“Punching Back Time” Photographs Of Senior Boxers
Photojournalist David Eulitt recently completed Punching Back Time, a series of photographs that features senior athletes who at seasoned ages, strap on gloves and spar in the ring.
The boxers were participants in the 2nd Annual Ringside Masters Championship boxing tournament, a competition for amateur boxers ranging in ages from 35 to 75.
Eulitt is the type of photojournalist who can be put in any situation and walk away with impressive photographs. Eulitt has covered the past three Summer Olympic Games, shoots the Kansas City Chiefs during the NFL season and runs down his daily assignments as staff photographer at The Kansas City Star.
I reached out to Eulitt and asked him to give us some background on the project, what it took to create the portraits and find out more about his process.
“Last March, I saw a very small note in the Kansas City Star sports section about a senior boxing tournament and I was immediately intrigued by what that scene was all about. I couldn’t shoot it last year because I had college basketball assignments to shoot over the same weekend. I marked the idea down in my phone’s calendar for January of this year to start making some calls on finding out if it was going to take place again in March. Sure enough, I found the organizer who loved the idea of me coming out to do a story.
I asked my photo editor, Chris Ochsner, if I could get those two days to shoot the tournament. The Star has a zone tabloid section, 913, that comes out once a week and the tournament was taking place in that county, so that section editor tentatively signed off on it as well.
A story about men in their 60′s (and 70′s!) getting in the boxing ring seemed custom-made for me. My two favorite things to shoot in photojournalism are sports and portraits, so I look for any excuse to combine the two. I knew there would be some great faces and most likely, some great characters too. I had planned initially to make this a portrait photo essay only, getting the boxers to come over to my makeshift studio after their fights while they were still taped up and sweaty. The boxing ring was inside a hotel ballroom and there was just enough room in the corner for me to set up a backdrop and my lights.
I shoot with Nikon digital gear every day for my deadline work at the paper but for the portraits, I picked a Hasselblad 500 C/M with color film because, first of all, I look for any reason to make portraits with a Hasselblad and second, I saw this right from the beginning as working in print with a square format.
Looking at the roster, there were seven boxers over the age of 60, so that seemed like a good way to target the story. One boxer, who was from our area, was 56, so he made the final cut as well. The tournament featured boxers between the ages of 35 up to 75.
Just to be safe, I shot on color film, since I hadn’t really discussed black & white pictures in print with the section editor, plus I thought I should also shoot some secondary photos with my Nikon gear to support the portraits. I offered to write a short story about the weekend which the editors needed for the printed story.
After scanning the color film, I converted all the digital and film scans into black & white with Nik Silver Efex so all the images would match in tone. I was a little surprised when the 913 section editor, Grace Hobson, liked the pictures so much that she asked me who much space I wanted for it. It’s a rare thing in newspapers now to get the cover and 8 full pages inside the section.
One of the boxers wrote back to me, saying how much he enjoyed the images and now, it was time for me to get in the ring next year and fight. I’m betting against that.”
Michael Tarnoff, 75, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“Some of think it’s a little crazy to be boxing at my age. I know I’m an old man but even when you’re old, you want some excitement and it will keep you in good condition. If you’re gonna box, you’d better be in good condition and I think I’ve stayed in shape. When I was younger, I played football and basketball. In those sports, when you get to a certain age, you can’t play anymore. You can’t play basketball at 75….but you can box. There’s other older guys that have continued to box, so I felt like I could do it. I don’t really much worry about getting hurt but I worry about putting on a good performance, which I felt I didn’t do tonight, unfortunately, but other bouts I felt like I have done well. I started when I was about 18 years old and I boxed for about four or five years. I made my little comeback when I read about Masters boxing and older guys at Gleason’s Gym in New York. I went there, I’ve boxed there at least a dozen times now since my comeback seven or eight years ago.”
Joshua Dunlap, Jr. 69, of Riverdale, Georgia.
