Today I would like to talk about a very special photo, which ended up winning the 1st prize in the Sports, Singles category of the World Press Photo 2019 photography contest. Let’s check out Boxing in Katanga!
The Boxing in Katanga photo was taken in May 2018 by John T. Pedersem, a photojournalist from Norway, based in Oslo. John has been working as photographer for a number of newspapers, trade press, magazines and agencies since 1988. He has covered many interesting stories, which you can actually check out on his website. I was fortunate enough to interview him about his photograph and how he was able to capture the moment that earned him the World press photo award.
The photo was taken with Nikon D4, with a 24 mm 1,4 Sigma lens which was one of the two Nikon D4 cameras John was using at that time. At the moment his camera of choice is the Sony A9. He was also using Leica M9 cameras and sometime Leica M6 and Leica M4p for analogue. The winning picture was selected from approximately 5-6 frames and what I personally like about his photography is that John Pedersen edits his pictures as little as possible. Which I think is very important in photojournalism. (You can check out his website and Instagram.)
John visited Uganda in 2018 to photograph stories of the South Sudanese refugees into Uganda and he stayed for almost 3 weeks. Before he left, he spent his last 2 days in Kampala where he photographed Boxer Moreen Ajambo. The photo was actually not a part of a bigger story. One of the reasons for his visit was a very famous woman boxer Cecilia Brækhus (Cecilia Carmen Linda Brækhus) who represents Norway and who also visited Rhino Boxing Club in the past. As he photographed Cecilia and the boxing environment several times before, he was curious to see what a boxing club lying in the slum would look like.
His background actually helped him when he arrived at the Rhino Boxing Club in Katanga and was allowed to photograph there. When I asked John why he picked Moreen Ajambo, he said it was a tip from her coach who told him she has a special story and is also a member of Uganda’s National Team.
Moreen Ajambo is a 30 years old woman and mother of 7. She was born and raised in the Katanga slum. She has never seen her biological father and her mother and step father unfortunately died of AIDS. She had to live on the street and all the tough and painful experience in the slums made her violent. Inspired by the action movies she was getting into fights. Rocky Balboa became her favorite movie and an inspiration. One of the boxers told her to visit the boxing club. And after the first training session at the club, she was determined that this was what she wanted to become.
She is part of national Uganda boxing team now. However, the biggest challenges for the female boxers are actually outside of boxing ring. The ministry of education only supports few boxers that have been selected for the national team and the local clubs receive no government funding. Boxing is a way of hope and an opportunity for better life outside the slum. What he wanted to show was the atmosphere and environment. If you have ever visited a boxing gym or gym in general you realize this is not a gym you are used to.
When we look at the composition we can see a wide area thanks to the 24 mm lens which covers the gym as well as the side street next to the gym with the kids. The kids are a nice element in the photograph not only as they balance the dark world of the adults but also with their hand gestures from the composition standpoint. John Pedersen said he wanted to show her lonely fight for her future. One of the key elements is definitely the punch thrown into the punching bag with a dollar sign. That was what made the photo for John. When I asked him what would he change in the composition if he could, he said that the only things that annoys him are the legs of the person standing behind the bag. But on the other hand it also makes the picture more vivid.
I think the Boxing in Katanga is a beautiful photo that teaches us that if you want to do something no obstacles are big enough. Moreen fight for survival and she hopes that one day she will be able get her and the kids out of the slum.
When I asked John about the award he said: It is a great honor to receive such a generous award, and I am humbled by this. But it’s not just about us photographer. It’s about the people we meet out there, the ones who let us in to their life, and share their stories in good and for bad.
As a photographer, it is important to show respect and humility. For me, the main tool is not my camera… but my voice, talking to the people you meet. If you want to get close to people, you must be able to communicate. And most importantly: Being a fellow human being.
About the Author
Martin Kaninsky is a photographer and YouTuber based in Prague, Czech Republic. You can find out more about Martin on his website and follow his work on YouTube and Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.