My work in South Africa serendipitously grew out of a photographic exploration of the culture of amateur boxing in the U.S. and abroad. This work led me to the Luyviso Boxing Club in Khayelitsha, a township approximately 40 kilometers outside of Cape Town.

There, I was taken by the determination and dreams of kids who showed up each day after school to a well-used community center converted into a makeshift gym, in bare feet, ready to sweat and to sharpen their jab, hungering to be contenders. From this inspiring boxing club, my interest grew to include other aspects of daily life in the young democracy of South Africa.

Since 2004, I have made more than a dozen trips to the traditionally black townships of Langa, Khayelitsha, Philippi, and Gugulethu. I have photographed in classrooms of overcrowded schools, the emergency room of a government hospital, burgeoning vital churches, precarious streets and the homes of people who live in these struggling areas. My pictures are a testament to the enduring spirit of those South Africans who face endemic violence, extreme economic hardship, and racism that has not abated, while still maintaining dignity, hope and courage.

Outside the cities frequented by tourists and business travelers, in vibrant townships, I have found beauty and strength and all the contradictions of being human in the people I have photographed—a preacher testifying to his rapt congregation; the loving embrace of a couple at day’s end; the proud regard of Sindi in her traditional Xhosa dress; the mournful funeral of a young Sotho man; the shock of violence laid bare upon on a woman’s face and broken body; the poetry and grace of a girl dancing on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Above all, I endeavor to portray and celebrate the full lives of my subjects. I commit to long-term projects, deepening my relationships to people and place as I return over and over again. In many respects, I try to stand with my subjects, rather than in front of them.

—Anne Rearick