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Pugilist is a photo documentary based on the lives of a group of British boxers who train out of the Peacock Gym in the East End of London. An ar… Read More
Pugilist is a photo documentary based on the lives of a group of British boxers who train out of the Peacock Gym in the East End of London. An area that is steeped in tradition and community spirit, which became synonymous with the ‘blitz’’ during World War II. Boxing, like photography is both an art form and a science, but unlike photography boxing is a brutal and unforgiving occupation. It is one of the few contact sports that exist in this often-sanitised world. It is a sport that permits two men, protagonists to enter a ring, an arena and allows only one to leave the victor Boxing history and traditions are well recorded and known and it’s roll call of heros go back through the ages. Immortalised in brief moments of often brutal artistry is etched in our memories and has become part of our century. Who remembers the ‘thriller in Manila’ or the Tyson, Holyfield ‘ear biting’ incident. These men that you see in my photographs willingly put themselves in harms way. Who are they? Why do they push themselves to such physical extremes that would leave many of us, myself included, crying like babies? What makes them undertake weeks, months and years of hard grueling training regimes for sometimes fleeting minutes of fame in and out of the ring? It’s an even harder question to answer when you realise that most, if not all these men hold down an everyday job, some are married, some are fathers with all the responsibilities that come with the job… These men are not Alis, Tysons and Lewises of the world. Few, if any of these men will never get within arm’s length of a thousand dollar pair of stitched silk shorts let alone wear them. They all rarely climb into the ring to a fanfare of applause or be watched by millions around the world. And the million-dollar purse? These are things of dreams. Instead, they go about their ‘work’ quietly, putting hours and hours of demanding physical effort that punishes both mind and body in the hope that it will strengthen their resolve in their battles to come. Usually under the watchful, parental eye of a trainer they embark on a regime of speed bags, heavy bags, skipping, sparring and roadwork with a devotion that resembles religious fervor. The ‘novices’ build their endurance to give and take punches. They sharpen their reflexes to the point where they can ‘throw’ a punch faster than the eye can see. They develop ring skills handed down from generation to generation adding their own distinctiveness in the process. Boxing isn’t just about the ability to throw a ‘knockout’ punch it’s about the ability to take a punch and to absorb the power of those punches, whilst remaining focused. It’s also about the boxer’s ability to ‘dance’ around the ring as the pursuer or the pursued. An ability that was taken to the highest level by probably one of the greatest exponents of the game, Mohammed Ali and the famous ‘Ali Shuffle’. We have all seen or heard about the films ‘Raging Bull’ and the ‘Rocky’ series which evokes the stereotypical images of ‘’rags to riches’ rise of the celluloid pugilists and their eventual fall from grace, only to rise again has been echoed in the real world of boxing at the highest levels. But, the world that these men live in is very different. So, why do they do it? They all enter the ring with only one intention, to win! The ring separates the winners from the losers. That is what the ring is there for. The ropes that surround the ring were originally devised to keep the spectators away from the fighters when the first boxing matches were held in fields, now serve as restraints for the fighters. Containing them, forcing them to face each other until one wins and the other losers. The fight takes on an almost ‘ritual’ feel a performance on a brightly lit stage where some of the player’s entrances panda to the desire to make money and to become famous often at their expense. The audience, watch from the darkness adding to the theatrical almost religious feel of the event. For us the spectators, we usually only remember the victors, the losers are relegated to the back pages of our newspapers. Despite the public’s instant forgetfulness, these boxers who lose do not speak or even think of losing as we do. To them there is no concept that their defeat in the ring denotes failure on the part of the loser. Instead it is understood that defeat is going to be the obvious conclusion for one of the men that enters the ring. For these men the pure act of competing, of putting their skills and abilities against another, transcends the dictionary definition of the verb to fail. By entering the squared ring, both boxers lay claim to their individual right to win. However, defeat is part of the ‘unspoken’ contract between fighters, as one man’s defeat is necessary to allow another man to be triumphant. As I started this project I had always wondered how, immediately after fights of such animalistic ferocity between two men who, moments before were intent on inflicting as much physical damage on each other as possible, could then as soon as the final bell rang embrace each other like lovers. This seemingly ‘strange’ behavior’ is at the heart and soul of boxers and boxing. It is rare that there is ‘real’ malice between these men. The hostility between the fighters, seen at the weigh-in is usually contrived for the benefit of the press and fans alike, it’s good TV. It’s also used to ‘freak’ out your opponent and there was no greater an exponent of the art than ‘Mohammed Ali’. Both pugilists know that they need each other to make a ‘good fight’. If their opponent puts up a determined battle, they know that their success will be seen as even greater. But, once the fight is done and the desire to ‘kill’ each other is over, the victor can accept the adoration and the glory. But, he does so in the knowledge that he has required his foe to fulfill his part of their unwritten agreement to fight and to fight well. In doing this he earns the admiration of the winner and with the match over both men can give each other quarter, an act that couldn’t be shown in the ring, allowing respect borne of victory and honor in defeat. So, why do they do it? For some it’s the discipline that they lack that is inherent in the sport. For other’s it is the chance to express natural aggression ‘legally’ in a controlled environment. But, for the majority it is a chance to live their dream. A dream that doesn’t mean living in a council estate, that doesn’t mean being on the bread line or living on the street begging for money or, making it anyway you can. After everything, it comes down to money, simple hard currency. In these days of political correctness, a quote from former WBC heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes may make us squirm a little but I think it says it all, “its hard being black, you ever been black?” I was black once, when I was poor”. Larry Holmes’s statement has the ring of simple honesty and truthfulness about it that could only come from someone who has fought his way to the top of his profession. Perhaps, this is the simple truth, the gritty honesty that makes these men face their opponents and themselves in an unforgiving sport. For it is in the ring that the language of deceit is stripped away. In this world of petty day-to-day politics and career maneuvering will not be of any help to you. Paul Simon sang, “In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade.” And in that clearing we can see maybe see ourselves, fighting, cleanly and honestly for a chance to succeed, to win. I was lucky enough to have won the confidence and trust of this very close knit community and in doing so I hope that my images have captured the passion and the blood, sweat and tears that these men endure on a daily basis in little known sweat stained gyms. I make no cause for or against the sport of boxing but I have admiration for anyone who is dedicated and passionate about what they do. To try and succeed against all the odds and not be afraid to live. Winners or losers, they all have something in common. They try and be the best they can maybe, that’s what it’s all about Read Less
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Pugilist We have all seen or heard about the films ‘Raging Bull’ and the ‘Rocky’ series which evokes the stereotypical images of ‘’rags to riches’ rise of the celluloid pugilists and their eventual fall from grace, only to rise again has been echoed in the real world of boxing at the highest levels. But, the world that these men live in is very different. So, why do they do it?