“I’m a reserve officer for the Atlanta Police Department and they want their guys in great shape. The public want their guys in great shape, so regardless of what your age, you’ve got the uniform on, you should be able to handle the job. I started boxing when I was in the Air Force in 1967. After 1973, (in a PAL recreational league) they changed the rules that anyone over 35 could no longer compete, so that just knocked me for a loop. I got involved in coaching after that. This is my first bout back in the ring. God has helped this body stay together. I’ve never been impressed by a (championship) belt. I saw these sitting on the table… but when I got it my hands, I’ve changed my mind, I love the belt, I want the belt, I’ve got it, I’m gonna keep it!”
Michael Rains, 64, of Overland Park, Kansas.
“I dabbled with it at the YMCA, I had an interest in it, then tried it it a little in college, then I didn’t do it for like 25 years but I played basketball all the time. I had to give up running sports so I started working on the bag at a karate club. They invited me to participate in some boxing. Where I was raised, you had to be able to defend yourself or someone would take advantage of you. Even at 64 years old, I don’t feel right unless I’m in some kind of shape. This is a nice belt….actually, this is my last fight, I’m going to devote my time to coaching now. I’ve got three of these belts now. I just made up my mind to stop after this fight.”
John Kennelly, 62, of West St. Paul, Minnesota.
“This is my fifth competitive bout. I walked into a gym eight years ago and had never boxed in my life. I kinda was doing aerobic kickboxing but never liked the kicking part of it and I always wanted to do some punching and lose weight. I’ve lost 40 pounds since I started boxing eight years ago. When you’re a Masters boxer, you have to have a physical and my doctor’s comment this year was ‘I don’t quite get your hobby but I’m glad you’re doing it. I like the competitiveness of it….there’s no hiding behind a team, there’s one person against another.”
Mark Woodside, 62, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
“I just started again about three months ago to get back in shape. I sparred a little bit starting eight years ago, for four years, then I laid off of it. It makes getting into shape more interesting. My goal was to get in shape, then someone told me about Masters boxing so I thought I’d give it a try, just to put a little more pressure on myself for training purposes. This is my first competitive bout. I felt like before I even got here that I had won because my training was successful. This is like the icing on the cake to actually compete, whether I won or lost was secondary. A lot of my friends and people that I train with at home don’t take me very seriously, it’s just this old guy practicing in a corner, so I thought I’d just see if I can surprise them.”
Bill Flynn, 56, of Prairie Village, Kansas.
“I got back into boxing about ten years ago, doing some sparring, then working out… It’s been a hell of a way for me to stay in shape, keep a little bit of a competitive edge. You don’t want to ask my wife (about my boxing)…she’s OK with it but preferred I didn’t, but the other people that know me are encouraging. We’ve got headgear and bigger gloves…they match us up according to our ability for the most part. It’s a contact sport, every once in awhile, you’re gonna get zapped.”
Scott Bretl, 53, of Port Washington, Wisconsin, left, landed a punch on the face of John Hermanek, 55, of Chicago, Illinois during the 2nd Annual Ringside Masters Boxing Tournament in Lenexa, Kansas on March 15-16.
John Kennelly, 62, left, of West St. Paul, Minnesota, landed a simultaneous punch with opponent Michael Rains, 64, of Overland Park, right, in the 2nd Annual Ringside Masters Boxing Tournament in Lenexa, Kansas on March 15-16. Rains won the bout.
Carol Tarnoff, left, sat with her husband, Michael Tarnoff, 75, center, both of Milwaukee, Wisconsin before Michael’s boxing bout in the 2nd Annual Ringside Masters Boxing Tournament in Lenexa, Kansas on March 15-16.
Ed Friedlander, chairman of pathology at Kansas City University of Medicine & Biosciences, left, working as the ringside physician, checks out boxer Joshua Dunlap, 69, of Riverdale, Georgia, right, before his bout in the 2nd Annual Ringside Masters Boxing Tournament in Lenexa, Kansas on March 15-16.
Photos used with permission from David Eulitt.