Gritty gyms bring have their own a kind of rough and visceral beauty. There are great characters with tough and battered faces who show us their blood, sweat and tears in real surroundings. Photographer Kenneth Ruggiano in Tulsa, Oklahoma understands that beauty. He has started an on-going personal project on Team Lethal Boxing. Team Lethal Boxing is a boxing gym located in Tulsa and owned by Cecil "Lethal" Pettigrew, a former professional boxer who has operated the gym for more than 17 years. In an age of high-tech gyms catering to the latest fitness fad and look, Team Lethal Boxing is anything but. There is not a single amenity for comfort, as it should be, and that includes air conditioning. You can hardly take a step into what is often a sweltering environment without seeing a piece of well-worn equipment held together with duct tape—a true badge of approval. For just $25 a month, anyone can train with the lethal Pettigrew and get one-on-one attention in the ring. A true thing of the past.
“I had done a work out at the gym a couple times with some friends, it was intense. In between the moments where I had to remain completely still and remember to breath, so I wouldn’t lose my lunch, I couldn’t help notice how real the place was,” says Ruggiano. The gym has a beauty in its very own worn way.
Ruggiano had wanted to photograph the gym for a long time but kept putting it off. One day after a conversation with another photographer, he realized he was in a rut and needed to shake things up a bit with his work. He started shooting Team Lethal that day. Ruggiano wanted to capture the raw nature of the space. Duct tape and sweaty grime were everywhere. He also wanted to show the people and the intensity that came pouring out of them as they worked out. Shooting in black and white was perfect for the tough gym and its followers.
Even though Ruggiano knows this gym well, he had a few challenges. The light is overhead florescent and spotty around the gym. “The first day I went, I took an assistant who walked around with a Nikon SB-800 speedlight in a small softbox. The second day I ran the ISO up on my Nikon D700 to between 1000 and 2500. In the end I really like the images both techniques produced,” says Ruggiano. Another difficulty shooting in the space was the tight quarters. The ring occupies more than half of the total space, and he was always bumping into something or climbing over something. He shot with the Nikon D700 with a few different prime lenses inside. He shot the portraits outside of the gym with a Nikkor 80-200mm lens and also used a Nikon SB-800 to shoot some of the shots inside.
Ruggiano produced stunning black and white images that bring out the beauty and spirit of Team Lethal Boxing. It is the kind of work that takes you back to old-time Hollywood the boxing movies and their classic diamond- in-the-rough glamour. Ruggiano is using the images as promotional material and hopes to have a small show. See more work at his site, www.kennethmruggiano.com. We know Ruggiano will keep up the good fight.
© Kenneth Ruggiano/ Team Lethal Boxing Gym of Tulsa and members.