Fighting fit: Leon Rose


Ten years ago Auckland-based professional photographer Leon Rose entered into a unique agreement in his quest to get fit; he would offer his photography services to a kickboxing gym's fighters in exchange for one-on-one training sessions. This led to a decade of documenting the passionate Muay Thai fighting community in New Zealand. Now Leon is ready to pull the project together into a beautifully-crafted photo book and has taken to the PledgeMe crowd-funding platform to make it happen. If he can reach his funding goal in the allocated time renowned local publisher PQ Blackwell will begin production on the Live, Train, Fight like Thai monograph – you can help make the project happen here, or hear all about it from Leon first:

D-Photo: Can you briefly give us an outline of your Live, Train, Fight like Thai project?

Leon Rose: Live, Train, Fight like Thai is a photo essay/documentary that documents the sport of Muay Thai in New Zealand over the last 10 years. It has been treated in black-and-white, to stay true to the boxing images that I have always aspired to.

You've been working on the project for ten years – selecting your images must be pretty daunting.

Yes it is! I have over 900 selects, and I am going to have an edit nightmare. Geoff Blackwell will be guiding me which is a must, because you get attached to your own images. I am going to cover off all the different aspects of the game though.

Say I'm completely unfamiliar with Muay Thai (which is not far from truth), what can I expect to see in the book, what's going to hook me?

I think it will be something different for everyone. Some people it will be the fight coverage, looking at these images gives you the exhilaration of the fight. Others may be interested in the physiques of these guys – they train extremely hard. The ring girls are a hook for some also.

Offering your services as a photographer in exchange for training is a pretty unique arrangement, did you reach your 'get fit' goal?

I trained heavily for a number of years and got to peak fitness. I fought in two Ringside Corporate boxing rounds in 2008 and 2010, so although not Muay Thai, I did step in the ring. I’ve never been so fit. Sadly though, it has all fallen away to just going for a run when I can find the time. I have had two children since and that kind of training is hard to mix with family commitments. I still train in the gym when I can.

This is obviously a very personal, long-term project – are there any experiences that stand out as particularly memorable or important over the time you've been shooting Muay Thai?

I think just the commitment of these guys and girls. It led me to fight myself, which I never thought I would do. I wasn’t great at it, but it really taught me how far you can push yourself and how important it is to face your fears. The respect you get from this world once you have stepped in the ring whether you win or lose is awesome. There is nowhere to run or hide in the ring, your true self comes out whether you like it or not – it’s a true test of self.

What made you decide to go the crowd-funding route for Live, Train, Fight Like Thai?

I had no choice, these types of projects don’t get picked up by publishers as they used to. It is too hard to sell in the mainstream. If I was doing a cookbook it would have been different. I chose PledgeMe because it was a local business, I am a small business and I like to support my peers. I have helped two other books reach their goal over the past two years and it gave me the confidence to try it myself.

How did you come to be working with PQ Blackwell, and how have you found the experience so far?

I was listening to Geoff Blackwell talk at Image Nation and I had the opportunity to fly to Thailand and finish the project directly afterward. I contacted Geoff on my return to see if he thought my project would fly. Geoff has always been very positive and pragmatic. He helped push me to get it off the ground and set a stringent timeline to make it happen. He has been the “kick up the bum” I needed!

What's next once the campaign hits its funding goal?

Straight into design and edit. This will be a massive task. Once we have done that it goes to print and all going well we should have the books in time for a launch at Auckland Festival of Photography. It's a tight schedule so I am trying to get to that goal as soon as I can so I can start before January.

To help Leon raise funds for the book head to the campaign's pledge page, and you can check out more work from the photographer at his website