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."
Photos used with permission from David Eulitt.