Photographed within the studio the series focuses on a group of professional fighters from ‘Firewalker Health Club’, a martial arts gym in Wolverhampton. Stepping inside the ring to engage in combat is one of the hardest things a fighter can do, it shows spirit, courage and determination. Each fighter was asked what it was they thought about before they went into the ring to fight. The answers reveal to the viewer the individual’s identity, their emotions and self-motivation. Within this extreme sport the images also explore the diversity of ethnicity, age and gender.
All images copyright ©2013 Tony Blood Photography
No copying without the photographer’s permission.
Dre Groce, Fighter, 2013 “Before I go in I’m petrified. For the first five minutes before I actually get in the ring I’m wetting myself basically. And then as I see my opponent or I step in the ring I just get that confidence boost knowing that Joby’s there looking at the people in the corner, I just get that boost man, I just feel ready and I feel like I’m unbeatable.”
Joby Clayton, Coach, 2013 “I am looking to control my own nerves by being very professional and being their strength as well because they get very nervous. So I need to show them that we are a professional outfit and we keep going over the tactics that we’re going to employ in the fight and normally I just give them 2 different things that I want them to do, for instance I might say to them, ‘take the centre of the ring and be first.’ And that is what I’ll drum into them because while they’re thinking ‘oh my dear, what’s gonna happen, is this person gonna kick me hard, is he gonna punch me hard?’ I’ll take that thought away and put that thought in. The more experienced guys I see a confidence come about and they do a lot of positive self-talk and I just reinforce that. Obviously from my point of view as well I’m also thinking about what I might be saying in between rounds because I’ve only got about 30 seconds. How I’m gonna say it as well is very important, for instance, if somebody is dropping their guard there’s no sense in me saying to them ‘you’re dropping your guard’, I need to put it to them ‘keep your guard up’. So how you talk in the corner is very important and I might be rehearsing that just like the fighter is rehearsing what they’re gonna do in the ring, I’ll be rehearsing what I’m saying before the fight and in between rounds because those can be crucial moments for the fighter to win or lose the fight.”
Kerrith Bhella, Fighter, 2013 “There’s a whole lot of nerves, a lot of different feelings. You want to get in the ring. You’ll get butterflies in your stomach. You’re thinking ‘this guy’s trained just as hard as you and he’s gonna try and hurt ya.’ But it’s a funny feeling, I can’t explain it, you feel a certain emotion because there’s so many different emotions going through your mind at one time; you feel good, you feel bad, then you start doubting yourself and start thinking ‘no, come on!’ And it’s just a whole whirl of different emotions, I can’t explain it. When you get in there you feel confident, you just go and you’re in survival mode and you know what you’ve got to do and you just do the job.”
Ricky Ram, Fighter, 2013 “Before a fight I think ‘will my training pay off?’ To be fair right before a fight my nerves are really kicking off, so all I can say is before I go in to fight I just think to go right back to basics, I think of my stance, I think of my guard, I think about my straight punches, I think about my back leg roundhouse. And I think if I can execute my basics right in the first round then that’s a good sign, which gives me confidence to carry on fighting throughout the other rounds as well.”
Pavan Aujla, Fighter, 2013 “Well just before when you’ve got a few hours, staying relaxed, being calm, obviously you’re gonna be nervous and scared but as it gets closer and closer to the fight, let’s say 20 minutes in, 10 minutes in you’re thinking about the game plan. And then you’re kind of like psyching yourself up, talking to yourself, kind of like ‘ok, I’ve got to do this, come on let’s do this.’ You really have to talk to yourself until the point you just got to flip the switch and say ‘look let’s just do it, this is what I do, just fight, let’s do it.’ Sometimes you wish you’d have trained harder, like you wished you hadn’t have missed that training session but I think at that point I just try to listen to what Joby tries to tell me, which is the game plan and try to stick to that as much as possible, using combinations, keeping it quality, keeping it strong, keeping it fast and just try to impress the judges and win the fight even knock them out if I can, that’s the way I like to go.”
