When we last spoke to photographer Neil Bedford, we were intrigued by his ingenious method of pairing two disparate subjects across a single publication to create new meanings and associations. Since then, Neil has worked on numerous commercial and personal projects, one of these being Round One of the newly founded boxing zine, Twelve, in collaboration with Catalogue Design. The zine focuses on British boxing personalities. “In alphabetical order,” Neil tells us, “we shot Conor Benn, Issac Chamberlain, Joe Cordina, Frank Buglioni, Daniel Dubious, Charlie Edwards, Carl Frampton, Mark Heffron, JJ Metcalf, Richard Riakporhe and Anthony Yarde, in addition to covering Finchley Boxing Gym, the gym that brought Anthony Joshua to the boxing world, as well as having the highest number of amateur fighters in the UK.”
As Neil describes it: _“Twelve started through a conversation with a dear friend, Thomas Howard. We used to work together when he ran a production company and he often mentors and discusses ideas with me, even though he’s no longer in the industry. He’s given me many briefs over the last three years, but finally one stuck and we both really ran with it. We didn’t know how we’d start, and initially we looked into all aspects of boxing, but then through Tom’s sheer persistence we were invited to photograph the one-time British champion Frank Buglioni while in training camp for his fight with Fanlong Meng, which opened up a lot of doors for the remaining ten professional boxers to be shot.”
Speaking of his choice of subject matter, Neil says: “I love shooting sports and athletes, but various sports in recent years have changed through commercial wealth and, at times, the athletes seem to carry an air of arrogance, which doesn’t always sit well with me. So when Tom mentioned boxing I instantly knew it would work for me, as it’s a sport that has enormous wealth but genuine integrity too. The gyms that most of the guys train at aren’t multi-million-pound training facilities, and not one of the boxers turned up with an ego or a manager saying you have seven minutes to make your shot.” As such, Neil’s pictures capture not only the sporting aspects of the British boxers, but their characters and personalities; training shots are interspersed with closely cropped, relaxed headshots and intimate portraits in settings such as the changing room.
Underneath the toughness and bravado demanded during fights, Neil was surprised by the variety of characters he encountered during the project. He tells us: “Daniel Dubois was very reserved, very shy and very self conscious, but a real sweetheart. He has all the potential to be a real star in a heavyweight division, yet when the camera was in front of him he lost all the toughness I’d just witnessed in the ring. Anthony Yarde, however, had all the swagger of a future World Champion and oozed confidence – which makes anyone a pleasure to shoot. Richard Riakporhe, who at 15 was stabbed in the chest and nearly died, is an unbelievably sweet human being. Lastly, I’ve watched Carl Frampton for a while so meeting him was a bit of a fanboy moment – and he didn’t disappoint. He was one of the most ferocious fighters I documented for Round One, but as soon as he finished sparring he came over and asked me to take my time and get all the shots I needed, before buying me a drink.”
Neil’s principal aim with the project is, he states, “to try and create something beautiful that might not already exist within the boxing world”. He says: “Boxing can be a very glamorous sport at the top end, when fighters like Antony Joshua are reportedly being paid upwards of £40m for a fight, but that’s the part I really wanted to avoid. The showmanship of it all, the trash talk, the big sell for the crowds. When I shoot AJ – and I’m feeling pretty confident that I will – I want to be at his mum’s with him making me a tea, rather than at his fights in sold out stadiums.”
With Round Two already in the works – promising a focus on female boxing – Twelve delivers an insight into the world of boxing that goes beyond the sporting event and the physicality of the fighters to shine a spotlight on individual characters, their personalities and their vulnerable strength.