Pugilist is a study of a group of East London boxers based at the Peacock Gym in Canning Town. This two year projects documents the day to day life of these boxers feom their grueling training routines to their osten brutal and bloody battles in the ring. They all enter the ring with only one intention, to win! The ring separates the winners from the losers. That is what the ring is there for. The ropes that surround the ring were originally devised to keep the spectators away from the fighters when the first boxing matches were held in fields, now serve as restraints for the fighters. Containing them, forcing them to face each other until one wins and the other losers.

The fight takes on an almost ‘ritual’ feel a performance on a brightly lit stage where some of the player’s entrances panda to the desire to make money and to become famous often at their expense. The audience, watch from the darkness adding to the theatrical almost religious feel of the event.

For us the spectators, we usually only remember the victors, the losers are relegated to the back pages of our newspapers. Despite the public’s instant forgetfulness, these boxers who lose do not speak or even think of losing as we do. To them there is no concept that their defeat in the ring denotes failure on the part of the loser. Instead it is understood that defeat is going to be the obvious conclusion for one of the men that enters the ring.

For these men the pure act of competing, of putting their skills and abilities against another, transcends the dictionary definition of the verb to fail.By entering the squared ring, both boxers lay claim to their individual right to win. However, defeat is part of the ‘unspoken’ contract between fighters, as one man’s defeat is necessary to allow another man to be triumphant.