Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden in Fight Club is one of the finest cult characters in modern cinema.
But Durden is just a story.
French photographer Thierry Le Gouès’ new book Havana Boxing Club shows the real fight club.
Le Gouès shot his breathtaking images on the island’s amateur boxing clubs, which have produced more Olympic medalists than any other country. That makes the clubs a beacon for Cuba’s impoverished youth.
It’s a world that would terrify even Tyler Durden.
Here Le Gouès talks about the best images from the book.
“I started shooting boxing in Cuba in 1996 when I was there working on another book, but I only started on this project full-time in 2006. I travelled to Cuba over a period of about eight years.
I loved the feeling of the clubs and the athletes when I first discovered boxing there. I got introduced to some of the trainers and developed a really good relationship with one of the coaches. He took me to meet all the boxers and to the training camps, which for a photographer is a dream.”
“Boxing in Cuba feels really old-school and vintage, like you would imagine boxing clubs to be in the Fifties and Sixties. They often fight in warehouses that are in total ruin, but they train so hard that they still produce so many champions. It’s crazy.
The places they train and the facilities are all old and almost fucked up, but because of that they’ve got a lot of charm. That’s why I stayed with black and white as there is something more nostalgic in terms of the colour. The pictures look timeless, and that’s how it feels when you’re there.”
“The street boxing was part of a festival in the Pinar del Río province. For five days they do a national competition in the street. It’s a village festival and the ring is a part of it. It’s really weird to see boxing in the street. I saw this two or three times and all the images I got from it are really cool.”
“I love boxing as it’s a sport with a lot of personality. Maybe not as much in professional boxing now, but it still does in amateur boxing, and Cuba is still very much like that. So I really tried to capture those characters. Cuba is full of them and a lot of the trainers and older guys involved with boxing are very photogenic. You can always find somebody with a great face for the camera, training like crazy.”
“I fell in love with the whole Cuban way of boxing as its one of the best amateur schools in the world. My work as a fashion photographer always gives me a different approach to shooting in terms of lighting and I used those tools in this project. I’m sure in the end you can see that.”
Havana Boxing Club is available now from powerHouse Books.
Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum