Photographing Inside Cuba’s Legendary Boxing Gym

All photos by Jason Bax and John Towner. Used with Creative Commons permission.

Cuba is home to many stunning scenes, intriguing locations, and fascinating people, and photographers across the globe have made it their mission to tell their story. The latest on our list of favorite documentary photography works set in the country explores one of its most iconic boxing gyms, as captured by San Francisco-based photographers Jason Bax and John Towner. In their series simply titled The Gym, the Bax and Towner duo take us to the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym in Havana, which they tell us is world-famous for having trained Cuba’s best boxers in the past 50 years. To the unfamiliar, it’s most likely hard to see this beat-up outdoor gym as the training ground of champions, but our photographers here made it their task to give us a glimpse of the spirited boxers who still hone their skills in the legendary site.

“This tiny outdoor gym, like the neighborhood where it makes its home, is a dilapidated relic held together by the passion and grit of the amateur and professional boxers who train there daily. Surprisingly enough, when we arrived it was in the midst of a months-long renovation, intended to revitalize and restore some of its early glory. We had mixed feelings witnessing workers lather on fresh coats of paint and install new awnings over the bleachers. This work would help keep Rafael Trejo running for another 50 years to come, but the charm and character that landed the gym on many photographers’ bucket lists was being changed forever.”

Bax and Towner also mentioned that the Cuban government closed the sites to visitors during the construction last year. This made them most likely the last photographers to witness and experience the old gym and what remains of it, before it gets “reborn” into a “new thing it aspires to be.”

Short as it is, the series tells us the story of the iconic gym through the generation of boxers that continue to hold it in reverence. The Gym is just one of the stories from their visit in Cuba, so make sure to check out Jason Bax and John Towner’s website and Behance portfolio to see more of their travel stories and other projects.