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Neil Bedford – Twelve

Words: Good Sport

Images: Neil Bedford

With the Worldwide Heavyweight Division being dominated by the Tyson Fury comeback and Anthony Joshua’s unbeaten run as Heavyweight Champ until his recent Ruiz defeat, all eyes are suddenly looking toward the shores of the United Kingdom again for the next wave of hopefuls across all weight divisions. 

For round one, photographer Neil Bedford has captured this boxing scene through a series of black and white portraits, featuring the fighters at work in their gyms, sparring, and proudly displaying their championship belts. this collection of images gives the reader an unprecedented insider insight into the lives of each of these athletes.

Neil shares “during the past 6 months I have travelled to some amazing cities to complete this first issue. from Sheffield to Birmingham and Liverpool to London I have met eleven incredible talents. spending just a couple of hours with each was enough to understand the challenges they face and the glory they strive for.”

It’s an incredible portfolio and has everyone from the up-and-coming heavyweight, Daniel Dubois, to the super flyweight world champion, Charlie Edwards. The cover champ is Anthony Yarde, the top ten ranking light heavyweight and holder of the WBO European light-heavyweight belt, who is a name to watch with a stunning run of defences of his WBO title. The magazine is also opened with a poem by Sergio Pizzorno, guitarist with the famous British rock band, Kasabian. Round two is already in production and starts with the most promising female talent in the sport.

Good Sport caught up with Neil to chat more about the publication and the process he took to create it.

GS: Hey Neil, can you bring us all up to speed on what this new publication is?

NB: Twelve is my way of looking at the sport of boxing. It’s watching Champions in their own gyms and away from the bright lights and glamour of the fight night. It’s an honest look at 11 fighters and 1 amateur boxing gym in London.

GS: How did it the idea form and then become a reality, talk us through the process from ideation, to shooting to then creating the book.

NB: TWELVE started through a conversation with a dear friend, Thomas Howard. We used to work together when he ran a production company and he often mentors and discusses ideas with me, even though he’s no longer in the industry. He’s given me many briefs over the last three years to try and start something, but finally one stuck and we both really ran with it. We didn’t know how we’d start and initially we looked into all aspects of boxing but then through Tom’s sheer persistence we were invited to photograph one time British champion Frank Buglioni whilst in his training camp for his fight with Fanlong Meng which opened up a lot of doors for the remaining ten professional boxers to be shot. I always knew it would be a soft back publication, I feel like I don’t always have enough time to work on projects outside of my life being a commercial/working photographer, so these TWELVE was the beginning of a series I wanted to start and will hopefully follow through to ROUND TWELVE.

GS: Who did the design, and how did that come together in terms of specific design decisions and or collaborative efforts.

NB: As soon as I knew I was going to put something together I spoke to Catalogue Design. I’ve used them for various projects over the years, UNDERDOGS, GOODBOYS/JACOB, THE MINDS EYE etc, and they never fail to impress me. Ollie is so on it when it comes to design and input and doesn’t stop until we are both happy which is something I admire as it’s how I try and live my professional life also. I had some loose reference for him to use as inspiration, but if i’m honest I don’t think he even downloaded it as he just understood the project straight away.

GS: You have a long history with the band Kasabian, what prompted the poem by Sergio for this publication.

NB: Sergio is a big fan of boxing and wanted to help with TWELVE when I showed him the early stages of the project. I asked him if he felt he could write a short poem for me, in his style and what he came back with was beautifully perfect, as you’ll see.

GS: What do you hope people receive or take away from this project when they read/look at it.

I really hope people can take take reference from my images and that it will show people who aren’t really interested in sport that beautiful portraits of athletes are still divine to look at. Sometimes I feel, especially in fashion (although it has changed massively over the last few years) that sports portraits aren’t looked at for their beauty, but I find more beauty in integrity than I do in a lot of fashion images.

GS: What lessons did you learn from meeting some of these boxers during the time you spent with them.

NB: The main lesson I learned was that boxing isn’t about violence. It’s a game of chess with each fighter trying to out think their opponent before making their move. Of course, at heavier weights, it comes down to KO’s but at lighter weights the fighters are boxing for points and to try and avoid their opponent as much as possible. Originally I had just thought of boxing as a sport that was about being as hard as you can be in the ring and knocking your opponent out, but watching these boxers train you start to understand its about so much more. They spend days, if not weeks, learning their opponent and sparring with similar fighters to try and gain an advantage, the same way the very best football coaches study their opposition and teach their team the best way to beat them.

GS: In creating the work, was there anything specific you were looking for or aiming to evoke. Be it an emotion, feeling or awareness.

NB: I wanted to portray an image of integrity, both through my style of photography and the subject. I wanted to also show a sport I felt hadn’t been, like boxing, in a more beautiful way than before, or what I’d seen before. In the early days of The Green Soccer Journal we always approach the subjects through stylist eyes, and not the run of the mill sports or portrait photography that’s often associated with sports, and I took that idea with me for TWELVE. 

GS: What’s one memorable story or moment that will stay with you from creating this work.

NB: Probably the story of Richard Riakporhe who was stabbed in the chest at age 15 and went on to become an Intercontinental Champion.You can see an interview with him here: Richard was a real sweet guy and has also helped introduce me to other fighters as well as being very interested in the whole photography side and wanting to understand the images and process as well as being photographed. For anyone to go through what he did, to come from where he has been and to be a professional athlete is an amazing story and it was an honour to meet him.