The current show at Prairie Gallery, Little Kings, features documentary-style photography by Chris Bucher, who followed a group of youth boxers as they trained for the Ringside World Championships held in Kansas City, Missouri in 2008. Bucher worked with boxers who were training at a gym in Indianapolis called Jireh Sports Ministry. The kids he photographed spent five to six days a week at the gym, training for hours a day. The community he found there was tightly knit and fostered a level of focus and discipline in the kids that they often could not find in other areas of their life. The images that he was able to capture tell the story of their hard work and determination.
Bucher has a lot of commercial experience and his technical skill is high. His eye for lighting is one of his greatest strengths. He is as good at working with available light as he is at staging more complex and dramatically lit setups. The work in Little Kings is a combination of both. He is able to capture moments filled with a mix of emotions. In an image like Brothers, passion explodes on a young boxer’s face as he pulls back his glove and prepares to throw all his will behind his punch. You’re left feeling the intensity hanging in the air. On the opposite spectrum, an image like Finding Strength reminds us that these are just kids. The young boy is surrounded by his coaches, looking at him with anticipation as if to say “Get on with it!” as he begrudgingly stands in the ring, wearing his Superman t-shirt. It is both a comical and classic image of a boy his age.
All of the photographs in the exhibition are large—ranging from about three to four feet square—and Bucher applies a thick layer of epoxy to the surface of the images that gives them a high gloss. The effect is striking, especially on the portrait images. For example, Q 287 is stunning. Bucher captures incredible feeling in the boy’s face. He looks worn out, his hands covered with bright green wraps, his eyes tired and his face covered with visible scratches. An image like Dajon: Champion is reminiscent of some of the heroic professional sports photography you’ve seen of Michael Jordan and others. Despite the fact that we know this boy is only 11 or 12, he looks as tough as a full-grown man. It’s very convincing.
A parallel show at Prairie called Kid’s View: Ringside Seats that is the product of a partnership between David Rosenthal and volunteers from Prairie Gallery, and the Cincinnati Golden Gloves boxing gym. Cincinnati Golden Gloves is a nonprofit organization that seeks to build character and self-esteem in youth through training and boxing programs. Cincinnati actually has a strong boxing heritage. Numerous gyms in the West End and other areas around the city have produced champions such as Ezzard Charles, Tim Austin and Aaron Pryor. Cincinnati has put more boxers on Olympic teams than almost any other city in the nation. The popularity of the sport has waned in recent years, but the anchor strength that a boxing gym can provide in a community is still realized—especially here. The show gives us unique insight into what Cincinnati Golden Gloves is all about seeing it through the eyes of the children who benefit from the program.
Chris Bucher takes beautiful pictures, interesting in content and well worth seeing. Kid’s View is also worth checking out, especially when you’re able to see the two shows side by side. Prairie Gallery is committed to exhibiting works that help connect artists, and the people who view their work, to the community. These shows are an example of how well Rosenthal is able to do that.
Little Kings and Kid’s View: Ringside Seats will be on view through June 15. Prairie Gallery is located at 4035 Hamilton Avenue in Northside. (513) 582-9833. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.