The grit and focus it takes to add to the ranks of Repton Boxing Club's 500 national champions is no joke. © Andrew Leo

The salvation of Repton Boxing Club for photographer Andrew Leo

Leo’s photographs offer a behind-the-scenes insight into the world of the internationally legendary Bethnal Green Repton Boxing Club, beyond its bruiser frontier. 

Andew Leo’s behind-the-scenes photographs of Repton Boxing Club training manage to bring out the blood, sweat and tears, as well as moments of humour and gentleness of these boxing giants. That might be something to do with the fact that as well as taking photographs, Leo has found training with Repton Boxing Club to be a bit of a lifeline himself.

Leo’s photographs put people and more specifically their characters upfront and centre. Whether he is capturing the boxing club, his local community or weddings, his focus is on the individuals that together tell a broader story.

In this collection, Leo uses the hard edges of the club venue – particularly the ropes of the ring – to frame the drama, assaulting his audience with the explosive energy each picture possesses. His use of colour is striking too. The photographs tend to ramp up the contrast and saturation so they are punching with vitality. There is something undoubtedly cool about these photographs – the essence of their photographer seeping through. 

In this instance, these effects powerfully illustrate the hard work, endurance and camaraderie of this illustrious club. They’ll be sure to get your heart racing, that’s for sure.

Like most of us, Leo took a rain-check during lockdown in the need to proactively combat the repercussions of isolation. He and his mate Jamie started exercising at the outdoor gym at Wennington Green, recognising the connection between exercise, mental health and remedial effects of community. 

Bethnal Green has been Leo’s home for the last 16 years, but it was at this moment that he got acquainted with some of the guys who box at Repton – the country’s oldest and arguably most notorious boxing club.

They invited him to come along and he knew he couldn’t turn down the opportunity. 

Leo remembers assisting a fashion photographer on a shoot at the venue 13 years ago where he was bowled over by how strikingly beautiful it was. Formerly a Victorian Bath House on Cheshire Street, the space hasn’t been touched for half a century retaining a film noir feel, making it an irresistible movie-set for the likes of Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Doing the training shots at the club you really got to see how dedicated, skilled and disciplined these kids are. I remember walking into a boxing gym for the first time with a camera and thinking these guys are going to hate me, but I 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! There were also a lot more women and younger kids than I expected, which is great.’

Leo now trains with the club every Wednesday morning, and other sessions when he can. He reflected on how important it has been for his mental health, alongside walking his neighbours’ gorgeous little sausage dog Frankie to get out and about. 

‘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’

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!

Find more of Leo’s work on his website and Instagram account.

Younger Repton Boxing Club participants train with older coaches, Bethnal Green
The grit and focus it takes to add to the ranks of Repton Boxing Club’s 500 national champions is no joke. © Andrew Leo
Repton Boxing Club participant looking focused whilst training, Victorian Bath House, Bethnal Green
© Andrew Leo
Young Repton Boxing Club boys training doing high kicks.
The hard graft of training starts young with Repton Boxing Club members. © Andrew Leo
Repton Boxing Club member preparing his fist strapping in training, Victorian Bath House, Bethnal Green
Preparation is everything. © Andrew Leo
Repton Boxing Club participant sticks his tongue out the camera whilst training.
© Andrew Leo
Young Repton Boxing Club member looks straight at the camera, Victorian Bath House, Bethnal Green.
This younger member shows a flicker of awe that training with some of the Repton Boxing Club greats inspires. © Andrew Leo
A moment of camaraderie that breaks from the fierce competition of the club. © Andrew Leo
Repton Boxing Club female competitor winner announced, as she jumps in the air celebrating in York Hall, Bethnal Green.
Repton Boxing Club competitor jumps for joy in the announcement of her win. © Andrew Leo
Young Repton Boxing Club boy smiles at the camera from the boxing ring whilst training at the Victorian Bath House
Leo’s photographs captures the adrenalin fuelled joy training brings for one of the cheeky younger participants. © Andrew Leo
Repton Boxing Club members skip in training in the Victorian Bath House, Bethnal Green
© Andrew Leo
Repton Boxing Club younger participants skipping in training, Bethnal Green
Skipping is not for the faint hearted. As the great Muhammad Ali said, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’…© Andrew Leo
4 younger Repton Boxing Club members hold their fists up in celebration, Bethnal Green.
The pride of victory begins young with the Repton Boxing Club elite. © Andrew Leo

 


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