Primal art and punch-ups: Bekim Trenova and Dylan Forsberg tell us how they took Fight Night from NY to TX to the pages of Transmission
Bekim Trenova's Fight Night (FNT) means many things to many people: it’s an opportunity to get off the streets and change your life, it’s an act of rebellion in the aesthetically sterile world of sports entertainment, it’s technically illegal. But, more than anything, the word-of-mouth, NY-based event is a boxing match. And it's on fire. Now it's inspired photographer and editor Dylan Forsberg to produce a special blood, sweat and tears edition of his zine, Transmission, depicting the night Trenova and his crew took their primal spectacle all the way to SXSW. Ahead of the launch of the collaborative FNT zine, we spoke to Trenova and Forsberg – both former models – about first fights, Moby-Dick and the enduring appeal of the "real" in life as in art.
What’s the aim of the new zine?
Dylan Forsberg: The aim of this particular issue – the first of Transmission Presents – is to celebrate the energy surrounding Fight Night. Transmission Presents has been created as a more focused endeavour which will allow it to step away from the set themes planned for Transmission and direct its attention to any random external theme. The idea came about when Bekim asked me if I'd like to come to SXSW with him to document the experience. I said yeah and asked if I could make a mag out of it. He said yes, so without having much of an idea in mind as to how it would end up, we set off on the trip. I shot about 50 rolls, spent a month cutting them down to my favourites, and eventually pieced together something that I hope will express the full scope of emotion that occurs when throwing the fights. I want you to feel like you were there, feel the energy, and get chills from it the way I do when I reach certain parts. I want it to get you so excited that you plan to go to the next fight and seek out the next issue of Transmission.
Bekim, you founded the Fight Night spectacle. Tell us a little about its journey, from how you turned your initial ideas into reality, to the fight documented in the zine.
Bekim Trenova: Fight Night has so much magic and synchronicity behind it. Since day one – when it was kind of a joke – until now, it's literally been a long, fun ride within my life. Since January 2009 I knew I had something special, from the way it pulled out raw emotion in the audience. So since that first fight, I've raised the bar and added pieces – ring girls, musicians, carnival performers – to make it more of a spectacle as well as more mature, sexy, and fun.
“Everything revolved around chaos and chance. You never know whats going to happen in a bus with 15 kids over three days, or what will happen in the ring” – Dylan Forsberg
Dylan, what attracted you to documenting Fight Night? And Bekim, were you familiar with Dylan’s work at Transmission?
Dylan Forsberg: Well I've been friends with Bekim forever and have been going to the fights since the first – I've even shot a few before – so we figured that since this was the first one out of town, and a little more epic in scope, that we should do something special for it to keep the memory more permanent. Plus I prefer shooting mood and atmosphere, and the bus ride allowed me a lot of time for that.
Bekim Trenova: I've known Dylan since early 2008, maybe even before he started shooting. But I've been to his hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and have a deep bond with him and his best friend, John Swiatek. When you live in NYC and go to friend's homes outside of the city and see where they come from you feel their story a lot more. So Dylan and I – even if I’ve wanted to kill him at times – have a deep tie. Watching him grow into the photographer and human he’s become has been enjoyable. I'm really excited for him.
Part of the fascination of Fight Night has been its subversive, word-of-mouth appeal. Is the thought process behind producing the zine about drumming up exposure, or documenting the event’s very underground-ness by participating in that cut-and-paste culture?
Dylan Forsberg: Both Transmission and FNT are still relatively underground, so I don't think that combining the two could change much. It's still very word-of-mouth. But by creating this magazine, it will give us both something more solid to show everyone what we've been up to. It shows that we take these things seriously so that if anyone sees it and wants to get involved they'll know that we're not playing around, that we can put on a good show and create a beautiful product. At the same time, I've always believed in sharing what I've created with as many people as possible. This magazine will exist forever now, and whoever wants to see it will be welcome to eventually.
Dylan, as a photographer, you work primarily in film. Do you find a connection between the analogue approach you practice in your photography, and what many would deem an ‘analogue’ form of sport?
Dylan Forsberg: Everything involved in this project kind of revolved around chaos and chance. You never know whats going to happen in a bus with 15 kids over three days, or what will happen in the ring. And it's the same with film. I shot with my flash batteries low so that it captured both flash and natural light randomly, and, in my rush, turned knobs as I saw fit. I sometimes double exposed a shot by mistake or let light in. And it all just added to the candid feel. I don't like to take posed, still life photos. I want the magazine to feel messy because the experience was. And film can only enhance that.
