Having grown up with a passion for boxing and martial arts, Nikon Europe Ambassador Ray Demski continually found himself drawn to the story of Bukom – a small Ghanaian suburb that, in an extraordinary story, has produced some of the world’s finest boxers.
With the D850 in hand, Ray’s image series unearths the mystery surrounding Bukom, getting under the skin of the unique boxing culture which has put this community on the global sporting stage. It really is a remarkable story.
A mystery like no other
“I have shot many different sports over my career, but never really focused on boxing, which is strange given the huge part it played in my childhood.
I had heard stories about the crazy number of world champion boxers coming from Ghana’s capital, Accra, and had watched a few documentaries on Bukom which continues to produce some of the best boxing talent out there. Yet for me, there always seemed to be a great mystery to the place – I couldn’t get my head around how somewhere so small and relatively isolated from the global boxing scene could produce so many great fighters. It was a mystery I wanted to experience first hand and completely immerse myself in.”
It’s all in the preparation
Ray’s time in Ghana was limited to just 13 days on the ground, meaning he spent lots of time researching, preparing and speaking to the right local people before his trip to make sure the process was as efficient as possible.
“During my four month research period I got in touch with a local media company at the heart of the boxing scene – “Bukom Boxing News” – as well as local sports writer Sammy Heywood Okine. They were both a huge support in introducing me to the community and pointing out which gyms and boxers could be interesting to photograph.
Working with a fixer from Accra, who is also a local BBC correspondent, was key to handling the press permissions required to photograph.
There are so many boxing gyms in such a small space – I heard upwards of 30. We only scratched the surface visiting seven of the main ones.”
“In Bukom, boxing is a huge part of daily life – everyone has their favourite local champion, watches their fights and turns up to support them in training. The moment you become a champion boxer, you are the most respected person in town – a true celebrity!”
Ray’s images focus on several individuals, including Charles Quartey, the Head Coach of a gym with no roof that, alongside a training space, serves as a home to several of the children who train there. Quartey also pays for their food and education.
“Charles Quartey is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. A boxer in his youth, he put a lot of what he made in his fighting career into the gym and now works on the side to help support the gym and provide food and schooling to the children he has taken in. He pushes his fighters hard, but always has a massive smile on his face. You can see and feel the pride he takes in his boxing family.”
“What’s more, while I was there, two of the area’s most popular boxers, Bukom Banku (Braimah Kamoko) and Bastie Samir were gearing up for a fight at the Bukom boxing arena. Bukom Banku is a real personality in the community, with a rockstar vibe, so I used the D5 paired with the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED to capture this edge. Bastie Samir was more the focused athlete. It was interesting to see this contrast in training styles and personalities.
I was keen to show the boxers my way, to elevate them as the heroes they are in their local communities.”
Using the D850 and a range of NIKKOR lenses helped Ray achieve this.
“The D850 struck the perfect balance between resolution, dynamic range, usability and speed – all in one compact body. It was absolutely perfect for my style of shooting, where I could get up close to the action to deliver a high-end quality from a rough and fast paced shooting environment.
Lens-wise, the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED was great for getting close and wide, showing the determination in the eyes of these athletes in exquisite detail. The AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED was also really handy when capturing some more close-up portraits, offering an incredible bokeh which helped contribute to the “brutal romance” I was keen to demonstrate in these images.
However, my go-to lens has to be the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED. It’s fast, flexible and on such a fast-paced shoot, never let me down.”
Ray went to Ghana with plans for a sports action story but came away with so much more – a the sense of a unique community that has produced, and will continue to produce, some of the best athletes in the world.
“I feel extremely privileged that the boxing community welcomed me with open arms so I could see their work from a completely unique perspective.
This project has reminded me of the importance of taking time to do things that come from your own passions and history, to work towards images that will hopefully become a precious part of your portfolio. I’m very grateful to Nikon – to have the chance to carry out a personal project with support like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
To find out more about Ray Demski’s Nikon Special Project, please visit: https://www.europe-nikon.com/en_GB/learn_explore/ambassadors/europe_ambassadors/ray_demski/special_project.page