An Interview with Max Kandhola, Artist and Principal Lecturer in Photography at Nottingham Trent University

max kandhola - the aura of boxing - genesis imaging

Max Kandhola is an established photographer whose work has been widely exhibited in the UK, Europe and the USA. Alongside his practice, Max currently holds the position of Principal Lecturer and Head of Photography at Nottingham Trent University. His research and practice centres on relationships, the human condition and the politics of representation in photography.

Kandhola has been documenting British boxers since 1996 – his fourth publication, The Aura of Boxing (published by Dewi Lewis) has been released to coincide with Max’s multi-site exhibition of the same name.

Max intertwines the tough environment of the boxing gym with thoughtful contemplation on the impact and presence of mind required in the sport of boxing. The narrative of the series centres on three British boxers; Howard Clarke, Julius Francis and Robert McCracken – providing a different story and context to the theme of boxing. Rather than depict the traditional ‘fight’, Kandhola instead focuses on the before and aftermath of the event. As Kandhola’s images do not identify at what moment the photographs were taken, the focus remains on the presence of mind, the focus and the determination of the boxers and the boxing environment.

We spoke to Max about completing this substantial body of work – his three-venue exhibition, publication and his perspective on photography as a practitioner working within a UK University…

Genesisimaging: Hi Max, are you ready to discuss The Aura of Boxing, your practice & teaching photography?

Maxkandhola: Hello, yes we are ready to go!

Genesisimaging: Great! Let’s start by talking about your multi-site exhibition & publication, ‘The Aura of Boxing’…

Genesisimaging: Where did your interest in boxing begin?

Maxkandhola: It was very early in my career – watching Muhammad Ali and the politics surrounding boxing: race, social class, the urban city, ways of living…

Maxkandhola: The boxing environment is the interior of their living space, I was fascinated by the space that they occupy and how this is arranged.

Genesisimaging: How has the resulting work changed from your initial intentions – did you achieve what you set out to?

Maxkandhola: The work has not really changed from the original ideas I had in 1996.

Maxkandhola: From the beginning I was influenced by On The Waterfront, West Side Story and my first visit to NY in 1996 while on a Light Work residency.

Maxkandhola: The Harder They Fall by Schulberg is a classic novel. Bud also wrote the screen play to On The Waterfront – this is what informed my research.

Maxkandhola: I wanted the work to be organic, tactile…

Maxkandhola: Anselm Kiefer, Derek Jarman, Mark Rothko are big influences in my practice.

Maxkandhola: At NAE (New Art Exchange) and Format, Melanie, Louise and Peter went with my vision for the exhibitions.

Maxkandhola: But, to some extent yes I have (changed the project), budgets are always an issue for photographers.

Genesisimaging: Linda asks: after such a long term project, how did you manage to edit the body of work down?

Maxkandhola: The editing process began with my students in 1988 when I began my teaching at Nottingham Trent University.

Maxkandhola: Quite a few students have reviewed this work along its journey, the input is personal and invaluable.

Maxkandhola: Dewi Lewis had also reviewed the work over a period of 10 years.

Maxkandhola: Other input along the way, as the dummy book was completed came from Mark Sealy, David Birkitt, Chris Littlewood, Mark Foxwell, Pete James, Mahtab Hussain, and my wife.

Maxkandhola: I always have an idea of what I want from the beginning. After that it needs fine tuning, that is when I ask for advice.

Genesisimaging: You chose to exhibit contact sheets from the body of work. How do you think that this changed the way the work is perceived?

Maxkandhola: Contact sheets are the photographers sketch books, it is the process.

Maxkandhola: I have always placed great importance on the contact sheets. I like the intimacy that it reveals – the contact sheet reveals the movement of the photographer.

Maxkandhola: Magnum’s book on contact sheets is a wonderful example.

Maxkandhola: When I spent time at The Photographers’ Gallery in 1993, I was only interested in contact sheets. I am fascinated by working methods of photographers.

Maxkandhola: I wanted to show the boxers movement going into the next frame.

Genesisimaging: Billy asks, how would you describe the relationship between violent sports like boxing & masculinity in the UK?

Maxkandhola: Violent sports; this is a leading question, and masculinity…

Maxkandhola: I do not see boxing as violent, I am not into violent sports.

Maxkandhola: It depends how one views masculinity or has experienced the idea of masculinity. There could be a perception of masculinity, it is an obvious area to consider.

Genesisimaging: Interesting answer! Let’s touch briefly on photography & education…

Genesisimaging: Tell us, what do you think is a strength of photography degree courses in the UK?

Maxkandhola: Photography degree courses provide a multitude of skills, they are multifaceted…

Maxkandhola: From range and diversity introduction to different types of practice, experimentation, risk taking, ambition, peer review…

Maxkandhola: Critical context, access to leading photographers and artists, and passionate working academic’s up and down the country who care for their subject.

Genesisimaging: One last question – Tell us what is the biggest reward & the biggest challenge of teaching others? (One of each!)

Maxkandhola: Reward: Our amazing alumni.

Maxkandhola: Challenge: The perception from others that art has no place within the curriculum.

Genesisimaging: Unfortunately that’s all we have time for with Max – thank you for such interesting answers this afternoon!

Maxkandhola: Thank you x.

‘The Aura of Boxing: The Black and White Series’ is currently on show at New Art Exchange in Nottingham until the 21st April 2014.

See ‘The Aura of Boxing: The Contact Sheets’, a large-scale installation at The Chocolate Factory, on John Street via Siddals Road, Derby DE1 2LX, part of this year’s FORMAT International Photography Festival off-year programme, until 19 April 2014.

‘The Aura of Boxing: The Colour Series’ was shown at Rich Mix London between the 6th – 31st March 2014.

Find out more about The Aura of Boxing, published by Dewi Lewis

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