While interning for The Dallas Morning News in 2012, Steven Pfost documented the life of Leo Briseno Jr., a 17-year-old high school dropout who had taken up boxing in order to turn around his life. Not only did the sport offer a way out of poverty, it helped Briseno Jr. channel his energy away from drug addiction.
"I found that Dallas had a good number of small gyms that were training boxers," Pfost recalls. "I began calling and stopping by them, asking the trainers and owners if any of their trainees had any good stories behind them. The last gym I stopped at was named the 10th Street Gym. I had called the owner up earlier and he told me to stop by. He seemed very hesitant at first to help, but he finally told me the story of Leo. I met [Leo] a week later, and he was ecstatic that someone from the paper wanted to follow him around."
The result is a stunning collection of black and white images that chronicles Briseno Jr.'s life at the gym and his home, where he lived with his pregnant girlfriend, Elizabeth, and 2-year-old daughter. Pfost also produced a multimedia version of the project with an interview and sound effects for an online Father's Day feature (which you can watch here). Although the project was a success, shooting in the gym wasn't easy.
"I was frightened by the horrid lighting situation," Pfost recalls. "Florescent light, incandescent light, daylight in the beginning of training through the front door and a side window, and every bit of it was dimly lit. I decided right off the bat that this project was going to be converted to black and white."
Training, however, was only part of the story. Pfost spent most of his time with Briseno Jr. and his family in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff. Those meetings also proved to be difficult. Elizabeth was reluctant to participate. And then there were times when Briseno Jr. simply didn't show up. But when it came together, Pfost found plenty of ground to cover.
The boxer was barely getting by with low-paying jobs and had little furniture for his house. Despite this, one gets a sense of hope, not despair, when listening to his words.
"I think he wanted his story to be told," says Pfost. "Who knows how many people the story has reached. However, if another person who was in a similar situation as Leo watched the piece and it gave them hope, maybe a push to get off the ground and onto their feet, my mission is accomplished."
With his internship coming to an end, Pfost didn't have much time to complete the project. In addition to cataloging and editing the photos, he faced the challenge of matching images to the audio he had gathered. All his hard worked paid off when he showed Briseno Jr. and Elizabeth the multimedia piece at the gym.
"At the conclusion, Elizabeth cried uncontrollably, hugged Leo and whispered that she loved him," Pfost says. "I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was their story but I helped it come to light for the world to see. It is for these reasons that I love my job."
Since leaving Dallas, Pfost hasn't stayed in touch with the family. He does know that Elizabeth gave birth to their second daughter and hopes that Briseno Jr. will someday become a boxing champion.
"He constantly asked me that if he made it to his dream of fighting in the Golden Gloves if I would be there to photograph it," Pfost recalls. "I always replied with, 'Absolutely, in the front row.' I’m still anxiously anticipating that phone call."
Steven Pfost grew up in Lindenhurst, N.Y. and currently shoots for Newsday. His credits include the Democrat and Chronicle and the Concord Monitor.