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Marco Calderon

Photojournalist Marco Calderon’s latest project, “Fighters” has been created in collaboration with writer Emily Thiel to capture the stories of young men and women in the Allentown Boxing and Youth Program. The exhibition of photographs and interviews capture the positive influence of director, Luis Melendez, inside and outside of the gym on Fourth & Gordon streets.

“Luis Melendez is quite a strong soul,” says Calderon. “He is supporting so many kids in teaching them how to box; it’s good for your health, it’s a good activity beyond school; it’s a good way to attract them from the streets; and Luis does it for the love of the kids, the love of the sport.”

Guided by Melendez, Marco began going to the gymnasium a few times a week to train. “Luis was endorsing my presence there. He said I didn’t need to fight, I could just train and jump. I went there two or three times a week, shooting, talking to them, and the kids became more familiar with me.”

Before shooting the fighters’ portraits, Calderon would shoot objects like robes, boxing gloves, trophies around the gymnasium.  Marco spent a year documenting the men and women of the boxing program, eventually taking action and candid pictures of the boxers. When the fighters were more trusting, he transformed the abandoned bank vault in the building into a professional photo studio to shoot portraits.

“I took their pictures after they were sparring; for me it was the perfect moment, they were full of adrenaline.”  Full of adrenaline, anxiety and emotion, the fighters’ portraits also reveal the dedication, focus, and discipline that is part of their training experience.  The boxers’ quotations exhibited with their portraits allowed the fighters to share their personal perspectives on sport and life.

“Perspectives come from the eyes of the subjects and the people surrounding them,” says Calderon. “This project helped me see beyond the subject, the people and the environment.  Boxing encourages these athletes to think about their futures, to set goals and to achieve them.”

Calderon’s “Fighters” has been exhibited at the Allentown Symphony Hall, The Banana Factory in Bethlehem, and RE:find Gallery in Easton. Jon Clark, gallery manager, was thrilled with the public reception of the exhibition. “This show tells a great story. Collectively the photographs and the text are a wonderful representation of what Luis is doing at the gym in Allentown.”

“Positive guys doing positive things, in a not that positive place,” describes Calderon of the impact of the exhibit. “By seeing the title, seeing the stories at the shows, seeing the kids and the families, it all makes sense for the viewers. For them, I think they are receiving the attention that I’ve attracted to them. When somebody says I like your work, I say it’s not my work, it’s the work of Luis.”

Johnathan Williams
portrait by Marco Calderon

Johnathan Williams, one of the boxers in the show, responds: “My picture, I love it! Superman. Everybody has a superman inside of them. I believe my picture shows my different side. As a fighter, you have to be a warrior. As a person, my words represent a lot more – my words tell why I chose the sport.”

Awarded the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts’ PPA Project Grants this year, “Fighters” will be exhibited at William Allen High School this April, ArtsQuest later this spring, and the Sabor! Latin Festival in June. Marco also hopes to show the exhibit at the gymnasium in Allentown.

“This is a nonprofit; Luis doesn’t make any money from this and they still need to pay the rent on the place where they train,” Calderon explained. “This was kind of a second motivation. Let’s make some noise and attract some attention to them, to maybe help them find a different place to train.”

To help raise funds, individual photos or complete sets of photos from “Fighters” will be for order and sale throughout the exhibitions, and all profits will be donated to the Allentown Boxing and Youth Program.

To See a Video of the RE:find Exhibtion:

For More Information:

Reported by: Rebekah Drozd, LVAC Intern
Edited by: Marilyn Roberts, PPA Coordinator

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