There are a decent amount of coffee table books pertaining to MMA these days, but there are only so many times we can see the same images. Time after time, we get the same shots, but with different faces. Every now and then, we get a book that is not 100% mixed martial arts, but one more general that, for better or worse, gives us a different insight than what we would normally see. Today, we take a look at the latest book using that thought process: Tough Guys by veteran photographer, John Wyatt.
Released by Schiffer Publishing (the second book that the photographer has released with this company), this hardcover book weighs in at 144 pages of full-page photos and accompanying text. Over 70 pictures fill this book with images of not only fighters, but other "tough guys" as the title informs you, such as bouncers, soldiers, and a bounty hunter to name a few. Wyatt challenges readers to take the image of a "tough guy" and put a face to it. What do we see? A person covered in tattoos, flat nose from having it broken countless times, a person who shoots first and asks questions later, and many more things. Beyond the scary exterior, the photographer asks the readers to think about what lays beneath that, and gives us plenty to think about with that concept (albeit a cliché one, but any chance to humanize our combat sports brethren is fine by me).
In terms of name power, you can look forward to photos with MMA fighters like Ricardo Almeida, Hector Lombard, Thiago Alves, Danillo & Yuri Villefort, Jeff Monson, Jorge Santiago, and JZ Cavalcante to name a few. Beyond them, we have legendary martial artists, boxers, and coaches such as "Judo" Gene Lebell, Freddie Roach, Ricardo Liborio, Chuck Wepner, Howard Davis Jr., and Rob Kaman. Beyond them and other fighters, we also have a few other tough guys that fall under a different banner, such as a man called "Mad Dog", who spent his life as a pro wrestler and has since become a bouncer and a bounty hunter; Paul Vizzio, who started in underground bare-knuckle "Death matches" and moved on to become a pro kickboxer with a record of 47-1 before retiring; and Peter Storm, the man behind New York's underground MMA scene. There is not one face in this book that you would doubt as being a tough guy (or a tough girl, in the case of grappler Bridget Narcisse Christman and boxer Ramil Abreu).
The photos in the book are portraits. Nothing much more to say. Classic, traditional portraits - either full body or just the face - and nothing too daring or anything that would take you into their mindset or environment. Every picture seems sterile, and while it may be the idea to focus on the subject and let the viewer make their own decisions about it, the decision they will make is shallow and paper-thin - that these are scary-looking tough dudes. I wish the photos went deeper than that, because while they are nice portraits, they only scratch the surface in terms of content. Maybe I am jaded since I am a hardcore fight fan, but for readers like me who are used to this world, the photos do little for me other than being eye candy.
Each photo is accompanied with either an interview (written in the first person) or a blurb about the person, which in far too many cases is a mere handful of sentences with no real info. Poor guys like Dave Nielsen and even Hector Lombard get a mere three sentences explaining a few of their accomplishments, and not much else. It's a pity because these stories and interviews are what make things interesting, like underground fighter Tommy Guns or Ricardo Almeia's philosophy on combat.
Overall, Tough Guys is a book with a lot of potential, but stops short. For people who are not part of the fight world, like myself and (presumably) you, the book will be a good eye-opener with some easy-to-understand photos to make them say, hey, that guy really is tough, but not such a bad guy. For me, it's a bunch of nice but plain photos that could have benefited from more of those wonderful interviews. For what it's worth, it's not a bad book and a mostly interesting one.
You can order Tough Guys on Amazon.com for around $22, which is a decent enough price. It's a straight-forward book of portraits about some guys that are rough around the edges and delivers a fine product that, with some more tweaking, could have been a really great product. Take the book with a grain of salt, and you will get a lot more mileage out of it than I did.