David Jaewon Oh is a Seattle-based photographer whose work has appeared in VSCO, Float Photo Magazine, Runner’s World, Good Sport Magazine, and publications for the University of Washington Alumni Association. His first solo exhibition, Combatants, opened at Gallery4Culture in early 2017 and featured selected works from David’s series of the same title, which documents female boxers and the gyms where they train.
David first became interested in the stories of female boxers while training at boxing gyms in the early- to mid-2000s. At many of the gyms he visited, David noticed that there was only one woman on the fight team, and that these women would always “stick around for the longest time.” This tenacity in the ring and at the gym made David wonder what drove them to train as fighters, and eventually served as the inspiration for Combatants when he launched the project in 2012.
Throughout his work for Combatants, David has aimed to add nuance to his photographs by interviewing the fighters he works with and using their stories to create a unique visual narrative for each one. “It’s always fascinating because everyone has a little bit of a different story than the person that I worked with previously,” says David. “My job is to not only take photographs of these people but to sift through the stories they tell me and create this identity that is suitable for them.”
In 2016, David received a GAP award to help with the production of the Combatants exhibition at Gallery4Culture in Seattle. Beyond the funding, David says receiving the GAP helped legitimize the work he’s done for Combatants and has made it easier for him to continue the series in a way that is meaningful to him and the fighters. “It was one of my dreams to receive some type of grant for this project,” he says. “I never intended to make this project to profit off of it or anything like that, but sometimes you do need that recognition or that foundation, and when I got that GAP grant, it really relieved me because I felt like I was doing something right.”
In addition to several commercial projects, David is currently working on expanding Combatants to include more women’s stories and says he plans to continue working on the project for as long as possible. His long-term hope for the project is that it will one day serve as an archive reflecting the women who are paving the way for future generations of female fighters.
David’s advice for artists applying for the 2018 GAP Awards is to, “Be yourself, do not give in, and just try. I was pretty timid about putting my application in to the GAP grant or anything in general, but you’re not going to know until you submit it whether you’re going to get it or not.”
To learn more about David and his current projects, visit his website.
Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She has been writing for the Artist Trust blog since July 2017 and loves learning more about Washington State’s arts communities.