Lauren Harris always shoots on film – it’s a process that excites the London-based photographer and challenges her to hone her craft. “The element of surprise never gets old; I love the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what I’ve captured or forgetting what I’ve shot,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Film also encourages a more rigorous practice because of the restrictions it imposes: the large amount of time and money it requires means I have naturally become more considerate of what I am shooting.”
In her latest series, the young Londoner brings this steady and contemplative approach to the intensity of the boxing ring. A project she undertook during her final year at the University of Westminster, the initial idea for The Boxer came when Lauren found a box of her grandfather’s photographs taken during his time in the army. “The images were these amazing black and white shots of his regiment’s boxing team in the ring,” she recalls. Attracted by and curious about the brutal nature of the sport, Lauren set her sights on the ring, keen to understand boxing more and “the ideas of masculinity deeply embedded within its fabrics.”
Looking for a place to start, Lauren approached Islington Boxing Club near her home in north London. As an outsider, coming into such an intense, male-dominated environment was an overwhelming experience. “They train three times a week and each night the club fills with noise and movement; the coaches are shouting and the boxers are really in their own zones,” she explains. The bustle also came with a physical restraint – making it difficult for Lauren to get close to the action or the people at the heart of it. “To begin with, I was taking images from quite far away,” she recalls. “Often I was capturing their backs or creating still life images from back of the room.”
But as she spent more time at the club, getting to know the people and the environment, Lauren grew closer to her subjects and the intimacy of her images developed naturally. This time spent observing was crucial to the series and enabled Lauren to look further than the common stereotypes often pinned on the sport. "Naïvely expecting a performance of stereotypical masculinity amongst the boxers, I was surprised to unearth and capture a tenderness to the sport which often goes unseen,” she muses. “There is a great comradeship between the boxers and the coaches and it’s a community which provides so much support for its young people.” While there was the blood and violence she’d expected, it was the softer side of the sport that became the basis of the The Boxer.
Lauren’s images portray this disjunction beautifully, juxtaposing fragmented moments of softness and support with brutal fighting and sparring. It’s a contrast furthered by her choice of equipment with the bright Metz flash mimicking the harsh lighting of classic boxing photography. But while traditional depictions might tend only to bursts of action and violence, it’s Lauren’s decision to linger on the tender moments of rest and care that sets the series apart as “an alternative perspective on the sport and, more widely, masculinity.”