Max Kandhola has been developing The Aura of Boxing since 1996, initially starting the project by photographing the ring itself, before becoming intrigued by the people behind the sport, and deciding to use his camera to document their journeys.
Boxing has a reputation for being hard, fast, and brutal. Some question whether it is a sport at all. Avoiding traditional fight displays, this exhibition fully aims to capture the often overlooked gentler spirit of athletes who step into the ring.
The exhibition is split into two spaces: in the main gallery Kandhola's work focuses on showing the urban gym environment, and upstairs in the mezzanine suite he displays gritty portraiture. Most of the photography is blurred, to give a frosted window effect. It means you have to look closer, sometimes stepping away in order to work out exactly what you're looking at. The effect gives a feeling of physical motion, which compliments the subject matter.
Athletes are shown in varying degrees of training, including skipping, press ups, and weight lifting. The photos show minimalist and occasionally oppressive spaces, with close walls and low lighting, accessorised only with a mirror and punch bag. The environment is raw and real, and the energy, effort and satisfaction of the participants working in the space is captured.
The portraiture is close, and cropped head and shoulder shots. Again they are blurred effect, apart from one in particular which is focused and shows a crisp close up of beads of perspiration on a young man's face. The portraits don't make it clear if they are pre or post fight, it is left to individual interpretation. The subjects could possibly be gearing up for their moment, or equally they could be relaxing and enjoying quiet contemplation afterwards. There is also portrait of Nottingham's own boxing legend, Carl Froch, presented with a beatific smile on his face. The photographs don't show any female competitors, but the reason could be that women's boxing is fairly recent to mainstream culture.
Professor David Scott, who worked with Kandhola describes the work as "A monotone blur of effort and fatigue".
The work has many parallels, at times it is possible to almost smell the sweat and effort of training, hear gasping breath as the leather bag is pounded; but equally the space in which the exhibition is displayed is airy, quiet, and really compliments the whole idea of the aura.
From the mezzanine gallery you can see the pictures in the main gallery, and the whole thing has a certain calmness around it. It is indeed a space for contemplation and thinking. It achieves a meditative atmosphere, not what is usually associated with the fast paced and vibrant sport of boxing.
The Aura of Boxing is exhibiting until Monday 21 April 2014, free. Max Kandhola is in conversation with David Scott and a professional boxer, Thursday 20 March, 6.30 - 8.30pm, free. New Art Exchange, Gregory Boulevard, NG7 6BE.
New Art Exchange website