Mindaugs Tarvids, Fighter, 2013 “The main thing is you’ve done your training. You’ve been probably preparing for 3, 4 maybe more months and all you’re thinking of is ‘that’s it, it’s now, there’s no way back, even if you’re gonna win or lose, no matter what, you’re just gonna do your best and prove yourself that you can do it.’ Just do the best you can at the moment, that’s it because your friends and everybody around are watching and at that moment you’re not scared anymore. You were a bit worried before but right before the fight you think, ‘lets do it, it’s my job.”
Michelle Clayton, Fighter, 2013 “I’m thinking how hard I’ve trained, how hard my opponent has trained, not letting my family down, knowing how much I want to win a fight. Obviously all of the things Joby’s taught me, all those things will come into my head of keeping my guard up, keep my chin down, all the strength work we’ve done, all the training with the guys; all that comes into it. It’s quite emotional, you’re nervous and a little bit scared but you want to go in the ring and you want to fight and you want to win but everything that Joby’s taught you, stays. It goes and then it comes right back into your head again. As soon as you step into the ring, you’re ready to go.”
Lorayne Brown, Fighter, 2013 “First, for instance I’m very nervous, thinking about what the opponent is like. I then move on to positive things like winning and performing well, staying focused and giving 110%. I try not to think negative or I’ve lost the fight before I’ve started. Everyone gets nervous, but sometimes too many nerves can take you off focus. I believe in being confident with yourself, not too confident because sometimes it can work against you. I always remember that your opponent is nervous as well as yourself and my theory to life is when people participate in any kind of sports, whether its competitive or not, it’s not all about winning it’s about taking part. But for me personally, because I’m quite competitive and do variations of sports, I personally aim to win.”
‘Tells’ is a series of portraits of poker players photographed within the subject’s own environment. The work addresses issues around poker culture revealing the variety of class, ethnicity, age and gender within this field of gaming. Using a combination of image and text informs the viewer to question the ethics of poker and gambling from a neutral stance and unbiased opinion. Freedom and control can be associated with poker, the subject being free to stake their money in a poker game, simultaneously the ‘control’ element lies within the subject being in control of the game. Alternatively, it could be that the game is ultimately in control of the subject. Some consider poker to be addictive with its gambling strategies drawing the players back to play irrespective of whether they win or lose.
All images copyright ©2013 Tony Blood Photography
No copying without the photographer’s permission.
Stuart, 2012 “A few things I hate about poker are the fucking blinds going up too slow; time consuming crap! People who don’t have any balls. And deep stack tournaments, who wants to play in deep stack competitions? So they get this feeling they’re never gonna get knocked out. The trouble is every f**ker else is never gonna get knocked out either, they’re all just gonna die of boredom and Stuardo is gonna have to win. There’s a definite skill. It’s like a stock market skill; you look at your product you have in your hand, you weigh it up, you wonder how much you want to invest in that to go through to see a flop. It’s no good calling if you ain’t going to invest in another call. If you’re calling in an early ish position or in a late position get in there, throw away a big blind it doesn’t make no difference. You only have to win a few hands. To me it is actually like a risk management strategy that you have to approach it with, and know when you’ve lost or know you should lose, so if you’re four to the flush on the river you’ve got to know that you can’t just call half your stack off for it because it’s f**king stupid and you’ve got to know your odds. They say its 60% skill and 40% luck. I think there’s more skill. I tell you why I know there’s more skill in poker because the same c**ts win every week, they ain’t lucky every week, there’s just that much dead money floating about.”
Richard, 2012 “I’m in control of my cards and some of the players when I get a big hand. It’s fun to see the other player lose because you feel like you have an edge over them; it’s a competitive sport. I don’t feel sympathy for the loser, maybe when I was younger, but now I don’t. The luck can go either way, it can go unlucky for you or it can go unlucky for them. Poker is noted as a gambling game because there is the luck factor involved. It’s not a pure chance game like a Roulette wheel where you’re hoping that number’s going to drop. The skill is playing the players and the hands. There is a skill in poker because you have to read player’s hands. When you are playing you have to be aware of all the different bets and raises that are going on. You have to isolate players when you have a big hand so as you can make the best potential of winning a big pot. Chess players have to think of their moves in advance, so in some ways I would say poker is like that but not as skillful.”
