PHOTOS: The Men of Muay Thai Boxing

A promising new photographer presents a portfolio of portraits of Muay Thai boxers that reveals the sensuous side of a brutal sport.

BY Christopher Harrity

May 19 2014 4:00 AM ET

Fascinated by Muay Thai and the seeming contradictions between the sport's artistry, its beauty, and its brutality, out artist Iconic19 has created images that capture the beauty of the disciplined boxers at peak condition. All of the models in his portraits are professional Muay Thai fighters living and training in Thailand, where he's lived for the past 15 years. 

The word Muay derives from the Sanskrit Mavya, which means "to bind together." Muay Thai fighting is an efficient means of hand-to-hand combat as well as a sport and, like many martial arts, a spiritual discipline. During the 19th century, when the country was at peace and King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) ascended the throne, the combat technique became popular as a sport with the king's interest and support.

In Iconic 19's own words: "Each year, hundreds of young men from around the world travel to Thailand to learn the art of Thai boxing, or มวยไทย (Muay Thai) as it is known in the Thai language. The overwhelming majority stay for a week or two, often joining organized boxing tours — and for these young men, learning Muay Thai is a fun diversion and a wonderful opportunity of getting fit while enjoying time away from home. There are others, however, who despite the grueling physical and mental challenges faced by serious practitioners of Muay Thai choose to remain in Thailand for longer periods, often years, in the hope of making a living from this ancient sport. It is this second group of fighters that are the focus of my portrait work.  

"Through my images I hope to create a gateway to the character of the subject and, in doing so, to establish an authentic connection with the viewer. Without the use of unnecessary props and artificial narrative, one is left with nothing but the subject, alone — and often feeling quite vulnerable in front of the camera. My hope is to uncover the profound beauty created by juxtaposing the strength, courage and physical presence of these fighters with emotions that they often hidden from view — such as loneliness, fear, uncertainty, and sadness."

See more of Iconic19's work on his website.

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