I have always been fascinated with boxing culture– both the sport and the culture behind it. I remember watching tons of Rocky movies growing up, and loved the skill, determination, and physical/mental endurance that boxers had to endure to become great fighters.
After learning a few moves in boxing myself, I had about two weeks before heading back to California. So I took those two weeks to do a mini-documentary project on the boxers in the gym, with my GoPro Hero 3 strapped on top of my Ricoh GRD V.
I wanted to make these GoPro videos to illustrate how I was able to build rapport with the fighters in the gym (including the very young in this video above) and how I photographed them (how I got them to move around, the angles I used, the use of flash/without flash, as well as how many photos I took).
Shooting documentary-type work has always fascinated me– but I never had a project or location I felt passionate enough to photograph. Luckily enough, this project at Gallo Boxing was something that kept calling me back.
Phase 1: Staring the project
When I first decided to start to photograph the boxing gym, this is a brief outline of what I did:
1) I first started off by entering the boxing and introducing myself to the staff of the gym–letting them know that I was a photographer and that I wanted to do a documentary project there. I also offered to share the photos I took of the gym– for them to perhaps use in future promotional material. They were cool with it.
2) I first felt uncomfortable in the gym– as I didn’t know anybody or the proper etiquette to follow when in the gym. I started off by building rapport with the gym owner–interviewing him, asking him about the history of the gym, and his philosophies on boxing.
3) I then started by observing everything that happened in the gym, without even picking up my camera. I walked around, and put on some gloves, and tried to fit in by working on the punching bag myself.
Phase 2: Feeling more comfortable
The first day or two I visited, I took very few photos–from a distance. However as I returned to the gym over and over again, people began to recognize me and I started to chat with more people that I met.
Whenever I saw something interesting that I wanted to photograph, I would turn on my GoPro on top of my Ricoh GRD V and started to shoot photos and also record the footage.
One big way I was able to build a sense of trust and intimacy with the boxers I photographed was to talk with them and also show them my LCD screen. Boxers love to see photos of them — and I also did them all a favor by emailing them the photos I took after I got home.
Phase 3: Leaving
On the last day, I started to feel very comfortable in the gym– and I regret not having more time to pursue this documentary project. So on my last day in Michigan, I told everyone at the gym my goodbyes with a heavy heart. But they also gave me some contacts in California — so perhaps I can continue document boxing gyms (and also learn more boxing myself).
I still have a lot more to learn about documentary photography– but stay tuned, I have a lot of these GoPro videos queued up to release the next week or two :)
Neopan 1600 Preset
I just made a new grainy b/w preset for Lightroom 4 (optimized for my Ricoh GRD V) that I am using for my project. You can download it for free here.