Sometimes a creative project can take on a life of its own. This one certainly did. I started photographing local Mexican boxer Chris Valverde as a warm-up for an upcoming Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling) shoot. While reviewing the edits, I noticed that they formed a narrative all on their own. I’m obsessed with finding new ways to tell visual stories so, that feeling, combined with the high contrast style photos, gave me the idea to create a gritty graphic novella. One that reminded me of the comics I used to read growing up in the back of bookstores in London. The graphic short story is what you see below.

[Related Reading: Visual Storytelling for Photographers – A New Series From JP Stones]

Like many other photographers, I’ve had a lot of spare time on my hands recently, and I’ve been using that time to stray from my usual photographic style. To push myself into that uncomfortable place where you feel both overwhelmed and exhilarated.

I know next to nothing about boxing, so it was important for me to find a balance between being creative, and being realistic.⁠ I loved some of my first sketches, but they were more suited to a superhero project than a boxing one. Luckily, as both models are professional fighters, we could discuss each idea until we had a cohesive sequence of photos. In the end, we shot this more like a movie than a normal photo shoot. With most scenes being acted out by the models and me just moving around, trying to capture that perfect moment. It got pretty rowdy, which is why some of the facial expressions are so great!

My main goal was for the viewer to immersed in the action – one of the fighters almost. To do that, I wanted the photos to recreate the feeling of being deep into a brutal fight. To feel disorientated, unsteady, breathless but with the adrenaline pushing you relentlessly forward. To help this illusion along, I used a wide-angle lens that distorted my frame. I coupled this with tight, over the shoulder shots and a range of unusual angles.

I love using smoke in my work, but often it’s just used for better subject separation. Here it was a much more intricate part of the shoot. The models had described being punched as seeing a blinding light go off in their heads. So we set up dozens of bare bulbs around our staging area and pointed them straight at the lens. This combination of practicals and constant smoke and pushing was my attempt at recreating that feeling.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun on a photoshoot than this one! I’m looking forward to taking what I learn here in a real arena when we shoot the Lucha Libre wrestlers later in the year. Be sure to check out the BTS video below for even more details from the shoot and how it came together.

About JP Stones

JP Stones is a British born, Mexico based photographer. He runs workshops that showcase traditional and modern culture. JP’s work has been published in a bunch of photography publications, including 2 cover features for Good Light Magazine.

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