I wanted a shot of a guy working the heavy bag. That’s all.
“When do you want to come in?” Sam, the manager, responded. The hardest part was not getting into Wild Card West, Peter Berg’s westside brother to Freddy Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Gym in Hollywood, but getting up the nerve to get in the ring.
Boxing is intimidating.
Not so much because of the aggression, but because black and white boxing photography is among the most hallowed images in the history of opening a shutter. I’d never dared to try it. As a photographer, I struggle every day to put my stamp on something. To make it my image, my style. That’s the fight I fight. Step into the boxing ring and you’re automatically paired up against the best in the world.
So, I brought the Noctilux.
It’s not a first choice lens for shooting sports of any kind. Manual focus at 0.95 is ridiculously hit and miss. I’ve shot manual focus since 1983 — I consider myself about as quick at it as anyone — but it’s far from a sure thing. Most of the shots are going to be tack sharp in areas I had no intention of being tack sharp in. But I had under an hour to shoot and I just needed one. One shot of a guy working out on the heavy bag. One punch.
Like a cast iron skillet, the extra weight of the Noctilux is in direct correlation to the quality of its build and like the cast iron skillet, I use it for a certain kind of quality end product. With 8 elements, superbly broken up into five painstakingly crafted groups, it’s the only lens that can that artfully blur a background while still giving a nice sharp point of focus. It satisfied my feeling of what I needed there — a gym is a busy place, so the objective is to get some abstract representations of the larger objects of the room and let the body expressions carry the images. I wanted a loose sketch of a boxing workout. Charcoal. And there’s no better lens for that kind of feel than the Nocti.
I got in, paired up with a guy who was down to have me shadow him. I slowed to 1/90th of a second to let some of the punches blur and to just loosen it all up a bit. I had a 6-stop filter on to let me stay wide open with the morning sun streaming in. It was just me, the M and the Nocti — a boxer and his gloves.
Slowing that shutter speed down really helps get out of the head space of trying to get something “perfect” and more into the flow of the sport. Guys throwing their fists at a heavy bag — there’s force and physics, movement and muscle. Slowing it down meant I could use the swings and jabs in broader strokes.
I danced around the bag with Robby here, took a wide stance and kept my weight low as we moved left to right.
You feel the rhythm and click in time with the punch. Listen to the trainer to get a sense of what hit is coming.
I squated down and leaned back against the mirror — I was up against it, time was running out. I watched carefully as they circled. I saw an opening develop under the arm of the trainer and decided that the next time they came around, I was going to be prepared. This was the shot. I just had to land it.
Raging Bull, I loved that movie. Of all the images that swirl in my head from the boxing archives, of all the boxers who stood iconically in that ring, it’s that lumbering, head down, steely-eyed stare of LaMotta’s as he stalked his opponent that tops the list. I feel like that when I shoot — I hunt it down. I bully that shot. I stare at it, square up, squat down and charge it.
As Robby circled around this last time, he came really hard at the bag. I noticed he had a pretty powerful punch that he could pull out when he wanted to. It’s not always about the big hit, but still, this time around he really let loose. I don’t know what was in his mind, maybe he really was fighting in there. He eyed down that bag like it was Sugar Ray Robinson. Came at it real hard. I knew the small hole was going to be there, the focus was already set for that spot. I threw the punch and just like that, for one day, boom, it felt like the fight was over…
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