Fight Like a Woman: A Documentary Photo Project on an American Female Boxer

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All images by Erin Lefevre. Used with permission.

Imagine what the story of Rocky would have looked like if it were captured in stills, Stallone were replaced with a female, and it was in all black and white. No, we’re not talking about some awful remake–but instead an incredible photo story called “Fight Like a Woman.”

Behind the lens is photographer Erin Lefevre, a New Yorker who used to photograph boxers and who got the idea to shoot a documentary project around Casey Morton–a female boxer who hails from Hawaii.

Her photos show hardship in the gym and in her personal life and give us a glimpse into the world of those we otherwise gather to watch while we enjoy beers and cheese puffs.

We talked to Erin about the project and about documentary photography.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you first got into photography.

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Erin: I first became interested in photography during my high school years. I would spend hours on my family’s computer just looking at images by various photographers, and I thought, “That is what I want to do”. When I was 16, I saved up all my birthday money and bought my first SLR camera. I experimented with photography all throughout high school and decided to pursue my photographic interests further in college.

Phoblographer: What attracted you to documentary work?

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Erin: In the second half of my junior year at the San Francisco Art Institute, I enrolled in a Documentary Photography class with Darcy Padilla, and she completely changed my perspective on photography. Once I realized my work could be used to tell the stories of others to promote social justice, I never looked back.

Phoblographer: Where did you get the idea to follow around a female boxer?

Erin: Two years ago, before I moved to San Francisco to attend art school, I had been making portraits of boxers and their trainers at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn (I’m a New Yorker). I would hang out in the gym for a couple of hours each day getting to know people there and asking if I could take their photo. I was attracted to the dedication the fighters at Gleason’s Gym would put into their craft, but I could not overlook the fact that there were no female boxers actively training at Gleason’s during this time. For Darcy’s class, I wanted to return to the world of boxing, but from a female’s perspective.

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Phoblographer: How did you go about presenting the idea for a project on something like this?

Erin: I started to research boxing more in-depth and try to understand why there seemed to be a lack of women involved in the sport. Boxing is a competitive industry for men, and even more so for women. Many trainers aren’t loyal to their female fighters because they can make more money under the table putting their female fighters in matches they can’t win. Women’s boxing wasn’t even fully recognized as an Olympic sport until 2012. Once I had an understanding of the complexities surrounding the sport of female boxing, I drafted a project proposal and presented it to my class, and Darcy approved the project.

Phoblographer: Why the choice of black and white to tell the story?

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Erin: Ultimately, it is a personal preference. I enjoy how black and white photography really allows me to focus on form and light. I love using a high ISO on my camera and working in low-light settings, so I felt black and white would serve my project best.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about your subject, Casey Morton. She’s a boxer, but she also has a life outside of the sport.

Erin: Casey was the first person I photographed for this project, and within the first hour I spent with her at World Class Boxing Gym, I knew she was my story. I was captivated by the fact that despite all of the hardships Casey had been through, she was still such a positive, genuine, hard-working person. Casey grew up as an at-risk teen in a toxic environment.

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She realized that if she wanted to have a successful future, she had to leave her native Hawaii in order to live a more positive lifestyle. She moved around state-to-state until she settled in San Francisco, put herself through college, worked as a motivational speaker for at-risk teens, and eventually found her passion for boxing. Since she discovered boxing, Casey has devoted her life to achieve her goal of becoming a professional female boxer, which she accomplished in October 2014. People often ask me about Casey’s personal life. Boxing is Casey’s entire life. She goes to sleep early every night to wake up at 3am to start training. Every decision she makes in her life relates back to boxing. The fact that her life is devoted entirely to boxing shows not only how passionate Casey is about her craft, but also how much harder women have to work to be successful in a male-dominated industry.

Phoblographer: Documentary projects often teach us things about ourselves as photographers; how do you feel this project helped you to grow?

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Erin: This project made me realize that I am a documentary photographer, and that it is my duty to lend my voice to people who do not receive adequate attention or are often misrepresented in the media. I have spent a lot of time with Casey, and not only is she the focus of my work, but she is also a big inspiration to me. When you are constantly surrounded by someone who is so devoted their craft and positive about the world around them, that starts also starts to affect you. Casey is not only inspirational to me, but to a much broader audience also; Casey’s story proves that despite coming from previous jeopardized circumstances, anyone can make their dreams into their reality.

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