I have been documenting sports, specifically Muaythai, for over a decade. During this time, I have earned wonderful opportunities to document some of the best athletes from around the world, and watch high-level contests in the history of the sport. I have also had the privilege to witness this small sport expand globally to Europe, other parts of Asia, and the Americas. While watching this beautiful sport expand globally, I have also seen its positive impact in the countries in which it has been developing in.

Recently, while on vacation in Medellin, Colombia, a colleague of mine who is the President of the National Muaythai Federation, invited me to his gym to see firsthand the progress he was making as well as discuss opportunities he was providing for Colombian athletes to compete. After touring his beautiful facilities, he personally invited me to visit a social program he was overseeing called Sport Is Your Gang (SIYG). SIYG teaches Muaythai to children living in challenging environments across the world, providing an alternative lifestyle from violence and drug abuse.

A couple of days later, armed with a RICOH GR1 and some rolls of Kodak VISION3 500T, I met up with David and a few other Muaythai coaches and we traveled to a neighborhood in Medellin called La Sierra. La Sierra is a neighborhood that has been stigmatized with violence and drug trafficking since the 1970s. The people of La Sierra have experienced great loss and a lack of resources. As Medellin advances, so does La Sierra and its opportunities.

The reason I took the GR1 to Colombia — and not something like my Pentax 67 — was that I didn’t want to get robbed. Even though Medellin has changed a lot, I traveled more incognito than I normally do with fine art projects. I was also travelling with just my wife at the time, and did not have a crew with me to make sure I was safe. 

Since the neighborhood is at the top of Medellin, we utilized small buses that helped the local people travel between neighborhoods. Driving through the city, I photographed some of the people on the streets and the architecture of the homes the people of La Sierra lived in. The Ricoh GR1 was perfect for this scenario. I was able to point and shoot while retaining great detail. As we reached our destination, we exited the bus and immersed ourselves in the community. The local people of La Sierra had a look of confusion on their faces, wondering why foreigners would be visiting their neighborhood. Although there was a sense of confusion, we were greeted with warm smiles.

I was given a tour of a small school where young people from the neighborhood attended classes. The community tried to maintain the building, fixing problems, furniture, and plumbing the best that could to give the children in the community a safe place to learn.

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The Ricoh GR1’s semi-fast lens was good for some of the indoor shots that had decent light, but still struggled when the light was not optimal.

I was directed toward the top of the neighborhood that overlooked the city of Medellin, there was this beautiful basketball court that was decorated with murals. Children from the neighborhood piled in and were very excited to learn Muaythai. The smiles on the faces of these children opened my eyes. I realized that the work I created in this neighborhood can bring awareness and provide an avenue of help to this community.

After looking at these images I realized that I needed something more, something that would give me more control. Since the trip, I sold the GR1 and invested in a Nikon SP. I would like to go back and photograph the neighborhood more and some of the families that the children are from.

I would like to show how the people actually live and the faces that live in that community. I just feel like this would be a powerful project that digs deeper than just sports. I am fortunate to have a close friend that earned permission to hold that social program so I know that they would help me further with this project. I think that If can go back, I would need to be for at least 4 weeks. 

Thanks for reading,

~ Jeff

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