In addition to YouTube videos, there are numerous images online of Streetbeefs fights and the scenes surrounding them. Mostly, these photographs keep some distance from the bout itself, giving us a wide view of fighters, ropes, eager crowds, trees and clouds in the background. Finke, in contrast, is in the ring, alongside a referee, so close to the action that the faces of the fighters are often reduced to sweating or dusty flesh, the occasional gout of blood. Finke uses flash even in bright daylight (an assistant is in the wings), which has the effect of isolating the fighters when other bodies are visible, too—the black-clad referee interposing himself, spectators lined up behind the ropes—so that here, too, in the middle of a bout, a stillness reigns, as perhaps it does in all sports, if that is what this is, violent or not.
In a new book of his images, “Backyard Fights” (Hat & Beard Press), Finke supplements some of the pictures with the subject’s biographical details and a short quotation. Justin Craun, a young man in his twenties from Harrisonburg, says, “You can go in the yard, give your all, and walk out of there, and you’re both hugging and shaking hands at the end—win or lose.” Others focus on their own physical performance, on the release of tension and anger, on the bracing experience of failure in the ring. Leonidas Fowlkes, a warehouse and store merchandiser from Front Royal, captures something else: “I have tattoos. I have dreads. I’m African American. I get a perception. People judge me and think I’m just wild or just don’t care. But I feel like I’m an angel, I feel like everybody’s an angel in the world.”