Andrew Leo’s searingly beautiful photoessay captures the spirit of the legendary boxing club that was his salvation during lockdown.
Andrew Leo’s behind-the-scenes photographs of Repton Boxing Club brings out the blood, sweat and tears as well as the moments of humour and gentleness of Bethnal Green’s boxing giants.
Shot on a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR camera, Leo uses the geometric edges of the club venue – particularly the ropes of the ring – to frame the drama. Going deep on contrast and saturation the images assault viewer with explosive vibrancy.
Leo first discovered the club assisting a fashion photographer on a shoot at the venue 13 years ago. He was bowled over by the beauty of the building. Formerly a Victorian Bath House on Cheshire Street, the space hasn’t been touched for half a century. It retains a film noir feel making it an irresistible movie-set for the likes of Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
During the pandemic he turned to the club as a way to help with the isolation during lockdown. To this day, he trains with the club every Wednesday morning and says it has been his salvation. He is also a big advocate of starting children young with boxing, and wishes he had tried it earlier in life himself.
‘Boxing helps release any anger in a controlled way, as well as gain confidence and respect at school (no one bullies a kid who boxes!), and become part of a gang of mates who compete together. There’s great sportsmanship around it too’
‘I think there is a stigma attached to it that you’re just going to turn into a bruiser. But I think I would have actually had less fights out on the street growing up if I had taken up boxing,’ says Leo.
Having got to know the crew at Repton they welcomed his request to document the training sessions.
‘There were a lot more women and younger kids than I expected, which is great’ says Leo. ‘And I really got to see how dedicated, skilled and disciplined these kids are.’
Walking into a boxing gym with his camera for the first time, Leo thought ‘they’re gonna hate me’ but he couldn’t have been more wrong.
‘It’s a real mishmash of people but everyone is so friendly and appreciative of what you’re trying to do. I mean, if I was in that sort of shape I wouldn’t mind someone taking some photos of me either!
‘It’s also so much harder than you think, it’s a proper skill and there’s so much to learn. I used to think you would be good if you were big and could punch hard, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s like a dance.’
Leo got into photography when he went on holiday with an old disposable camera. A friend of his had studied photography, so he started to ask questions about why you needed to have the sun behind you etc. He discovered that, in fact, you didn’t – you could do what you wanted with it.
When not armed with his camera, Leo enjoys Globe Town market (and swears by Marc’s fruit & veg as well as Del’s fish), absorbing the style of Ken and Mark at Whistles Boutique on Roman Road, getting his bike fixed at Paradise Cycles and making use of the nearby lido and surrounding green spaces.
He reminisces about his best memories of the area being in ‘2012 at the time of Olympics. There was an atmosphere here that we haven’t seen again since. It felt like the world was alright and we were all going to get on brilliantly from then on’
Leo is a big advocate of starting children young with boxing, and wishes he had tried it earlier in life himself.
‘I think there is a stigma attached to it that you’re just going to turn into a bruiser. But I think I would have actually had less fights out on the street growing up if I had taken up boxing. It’s also so much harder than you think, it’s a proper skill and there’s so much to learn. I used to think you would be good if you were big and could punch hard, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s like a dance (which I’m terrible at!)’
Non Viscara…Non Gloria ~~ No Guts…No Glory!