Up close in the brutal world of a female fight club

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Katarzyna Mazur spent months photographing a female fight club in Berlin

"I enjoy exploring new worlds, especially a world which exists in a gray area," Mazur said

CNN  — 

Under harsh lights in a private, rented room in Berlin, women face each other in violent, sometimes bloody battles of brute strength.

There are no official rules to this female fight club. The fighters are both beginners and professionals, anywhere from age 20 to 50, said photographer Katarzyna Mazur, who spent months documenting the club in 2013 and 2014.

Led by founders nicknamed Anna Konda and Red Devil, a match might pit a bodybuilder against a martial arts master. They can wrestle, throw punches or “cat fight.” There’s no judge, just someone who knows the parameters they’ve decided for the match. The small audience is mostly made up of men, but it’s a place for women to shed the roles they play outside.

“When I saw this kind of fighting for the first time, I was quite shocked. I had never seen something like that before, and it was really interesting to experience all of this so close,” said Mazur, who photographed the fight club as part of her work toward graduation from photography school. “Inhibition and fear do not exist on the mat.”

Photographer Katarzyna Mazur

At first, Mazur said, she shot the fight club in color, but the look of the blue mat and neon lights didn’t satisfy her. She shifted to black-and-white images and reduced her point of view, getting as close as she could to the action.

“It was not easy to work like that, because the matches were going very quickly and were unpredictable,” she said, although fighters were respectful and would stop if someone was seriously hurt. “I had to be very careful not to get hit. Fortunately, there are chairs on the side, so I could jump on them if the female fighters suddenly rolled under my feet.”

For all the aggression built into fighting, Mazur said, the project required a lot of sensitivity. She had to work quickly, and she didn’t always know her subjects well. The bouts, the motivations, the scene can all leave a lot of room for interpretation. Mazur said she had to examine her own limitations, questioning “How far can I go? Do they trust me? Am I allowed to do that?”

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    “I enjoy exploring new worlds, especially a world which exists in a gray area,” she said.

    She also had to remember that the fighters pushing and pummeling inside the club have lives outside, too – they’re mothers, partners, friends. Their actions on the mat might contradict how they live the rest of their lives.

    Even years later, the fight club is still running and is “better than ever,” Mazur said.

    “Very often, I was very moved after seeing and editing the pictures, realizing what exactly happened there,” Mazur said. “It is important to always remember my role as a photographer and to always approach the subject with interest and (an open mind).”

    Katarzyna Mazur is a Polish photographer based in Berlin. You can follow her on Facebook.