The sport of boxing is a paradox: the men band together in an effort to tear each other savagely, while still looking a little spiritual with their swollen noses and missing teeth. This intimate contradiction is what Larry Fink seeks to explore in his work, and is showcased in the most recent Picker Art Gallery exhibition, “Beyond the gloves.
With black and white close-ups of faces glistening with sweat, of men standing in what could almost be an embrace without the blood on their faces, the fight becomes something beautiful and sensitive. In a sport known almost entirely for its brutal machismo, there is a closeness between men that permeates every claustrophobic shot and glorious, muscular outlines. Fink’s photography is reminiscent of Renaissance art – the silence is baroque and manhood is executed to the highest degree possible.
Brotherhood is central to this exhibit: How do men relate when masculinity is seen as antithetical to intimacy? Fink’s answer to this question lies in the moments captured in gray and free rooms, between coaches and athletes, athletes and athletes and athletes and themselves. Fink’s viewers, who are almost entirely male, are also united by the love expressed through violence. They sit together (almost touching, but not quite) biting their nails and eating popcorn, their shaded faces fully focused in the middle distance.
Rage and ecstasy reign supreme in the boxing ring, but it is not a world totally removed from social issues: traditional conceptions of masculinity are in the foreground.
âBoxing is kind of a microcosm for a lot of the phenomena that we see in America on this smaller scale, we don’t really think so,â said Jessica Rosen, who organized the show. “In the media you see about boxing it tends to show champions, fighting, brutality, and actually erases a lot of nuance in the boxing world.”
Masculinity, at times, can even act as its own foil. A man with gloves needs his shoes tied, his forehead wiped, and his blood cleaned by other men.
âBoxers can simultaneously be the strongest person in the room, and as soon as the gloves are put on, they can’t do anything for themselves,â Rosen continued. âThis framework gives men permission to be vulnerable without sacrificing their masculinity. It is only in this context that we can have these truly sweet moments.
Homosocial relationships between men are rarely open in their expressions of love – rather, they are, as Fink describes, veiled in brute force and sometimes even cruelty.
âBecause of toxic masculinity, men showing signs of emotional vulnerability or sensitivity to something are considered weak,â said sophomore Ethan Freedman, who identifies as male. “There is no place to let your guard down and be emotional without feeling like you are poorly performing masculinity.”
According to Fink, the truth lies in the performance of masculinity and the careful dance of power and tenderness upon which boxing relies.
âSocial ideas of masculinity translate into a series of expectations that can lead to behavioral conformity,â said Will Monti, a freshman, who also identifies as a man. âExpectations that more advanced or dominant behavior is expected or acceptable are pervasive. “
In a perfect world, two men might be able to comfortably and platonically say âI love youâ without needing to string together a feverish âno homoâ. Until then, however, we live in Fink’s reality, where affection manifests itself most clearly as a bloody nose or a swinging fist.