Raul Rodriguez is a photographer from Fort Worth, Texas. He graduated with a BFA in Photography from the University of North Texas College of Visual Arts and Design. His work uses portraits, documents, and the narrative discourse of photography to tell stories in documentary and contemporary forms. He examines the social and political landscape affecting the identities within urban communities surrounding him. In 2013, he received the Jean Andrews Scholarship during UNT CVAD Scholarship & Awards Celebration. Raul is also an aspiring curator and publisher of zines, working with artists and photographers that document similar realms of the social landscape within Texas.
Premier Boxing Club
“Premier Boxing Club” was a self-given residency I pursued at a local boxing gym in my hometown Fort Worth, TX. I called the trainer and asked if I could come in a couple of days out of the week and document, get to know and watch people train. I became interested in how the training can result in the development of rituals, meditation and a collectively calm atmosphere within the confined area. Fighters train amongst each other while remaining singularly involved within themselves, transforming an otherwise violent sport into a spiritual act of body and mind. The gym begins to resemble a religious temple, seeing how they shadow box, spar, and hold above their heads a devout and meditative aura.
AB: When did you first become interested in the sport of boxing? Have you any experience yourself?
RR: When I was younger I would go to the gym with a friend of mine and mostly watch him train and spar. I was more like a water boy but was always amazed at his technique and movements. I was just this skinny kid that looked like he could break with any punch. Im sure my parents did not encourage me because of that. I still watch boxing, its a traditional sport to me and my Mexican culture. After I finished the series I went back to Premier Boxing Club and took a couple of lessons. I suppose one of the reasons I reached out to a boxing gym was to ultimately start attending myself. All I can say is that it takes major dedication and discipline to be a boxer and hang with everyone who is in their trying to make this their life.
AB: What was it like being in the gym and watching these athletes practice?
RR: It was very tense but also very calm. Everyone gets there and they start warming up and gearing up knowing they’re gonna spar, but the process is ritualistic and spiritual in a way. Their mental preparation is comparable to notions of prayer and faith. Even the environment creates that mood. Dark in some corners and spot lights within the ring. They shadow box among mirrors and create beautifully fluid movements. Which is funny considering that its such a violent sport.
AB: Did you know any of these fighters personally? What are their stories?
RR: The first day I walked in someone already recognized me. Micheal is younger than me but I used to skateboard with him and his brother Sammie when we were growing up. Sammie passed several years back. R.I.P Sammie Martinez. I slowly got to know more and more of the boxers and found I some how knew one of two of their friends, so and so. It was a really good way to feel comfortable taking the images and them be comfortable with having a camera in and around the gym. I love the stories that came out of there. Everyone is fighting for something. You don’t start boxing in a local gym on the east side of town without having something you are fighting for. You can see it in their eyes.
AB: Can you tell me more about what the series means to you and what message you were trying to convey by creating it?
RR: I like to explore communities that are constantly fighting. Something like boxing is essentially the heart of it. Its literally fighting, and the lessons and outcome are something you can learn from. A lot of boxing images are action shots. I definitely did not want to do much of that and focus more on the atmosphere and rituals within the gym. I wanted to take beautifully lit photographs of boxers and was lucky to reach out to Premier. At the time, they were training out of some used to be car garage with only two large doors at each end. It made for nice dramatic light. I love my city of Fort Worth, TX and want to document the communities and people that occupy it.
AB: Can you tell me more about your publication “Deep Red”?
RR: Deep Red Press is a photo based publication working with photographers in Texas that are exploring diversity themes and stories within the state. My vision is to have several zine style photo books that showcase the people, land, ideas and identities that make us up. The name Deep Red comes from the political affiliation we are often tied to on the national scale; a deep republican state. Essentially, I wanted to appropriate that term and flip the table showing the real kind of people existing here. I reach out to photographers working in Texas that document socially conscious themes in the state and ask to work together for zines and online features. We are working on the next book titled, “Flatland” featuring the work of Dannie Liebergot. It’s been amazing to watch the publication grow.
AB: Do you have any new bodies of the work in the making? Any plans for the future?
RR: I like arching storylines and will be pursuing another boxing project next. I don’t know exactly what I will do but I would like to focus on just one individual fighter and document his or her life. For now, I’m going to continue photographing, publishing and showing in exhibitions. At some point I want to go back to school for my M.F.A but I would like to create more work before feeling confident enough to do so. Maybe I will go back to the gym myself.