Paul, 2012 “Obviously the high of winning is good. Being outdrawn and losing is not the best. It’s nice to pit your skills against somebody else, it’s good. Obviously the cards rule but you try and do your best against the other people. That’s what I like; the challenge, you can beat somebody with the worst hand. Winning at poker is excellent, you can’t compare it to anything because its got its own feeling. It’s just an individual feeling of happiness. Losing at poker is very low of course, comparable to having your heart ripped out and thinking where you’re going to get your next breath from…not good! I used to play online poker for 6 hours a day; I was addicted. There are too many players on there now. Back then there were worse players, we stood more of a chance winning against lesser players. Now you go online, you hit a brick wall; they’re either maniacs or good players. They don’t have crap players now, people are playing better; you’re out-skilled and out-numbered, so online is a no go. You sit there at the table and they’re watching you.”
Nigel, 2012 “With poker you’ve got a decision to bet, you’ve got a decision to call, you’ve got a decision to fold, and they’re all under your control. It’s a game of decisions and control. And the people who are more disciplined, patient and methodical are usually the players that win. The type of poker I play is fairly loose. I’m not a steady poker player and I like the buzz of being able to win from being behind on the cards so if someone has ‘Aces’ and I’ve got ‘Jack-Ten’, I like winning from that position. I think poker definitely can be an addiction. People are addicted to poker for different reasons, for me it gives me an adrenalin release. For other people it might be a gambling addiction. I don’t play poker to gamble, for me whether I win or lose is irrelevant. The most I’ve won playing poker was in the league finals, it was £4500 about 4 years ago. I don’t know where the trophy is! I beat a guy with Jack-Nine. He was ahead he had King-Ten and it was the final hand between two of us.”
Luke, 2012 “Poker is very egotistical so everybody gives themselves a high rating. Often if I concentrate I’m probably better than I think but it’s down to concentration and mood. We all think we are in control and then you throw your cards at the dealer. You’d like to think you’re in control but there are times where you do slip; the other side of your personality, that little devil in you kicks in and something comes out of you that probably wouldn’t normally come out. But what you’ve got to remember is if it’s in there, there’s a time for it to come out and poker’s one of those times where it’s unpredictable; that last card, in your mind you had the money and that last card just takes the money away from you. You see some people they go every day. Sometimes if you don’t play you get withdrawal symptoms, you’re thinking about the game, you’re preparing for the game throughout the day rather than maybe something else you’re supposed to be doing, so I’d say it has got a lot of addictive characteristics. But at the same time some people just use it as a way to get out. There are a lot of people that I see who maybe wouldn’t sort of mix with the general public but this is a way out for them. You see people playing from the age of 18 up to 80 so it’s a wide circle of people, a big family, and an association with people you may never ever speak to in normal life.”
Lisa, 2012 “I think poker actually gives you a thrill whether you win or lose. I like mixing and socialising with people. I do feel in control playing poker. I try not to let anyone effect me. Say if someone has given you a bad beat and I want to get them back, I wouldn’t do stupid plays against them to get them back for it. I don’t have a strategy. It depends who you’re playing against. I do think that sometimes knowing the player and not knowing the player can be an advantage and a disadvantage. For example if you know someone and they know you and your gameplay, you can play on that. You can represent hands that you don’t have because they think you only play big hands like Aces. You have to adapt to the people and the situations. You learn as you go.”
Jay, 2012 “I think superstitions are absolute nonsense. It’s the workings of an irrational mind. I can see why people do it because you are nervous or you’re excited. People who don’t understand the game might assume it’s lucky because anyone can draw good or bad cards but the skill is in the long run; you can deal the same cards to two different people in the same situation over a hundred hands and the better player will make the most of those cards than the worst player will, and sometimes that might mean folding the cards. Sometimes you can play well at poker and come out with nothing. So there is a skill but it’s over the long run. In the short term the luck is going to have a greater factor. I don’t see myself as a gambler, I’m taking some sort of chance but if I’m playing against players I think I’m better than and I’m playing at a level I can win at then I don’t think I’m gambling because I’ll assume I’m going to win some money. You can treat poker like a gambling game by taking unnecessary risks but that depends on who’s playing the game. If you play it often enough and you’re good enough then I don’t think it’s a gamble. Of course it could be addictive just like anything can be addictive. But I think most people who have got addictive personalities they would look to something else other than poker because poker is too slow moving, there’s too much thinking to be done.”
