The photographer Jano Cohen once found the sport of boxing to be incomprehensible. To her, it contradicted kindness and glorified brutality and rage. But an assignment to shoot boxing-related photographs brought her to the James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym in West Philly, where a closer look at the sport changed her opinion. Today, she sees “real beauty” in the movement of a boxer and has come to appreciate––even admire––the physicality and passion that boxing demands.
In 2017, The Citizen wrote about Cohen’s six-week long exhibit at the Gershman Y, which showed her black and white photos of boxers of all ages as they trained and competed at Shuler. Ripe with detail and emotion, prints of her photographs were sold for $100 donations to Schuler. In recognition of her efforts, Cohen––and others––will be awarded this Saturday at the Schuler’s 25th anniversary amatueur boxing event, which Cohen will also photograph.
To know Shuler, is to know that it is multi-faceted. Opened by Percy “Buster” Custer in 1986, the gym is named after James Schuler, a national Golden Gloves light middleweight champion in 1979 and 1980 who used to train at Joe Frazier’s iconic gym North Philly. Custer and Shuler were close friends until Shuler died in a motorcycle accident in 1986. Today, many aspiring Philly boxers still train at Shuler.
But Shuler remains dedicated to its struggling West Philly community in more ways than as a boxing gym. There is a daycare next door, which is run by Custer’s wife. And an after-school program at the gym for children as young as six, who maintain good grades in school––a prerequisite for participation. When she shoots photos at the gym, Cohen says she meets people as old as 70. Some train, while others soak up the atmosphere and trade stories.
Cohen, too, returns regularly for the atmosphere. She is known to show up once or twice a week to take photos or to talk, and has started work on a photo book about Shuler.
Cohen says that boxing has surprised her. She has sifted through the fists and blood-stained rings to unveil a gentleness and animosity among those who participate in the sport. In many ways, Shuler is a foundation in West Philadelphia; and Cohen: the chronicler and avid supporter of its influence. Join her at Shuler this weekend as she is recognized for her work.
Saturday, June 8, 5 pm-8 pm, $20/$25 at the door, James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym, 750 N Brooklyn Street.Photos by Jano Cohen