FNT initially produced widespread rumours that the fights were about ‘model boxing’, when in fact the reality is far from aesthetically focused. What are the benefits for those involved in the events – inside the ring, or outside– who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds? What can they discover at FNT?
Bekim Trenova: FNT is completely tied into fashion. Most of us just so happen to come from a fashion background – and yes, models have boxed and still will here and there – but that's not at all what FNT is. It's so much more cultural. Every type of scene walks through the doors – hip hop, rocker, Wall Streeter, hippies – and every genre of music is tied in. Fight Night has literally launched people's careers. It's given so many street kids something to live for. I personally love giving people the opportunity to shine. If someone has talent or can put on a show, then why not help them?
You both come from a fashion first background. How do your experiences as models apply to your current roles, through Transmission and Fight Night?
Bekim Trenova: Modelling got me to NYC in 2003. So without that I wouldn’t have had any of the life I've led in the past ten years. I'm very fortunate and thankful for the opportunities that it's offered me. I feel super blessed and have a massive support system.
Dylan Forsberg: Well this isn't anything I haven't said before, but being a model taught me that I worked best when I was comfortable. So I try not to get in my subject's faces or direct them too much. I'm more of a voyeur, snapping when you least expect it. I'm there when you finally let go and live fully in the moment, unsuspecting of the camera. That way I allow the reader to see who these people really are, when they're at their best or their worst, rather than as a contrived shell. These people are my friends, and when they look at me they do as a friend does, and now the reader can experience that as well.
The photos in the zine are interspersed with quotations from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Why?
Dylan Forsberg: I actually just happened to start reading it shortly before the trip. A friend of mine told me that if I could get through the encyclopaedia on whaling in the middle of the book, he had cried at the end and said it was the greatest book he'd ever read. When I started packing for the trip, I realised how perfectly the themes might tie in. Ahab and his men bound together on one ship toward their possible doom, Bekim and his the same. The themes of man vs nature and man vs man. So I underlined as I went, and at the end pulled quotes from all over the book, piecing them together to make my own appropriated dialogue that I think enhances the story – without being such an obvious, expected choice.
“I love giving people the opportunity to shine. If someone has talent or can put on a show, then why not help them?” – Bekim Trenova
Describe the first fights you ever got into.
Bekim Trenova: You know, I always thought fights were interesting. So much goes into them physiologically. First, you have to actually be that angry or just want to physically hurt someone, and then your actual skill set of defending or attacking comes into play. I would say my first fights were with my sister growing up. But the first real fight I remember was on a cruise ship when I was on vacation. I was eleven, and got jumped by a couple of thirteen and fourteen year olds. Also, within my first two weeks of sixth grade there were over 17 fights! I was involved with one of them. Our school was wild.
Dylan Forsberg: I got picked on forever, but the first real fight I had was like my own version of that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie finally went into a rage. I was at a sleepover when the bigger kids in the group tried to force me and the other smallest to fight. I refused and stayed in my sleeping bag. They hit him, he kicked me, and after a few to the side, I wasn't able to bottle it any longer. I stood up and pummelled him to the ground. I blacked out, and came to, shaking, over him pleading for me to stop. I got up, laid back down and cried off the new-to-me adrenaline rush. Something I got used to as I got older!
What’s next for you both?
Dylan Forsberg: Well, I've got a gallery show coming up in a month or so and Transmission 3 soon after. But beyond that, I'd like to start spreading Transmission worldwide and building an online presence so that we can dabble in video. I'd also like to take Transmission Presents to it's full potential, as I feel it's opened up a whole new world. After this, I'm planning several one-off issues so that I can play around with different moods and styles of photography. They might focus on music, or an individual, or a brand, and will basically allow me and whoever the other fitting artists are to be schizophrenic and to live in a certain character for a while.
Bekim Trenova: I've been working on a documentary for three years about the five year story of Fight Night. We're cutting and wrapping that as we speak. It will hopefully be ready in next few months because then we'll start shooting the next NYC event and throw a Miami vs NYC fight at Art Basel for a TV show launch. Then we're going to Europe in two years. Basically I have the next two years rough drafted. We're just gonna turn this into the hottest live event there is. I'm excited.
Transmission Presents FNT launches on June 12