Danish Imports: The Boxer

This entry was originally posted on my main journal over at www.matthewjames.dk

The next story from last year’s Danish Imports photo exhibition comes from Michal Jezierski, who had a very long and interesting story to tell about his move to Denmark.

Michal is perhaps one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and is full of positive, life-affirming quotes.

Originally from Poland, Michal moved to America when he was 18 and spent the next four years living illegally and learning to speak English. But due to citizenship issues, he had to give up his dreams of becoming a fireman and was forced to move home.

At the time (2003), Poland had just joined the EU, so it made sense to Michal to return to his family. But after just one month, Mike was back on a plane and heading to Copenhagen. He explains: “The Polish army were hunting me down for conscription, which was mandatory back then. Fortunately for me, an ex-girlfriend contacted me to say she was working as a sushi chef in CPH and wanted me to go over. So she bought me a ticket, lent me some money, and two months later I started training and working as a sushi chef myself.”

Danish Imports: The Boxer

Two-and-a-half years passed by for Mike, who eventually chose to go back to Poland again, this time with desires of becoming a Personal Trainer. Things didn’t go according to plan, however. “I just couldn’t keep up with the training,” he admits.

Mike found himself back at Sticks ’n’ Sushi in Copenhagen, but 18 months down the line was forced to quit on medical grounds. He used this opportunity to start learning Danish at Copenhagen Language Center and also became a boxing club volunteer at Christianshavns Idræts Klub, which is where he met Oliver – a 13-year-old Danish boy training to box. Through Oliver’s father, Mike found work as a qualified Doorman and subsequently providing official security for asylum seekers and refugees who have fled to Denmark.

“Most of them don’t speak a word of Danish or English, so the right body language is essential,” he tells me.

It’s been a hard and gradual integration process for Mike, but the Danes have made him feel very, very welcome. “If I was fluent in Danish then I’d feel totally integrated,” he explains. “I never feel like an outsider when I’m around Danish people, it’s just that sometimes I can’t understand what they’re saying. The language has been the biggest problem here for me.

“But Denmark isn’t the problem: it’s me and my lack of education. Being nice isn’t enough; I need skills to offer people.”

In the future, Mike expects to be fully integrated in to Danish society and hopefully open his own gym.

As well as Body Language, Mike speaks Polish, English, Danish, and a little Spanish.

Getting The Shot

This was one of those shots that took a fair bit of time to get right. The problem was, the boxing club was closing down for the evening, despite the fact that I arrived in good time. But I wanted Mike to be sweaty and fully pumped up before the photoshoot, so he looked as natural as possible.

I knew that I wanted him in the ring with his gloves still on and a book between his mitts, which is why he had brought this edition of The Art of Achievement with him. It’s also worth mentioning, that the background was still full of men, women and children who were packing their bags and getting changed before they left, so it was important that I used a fast enough shutter speed, a narrow aperture, and a lot of concentrated light on Mike. If you look at his right arm and the chair he’s sitting on, you’ll notice a sliver of light. That’s because one of the flash units was standing on the floor pointing right at him; it creates an outline which I quite like.

For the main light I used another flash inside a Lastolite hotshoe softbox. I held it high and to the left of Mike, so that the light would fall on his face, gloves and book. Any lower and we’d have some annoying shadows to edit out.

The final image was edited in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, where I created a green and yellow filter. I have absolutely no idea why I chose this combo, but it seems to work.

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