Lauren Harris is about to graduate from University of Westminster in BA Photography. Her project ‘ The Boxer’ is a part of Free Range’s Photography Week 1 graduate exhibition, which is being showcased this week at The Truman Brewery. The project originally started by Lauren using archival imagery as an inspirational springboard, and quickly developed in to a full series. The exhibition includes 20 photographs, displayed as 20×24 inches prints. “Shooting on medium format deserves being able to print as big as you can because the quality is so crisp and beautiful. It’s expensive but it’s definitely worth it”, Lauren says, as she recalls spending many days and weeks printing her final prints in the darkroom. All the photographs have been shot using a medium format Hasselblad with a vintage Metz flash – Lauren’s previous work usually includes using a Metz flash light with a mix of natural light, but ‘The Boxer’ was the first project where the flash was taking dominance in the picture.
“I was flipping through my granddad’s photographs, that he had taken when he was in the army and I came across these amazing boxing stills. I never really knew that he did boxing, but I found pictures of him with his boxing gloves on, topless with all of his army tattoos. It was a side of him that I never knew existed, and maybe subconsciously it was a way to explore him. He has passed away so as a result I kind of reconnected with him through this project.”
She decided to approach The Islington Boxing Club as the focus of her project and told them that she wanted to document people during training sessions. ‘The Boxer’ was initially conceived out of curiosity into the brutal and visceral nature of boxing. The club space has a very outdated look about it, as it hasn’t been renovated or updated in a long time with it being a family run business, but they’re currently raising money for refurbishment. Everything inside is red, white and blue, which is very evident in the photos series.
“At the time, I didn’t know this was going to be my final project at university. I normally do documentary photography, but I’ve never worked with a group before. I normally go to a particular space and explore it for a few days or weeks and document what is there. I’ve never had to build a relationship with so many people.”
Once inside the club, everybody was extremely friendly. She spent a total of 6 months; observing, learning and photographing the whole club and people who are a part of it, getting to know each person that is involved in the club and understanding what the sport means to them. The club includes both men and women, and this photo series provides a different look at the sport of boxing, focusing on stiller moments of composure and vulnerability. Hyper-masculinity often fills the space, but through further observations you realise that there’s tenderness and compassion amongst boxers and their coaches. Lauren’s photographic documentation blends femininity and masculinity, leaving the viewer focused on what the sport consists of and not having any gender restrictions. Her relationship with the subjects has developed over time, allowing her to photograph participants of the sport after they’ve had a fight, including capturing bloody noses, fresh bruises and cuts. Contrasting against the usual focus on the brutality of boxing, ‘The Boxer’ provides the opposite view on the sport and masculinity as a whole.
“I remember my first day shooting there; they always train on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7-9 P.M. The first time I got there, I’ve opened the door and the sound was overwhelming, and the gym was testosterone filled. At first, I was intimidated by the space but later, the manager at the club told me that I just have to approach the situation by the horns. I felt welcome throughout the whole experience. In the beginning, I was taking the images from quite far away because I was hesitant to approach people. The best pictures I’ve made, were in the last 2 rolls of shooting because those are the times when I was close to them and there was nothing holding me back. At times, I felt like I didn’t want to go back and shoot anymore, but I think this is normal with longterm projects. You just have to push through the barrier of not wanting to create anything anymore, just keep going and you’ll get the good stuff. ”
You can see Lauren’s prints alongside the rest of the Graduate Exhibition at the Truman Brewery until Monday 24th June.