About photobooks – old and new.
The Times Square Gym
4to, illustrated softcover
Published by Evan Publishing, New York in 1996
Back in the days, boxing clubs were a popular place for men to hang out and stay fit, while staying away from trouble in the streets of New York. In fact not only men. As John Goodman’s pictures show, women too joined these clubs and practiced boxing – often described as a blood sport (Pete Hamill).
This universe has changed. These clubs progressively disappeared and John Goodman may have photographed one of the last ones in NYC. Life styles have changed, multisport gyms proliferated, offering a variety of workout options, while real estate pressure has pushed less lucrative business out of the city centre.
John Goodman’s book is motivated by his own passion for boxing, which he grew up with and practiced with his own father. Once, John saw the Times Square Gym on 42nd and Broadway and decided to walk up a dark staircase leading up to the club. After negotiating and convincing the manager he was able to explore the place a couple of times with his camera.
Published in this book, the black and white photographs depict a run-down space, peeling paint and aging posters on the walls. We can see a few worn leather speed bags and people always in action. The pictures with heavy grain and motion blur emphasize the sense of constant movement in a dark and hidden space.
In these clubs, as in boxing in general, everyone is treated equal. “No fighter is born the best” as it says on one of the handwritten messages sticked to the wall…training hard and fighting hard is the only path to success. As Jimmy Glenn (the owner) says, this is a sport that teaches everyone to be modest and to discipline the self. A lesson that fighters portrayed in this book know well: they don’t smile and have heavy looks.
As Peter Hamill describes in the introduction, boxing was also marked by the ethnic diversity of NYC. The fighters were in the ring to prove something about themselves, but also something about their community: the Irish, the Jewish, the Italian, or the Afro-Americans, among others. The sport was a fight for personal and collective pride in a city where the process of assimilation was often rough.
The Time Square Gym opened in 1976 by Jimmy Glenn, who appears in one of the first pictures. Many famous names passed through these doors: Wilfred Gomez, Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali. Since these pictures were taken, the place has closed down.