In August 2012, Jonathan Taggart had the opportunity to teach a documentary photography class at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, with a focus on the ethics and intricacies of personal projects. This series of posts shares some of the outstanding work produced by students in the Documentary Process & Practice class. Here Boreal presents Jonathan’s Q&A with Jesse Cahill.
Jonathan Taggart: Can you tell me what your project is about?
Jesse Cahill: My project was about all of the characters who meet at my local boxing club on a daily basis. I had been training at Tony Pep’s Boxing and Fitness in New Westminster for about six months and had become intrigued by the very broad and colourful spectrum of people that you could find working out there on any given day.
The diversity of characters at this place is really something else.
Tony’s club is in the basement of a plumbing business and in this small somewhat chaotic little space you have everything from retired champions to young kinds just learning. There’s some pretty hard luck kind of dudes mixed in with aspiring young amateurs…and then of course the guys like me who love to box just because.
Aside from a wide range in age a skill level there is also great diversity in culture. Aside from people who have been in New West forever, I’ve met people who have come to Canada fairly recently from Africa, India, there’s some guys from Jamaica…it’s like the UN in there some days and it’s great. There’s also a handful of female boxers including a couple of professional prize fighters that train at Tony’s. Unfortunately they weren’t around but I’m hoping to catch up with them soon.
I wanted to try to capture all of these unique individuals coming together in this unusual space that no matter how hard I tried I really couldn’t describe with words.
JT: Where did your interest in this project begin?
I had been shooting a ton of musicians and street stuff and was looking for something to push my comfort zone a bit both technically and in terms of subject matter. I’ve been boxing for longer than I’ve been a photographer but despite that it was still a stretch for me.
I guess also I just found myself drawn to these personalities. I mean we’re talking about people who hangout in a basement and punch each other in the face for fun! Who wouldn’t want to take pictures of that?
JT: What was the shooting experience like? Did you face any challenges in gaining access?
JC: Access was surprisingly easy. There were a few people who seemed uncomfortable but in the end it wasn’t really a problem. I guess they had seen me at the gym enough and perhaps because I was using an old film camera…
The actual shooting itself was a bit tough. Really bad lighting plus of course everyone is constantly moving. I didn’t want to be posing people and staging shots and I couldn’t use a flash.
JT: In class we talked a lot about the ethics of fair representation – making sure that the story we, as photographers, present to the world is a fair translation of our subject’s lived experiences. How did these considerations come into play in this project?
JC: I guess in this case that would go back to not wanting to pose people or stage shots. It would be fairly straightforward to pose someone, or two people sparring or whatever, to make them look like real pros. I think just shooting guys as they were working out or in the ring shows them as they really are. If you know a bit about boxing you can see which of the guys in the photos are more experienced (I think).
It’s maybe a bit more of a challenge to accurately capture some of peoples’ personalities and style in the gym. That’s definitely something more complex and much more compelling to pursue.
JT: We also spoke about the idea of ‘giving back’ – how our projects can help serve the communities in which they are based through various partnerships and outputs. How do you feel your project has benefitted those it portrays, and through what (if any) new relationships was this possible?
JC: I’m not sure about benefits. I didn’t really set out with any in mind.
I took a pile of 11x14 enlargements into the club last week and everyone seemed really thrilled to see pictures of themselves in action. I can see it adding a new sense of belonging for some of the younger kids which is definitely a plus. It’s great to be able to show diversity too. To be able to capture moments where all of these different people, from different backgrounds are coming together with a common interest. And to have it be no big deal…that’s really cool.
JT: In class we played with the idea of ‘identity’ – how our other pursuits, interests and affiliations can impact the way we approach projects. Were there any other aspects of your own ‘identity’ that came into play while shooting this project?
Sure. I’m a performer, I’ve been playing music on stage in front of crowds since I was fifteen. There’s always an element of “the spectator” in boxing too. Even if you’re just training and certainly when you’re sparring there’s almost always an audience of some kind.
I don’t really want to get my ass kicked in the ring but having an audience isn’t going to make it any worse. I had to remind myself that this might not be true for some of the other guys at the gym and I could tell that some would get nervous when they new they were being watched. In those situations I really had to be careful about not being a distraction. Just remind myself that not everyone is cool with an audience.
JT: What’s next?
More shooting at Pep’s for sure. I won’t feel like this project is anywhere near complete until I get some material with the female boxers and a few of the other top level pro fighters who I’ve yet to shoot.
I’ll be doing some shooting for a few recordings in the fall and then I’m going on a big tour in January. Haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do for the tour…maybe a series on airplane food or maybe all the ghetto drum kits I have to play…maybe both!Boreal Spotlight Jesse Cahill Boxing Emily Carr University photography documentary photography
Ian is honoured to have been selected for the 2013 CONTACT Portfolio Review Exhibition Award. From the CONTACT website:
“At the CONTACT 2013 Portfolio Reviews, Ian Willms presented two extensive documentary projects that he has been developing for the last few years. As Long as the Sun Shines looks at the effects of Canada’s oil sands extraction on the residents of indigenous reserves of northern Alberta, and Why We Walk explores the Mennonites’ history of pacifism and persecution by retracing their migration path across Europe.
The jury was highly impressed by Willm’s intimate approach to documentary photography focused on social issues, which is enhanced by his nuanced use of colour and evocative approach to black and white. As a result of the award, Willms will mount a solo exhibition in the CONTACT Gallery in early 2014. See more of his work at ianwillms.com”willms CONTACT Photography Festival Why We Walk As Long as the Sun Shines
Curated by Sevan Injejikian and Annie Sakkab
A Scotiabank CONTACT 2013 Featured Exhibition
Featuring Jamelie Hassan, Jin-me Yoon, Brett Gundlock, Annie Sakkab, Khadija Baker, Meral Pasha, and Mona Kamal
May 2 - May 26, 2013
Opening Reception: Thursday, May 2 from 6 pm - 9 pm
The Riverdale Hub Community Art Gallery
1326 Gerrard Street E
Toronto, ON M4L 1Z1
(Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim)
Private as Public: Group Show
Opening: Wednesday, May 1, 8pm-2am
Harbord Coinwash, 292A Harbord St., Toronto
Unofficial CONTACT Opening after party.
Facebook event page
New work by Brett, Ian and Aaron, as well as:
Eamon Mac Mahon
Going to be a great month in Toronto! Hope to see you at one or both of these openings.CONTACT Photography Festival Gundlock Elkaim Willms Toronto 2013