Becky Olstad’s Sweet Science

Local photographer Becky Olstad has been cruising for bruisings.

University of Minnesota alumna Becky Olstad photographs Circle of Discipline member 21-year-old Puol Both Tuesday evening at ringside. Both is a youth mentor at Circle of Discipline and has made it into the 2012 Olympic trials.

University of Minnesota alumna Becky Olstad photographs Circle of Discipline member 21-year-old Puol Both Tuesday evening at ringside. Both is a youth mentor at Circle of Discipline and has made it into the 2012 Olympic trials.

Sarah Harper

What: Becky Olstad: The Sweet Science

Where: Runner Runner Gallery, 219N. Second St., Suite 200, Minneapolis

When: Until April 23rd

Cost: Free and open to the public

The world of boxing extends far beyond two fighters in a ring. At every fight, there are managers, promoters, doctors, trainers, ring girls, ring announcers and judges.

And then there’s usually photographer Becky Olstad, elbows up on the edge of the ring, getting spattered with blood and sweat.

“She’s always at all my local fights,” said Jeremy McLaurin, a local professional boxer.

Unlike many other boxing photographers, Olstad focuses her lens on more than just the fighting. She’s more interested in the personalities and the nuanced relationships than the one-two punches. While some of her photos capture flying fists, even more of them focus on boxers resting or training at the gym and close-ups of the tools of their trade, like the blue canvas of a boxing bag or a chalkboard.

Olstad, a University of Minnesota alumna, started taking these boxing photos back in 2009. She had gone to graduate school and traveled to Uganda to take photos for her Master’s thesis. She had also worked for the state of Minnesota, taking photos for tourism advertisements. But in 2009, she was teaching full time — and she found herself without any clients or editors to direct her.

“It was a big shift for me mentally to say, ‘Oh, what do I photograph?’”**** Olstad said.

Taking boxing photos made sense: Olstad grew up listening to her father’s stories about her grandfather, who was a boxer.

“They were these epic stories of right versus wrong. As a boxer, he often settled disputes with his fist,” she said.

Olstad felt that taking photos might help her understand the legend of her grandfather.

“Always, the camera, for me, has been a tool for exploration. It’s been an excuse to talk to people,” Olstad said.

So she started going to professional fight nights in Minnesota.

“I was hooked after that first night,” Olstad said.

After that night, Olstad brought her photos to Phil “The Drill” Williams’ gym in north Minneapolis.

“He took a look at the photographs, and he was so gentle with them. I had never seen anybody handle, basically snapshots, in this way,” Olstad said.

Using the photographs as a ticket in, Olstad was able to establish a level of trust with Williams that meant access to more parts of his life — she’s taken photos of him training and at the barbershop where he works.

By immersing herself into the complicated world of boxing, Olstad hasn’t gained much insight into her grandfather’s character. But she has been able to get more involved with her community.

She started volunteering her photography to the Circle of Discipline, a community gym for children and young adults on Lake Street. The gym is a force against violence, boosting kids’ self-esteems and acting as an alternative to gang activities. So now especially, Olstad wants to share her work.

“Getting the work out is a really important part of my photographic practice now,” Olstad said.