It was a brutal match and I found out several days later that Kim died from the beating he took in the ring that day. I vowed I would never watch another boxing match from that day forward. As far as I was concerned, boxing was a barbaric sport, one in which I would never allow my own children to participate. So, when I began working on this series, I was forced to come face-to-face with my own prejudice against the sport and it’s participants.
It was a chance passing of a boxing gym in Mexico that sparked my interest in boxing as a photographic topic. The building was literally overflowing with young kids, many of whom could not have been older than 7 or 8 years old! I could almost feel the excitement bursting out of the front doors. I was unable to stop and look around, but upon returning to Fresno, I immediately began looking for a gym to visit. Living in Southeast Fresno, a largely Hispanic area, I had no trouble finding exactly what I was looking for. Frank Aleman, the owner, graciously allowed me to spend a few days wandering around with my camera.
Approaching my first visit, I fully expected to find scared kids, pushed into boxing by their overly-macho fathers…perhaps re-living their own failed accomplishments and attempting to recapture their own youth through their sons. What I found, however, were caring, attentive parents who want the same for their kids as all parents want for their children: self-confidence, self-esteem, a healthy lifestyle, a sense of camaraderie, and, as is often the case in rough and tumble neighborhoods, a distraction from the gangs, drugs and trouble that plague most large cities. Indeed, these are all the things I wished for my own kids when I enrolled them in soccer, dance and piano classes. I met fathers who are former gang members and others who have turned to religion as they’ve grown older. All were good, caring parents.
It became immediately clear to me that the kids (mostly boys, but a few girls) were there of their own free will. They workout between 4-5 days each week, working hard on punching bags, jumping rope and sparring. The boxers showed no discomfort with the camera. They were quite proud of their affiliation with the boxing club and were the most self-assured kids I had ever met. Many may think of this as a way out of a difficult situation. Like many young athletes, many of these kids believe they will someday turn pro and becoming the next big thing…though statistics say otherwise. But clearly there are benefits that will stay with them for a lifetime.
This project was one of those gems that helped the photographer grow as a person and to widen his understanding of the world around. It has afforded me a better understanding of working constructively with my own prejudices. I hope to take this understanding with me into future documentary projects.
Jonathan, March 9, 2014 [ visit the gallery of images here ]