Dipesh, 2012 “There’s a higher factor of skill involved in my opinion. There is a large chunk of luck at certain times more than the skill factor. In the first two thirds of the competition I would consider it to be skill; the manner in which you accumulate the chips, stay out of dangerous situations and try and maintain hold of your chips. The later stage, because the blinds are higher, your chips are starting to dwindle at which point your range of hands to shove all in with. My game plan would vary depending on who’s on my table. You tend to assess the table in the first half an hour. You see how people play. You look at the players obviously; if you know them then you can make your decision a lot sooner because if you have aggressive people then you can tighten up your game. If you’ve got a table full of old biddies, then you can be more aggressive and know that they’ll rarely fight back at you. It just all depends on who’s on your table. But obviously the only game plan for every competition is to win it.”
Dominic, 2012 “I like ‘winning’ first, ‘playing’ second. Originally I used to like the general interaction of the game; meeting new people but less so now as I’ve got older and I know the people better. It was originally a social thing but not so much now. It’s like an escapism; I like the traveling that it brings with it too for me personally. I like travelling to different tournaments around the world, different things I’ve been to. I like to meet the people abroad and I like to play. It can be addictive. I’d say it’s more addictive to me when I’m losing because I don’t want to leave sometimes. Or if you’re on a really good rich reign of form you don’t want to stop playing, it works in two ways. And sometimes I don’t feel like playing, I have periods where I’m not really interested in the game, if it’s quite boring. But if you’ve got the right players and the right game I’d say it’s addictive because the game is so good you don’t want to leave, it’s worse to leave. I’m not one of those people who needs to be playing all the time. It’s the winning that is addictive. And if you’re losing, the chance to get your money back is addictive, there’s always hope, there’s always a chance you can win in poker. So that’s the addictiveness about it; you can always win something.
Dawn, 2012 “If I lost or if I was nearly out of a tournament, I’d go and buy straight back into another one and I might play a bit worse than I would have originally but I don’t really get upset or anything, maybe a little bit frustrated. Winning is exciting. It’s quite tense, up until when you see that your cards have won and then it’s like a big adrenaline rush. You just feel very excited. For example when I won that big amount of money I knew I was doing quite well, it’s the best I’ve ever done. I was sitting there feeling quite tense thinking as to whether my cards were gonna be good enough and when you put the cards down, you realise you’ve actually won, it was just an exciting feeling. There’s definitely a skill in poker and a lot of it I think is to do with how well you can read other people. There’s a lot of skill involved in it especially when it comes to calculating the odds and things like that. I don’t think you’d have the top players consistently doing well if there wasn’t any skill in it. If it was just luck then you wouldn’t have a group of really elite poker players, it would be different people winning all the time because it would be just luck.”
Alan, 2012 “To lose, it’s really gutting. And sometimes you’ve got to walk away and think yes that was my own fault and you sort of beat yourself up but the worst feeling is when someone has taken your chips and they didn’t deserve them. That kills me and I hate that. I’m not an aggressive person, I’m quite a pacifist if you like but I would kill people sometimes when I walk away from the table. That’s how it makes me feel because I don’t like losing, I’m very competitive. Even before I’m planning to get ready and go out I’m already convincing myself and psyching myself up that I’m going to win, I’m going to win. It’s when I sit down that I then start to get the game plan after watching people. It’s a development, and again that comes down to the skill side again. Yes I could just sit down there and play anything but you sit and you change your game plan, you switch gears, you watch folk, sometimes you even move away from the table and have a fag just to re focus your head because some idiot’s got in your head. But yes I just want to be first every time so that’s probably my game plan; I just want to be first.”