Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice & the Will to Survive in American Boxing Gyms

Photographs by JIM LOMMASSON 

STOOTS Fine Photography is pleased to be the agent for Portland photographer Jim Lommasson’s stunning series on America’s fight club culture.  Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice & the Will to Survive in American Boxing Gyms and its forthcoming publication, documents a seven year commitment to mining the remarkable enclave of inner city boxing gyms, shining a bright light on its mentors, its prodigies and its heroes.

Piecing together a collective history, Mr. Lommasson worked closely with the renowned novelist Katherine Dunn, who wrote the establishing essay for the book.  In 2004, Jim Lommasson and Katherine Dunn were awarded the esteemed Dorothea Lange – Paul Taylor Prize for their work on this series and their book Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice & the Will to Survive in American Boxing Gyms is to be published by Stone Creek Publications spring 2005.  (The Lange Taylor award is given annually by The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University to encourage collaboration in documentary work in the tradition of acclaimed American photographer Dorothea Lange and writer and social scientist Paul Taylor.)

Since 1998, Mr. Lommasson has traveled across the United States visiting the toughest boxing gyms, in the roughest neighborhoods of the inner sanctums of our major cities.  From famous big city gyms to the unknown hole-in-the-wall clubs of over-looked neighborhoods, these photographs reveal a relatively unknown and, for the most part, misunderstood American institution. Mr. Lommasson’s images tell of the part that the gyms play in the fighter’s lives—from childhood to adulthood—and the significant role they have in the inner city.

Shadow Boxers shows the gyms for what they are:  fight factories, sweatshops. Most of these gyms exist in the most dangerous and devastated neighborhoods in overgrown cities.  The gyms reek of sweat, pounding leather, blaring music, barking trainers, and determination and yet this document also exposes a sensitivity to pride, courage and hope.  Mr. Lommasson has exposed the jewels within these dark dungeons—the fight clubs prove to be an enclave for the underprivileged and a source for strength, physically and morally. There is a proud tradition of the gyms, shown by the tattered posters that cover the walls, autographed glossy photos, and boxing gear—a visual and oral chronicle of the history of boxing.

The gym’s trainers and proprietors sustain these shrines to the sport and, at the same time, give its patrons an outlet for self-betterment.  To that end, many of the boxing gyms have after school programs for kids and the fee for entry is a report card of good standing.  In these dank, fierce places, children who might otherwise be without, can find mentors; despite the brutality of the sport, the irony is that they are nurturing, welcoming places that teach, above all, discipline.  Lommasson attests, “the trainers are the heroes, they want to bring peace to the neighborhood …and maybe a contender, too.” It’s the trainers who are the real champs.  Lommasson says, “Shadow Boxers is dedicated to the trainers.”

An insider’s vivid, surprising look at a world most of us never get a chance to see – a world of battle-weary veterans and bright-eyed newcomers, of surrogate fathers and ancient skills and a sanctuary from the mean streets just outside the door. Not to be missed.

–Geoffrey C. Ward, author of Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Jim Lommasson’s web site:
Oregonian Article: click here