A little slice of history that I've become enamored with is the era of the Bare Knuckle Boxers. Back before there were cage matches, before the UFC, WWE, and all of the major boxing associations, there were the Bare Knuckle Boxers of the late 1800's. Their stories, exploits, and photography of these fighting men are captivating. I was hooked and knew that I wanted to put together a wet plate shoot inspired by the men of this era. A little about one of the most famous...
The Pugilists of the era, like John L. Sullivan were giants among men. He was known as the, "Boston Strong Boy". Aside from the politicians of the day, he was the most widely known man of his day and was easily the most successful fighter of his generation. John took everything to excess. He fought like a bull, went on crazy drinking binges, chased women, and spend his winnings on a lavish lifestyle. In today's world, TMZ would have been ALL over him!
Prize fighting was illegal in most states, so many of the matches were arranged by either going around the law, or sometimes, just paying them off in the early days. As the cops liked a good fight as much as anyone, it was the latter that sometimes worked best.
He was a celebrity before the term was coined. Imagine this...he was the most widely known man of his generation in a world where the news travelled by horse and carriage. His boasting and bravado was something that Muhammad Ali would have appreciated.
"My name's John L. Sullivan and I can lick any son-of-a-bitch alive!"
Cincinnati, Dec. 9, 1880
To the Editor of the Enquirer:
I am prepared to make a match to fight any man breathing for any sum from one thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars at catch weights. This challenge is especially directed to Paddy Ryan and will remain open for a month if he should not see fit to accept it.
Respectfully Yours, John L. Sullivan
On July 8, 1889, an estimated 3000 spectators watched John defeat his nemesis, Joseph Killrain in an epic 77 round slugfest. It's mind boggling to think that this could happen in today's world, but back then, the fight wasn't over until one of the fighters was knocked out or one side threw in the "sponge".
Although the world didn't know it at the time, but this was to be the last bare knuckle title fight ever. John reigned supreme for 10 years. He was the last bare knuckle champion, and the first gloved champion, paving the way for modern boxing as we know it. Some say his record was 35 wins, 1 loss and 2 draws, with 30 wins by knockout, but this does not count the over 200 off the books illegal fights that John had throughout his career. He was a legend of a man.
I can't even scratch the surface of the stories and history, so I'll pass you along to one of the best historical books I've read in a long time, "The Manly Art". I highly recommend it.
A special thanks to Vinay Sharma and Sebastian Beckman, who assisted me during the shoot. The shoot would NOT have happened without them. These guys were supermen during our 12 hour day. Thank you!
Photography: James Weber
Stylist / Co-Creative Director: Cynthia Altoriso
Stylist Assistance: Sigalit Magen
Hair and Makeup: Daryon Haylock
Wet Plate Assistance: Vinay Sharma
Photo Assistance: Sebastian Beckman
Painted Backdrops/Studio: Broderson Studio
Well, there it is...
Once again, I can't thank my team enough. Everyone was outstanding. Daryon made Baptiste's hair come alive, Cynthia brought the boys back to the late 1800's in her styling, and the beauty of wet plate brought everyone back a century. It was a pleasure...
- 8x10 camera
- behind the scenes
- black and white
- dark box
- fine art
- FUSION MODELS
- giant wet plate camera
- james weber
- james weber photographer
- james weber studio
- new york city
- STUDIO 225 CHELSEA
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