In the months following the release of my book, I’ve had a great deal of positive responses, especially at my last two book events. People have been wonderfully receptive and shared their own responses to the images and experiences of Ali.
Noting that Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974 was published just as the champ passed away, American Photo magazine called the book “a time-capsule reminder of Ali’s unique powers” and has selected it as one of this season’s best photography books.
On Monday December 12th at 6:30 at the Midtown Library (6th floor) I will be showing many of the photographs from my book (most never before published) and discussing the extraordinary experience of photographing at Ali’s training sanctuary. Ali understood that I was not interested in him posing and he allowed me to record his surprising preparation for the dangerous pending fight in Zaire.
In an upcoming issue of The Ring magazine, Thomas Hauser (Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times) writes “My favorite photos are Ali away from the ring; private moments, in and outside his cabin at Deer Lake including the astonishment and joy that greet him on a visit to an assisted living facility and a run through the countryside just after dawn.
One of the photos particularly caught my eye. Ali is running past a cow that’s grazing in a flower filled meadow. The meager daylight gives the feel of an impressionistic painting.”
I am very pleased to say that my book is available in the bookstore of the new National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington.
There is something seriously wrong with a world that does not have Muhammad Ali in it. In the late 1960’s a dance company was warming up in a theater in upstate New York. As the sound system was being tested a dancer stood on stage balanced on one leg. Suddenly he fell over. Company members rushed over to see what had happened.
“I was fine until they cut the sound,” he said. “I had been leaning against the music.” Without realizing it I had leaned against Muhammad Ali’s spirit. Its sudden absence upset my balance.
What I knew personally of Ali I learned in the two days I spent at his Pennsylvania training camp just weeks before the Rumble in The Jungle in Africa. Virtually every thing I saw there was surprising and to me photographically irresistible. Ali told me that no one had taken so many pictures of him before; it turned out to be over one thousand. I don’t think about how many pictures I’m taking while I’m shooting; it’s what engages me moment to moment. There’s an inner character who compels me to shoot. I’m in a region between stills and movies
These photographs, most of which have never before been published, are collected in the forthcoming book, “Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974.” by Reel Art Press. It will be released in the UK in July and the US in August.
From The New Yorker’s online Photo Booth:
In a foreword to the book, the documentary filmmaker D A Pennebaker writes that “Ali was interested in history and saw value in the creation of a record of his activities at a crucial moment in his life.”
From those first shots there was an unspoken agreement: Ali did his thing and I did mine. Pennebaker says “People with cameras live peculiar and magical lives.” I was in Photographer’s Heaven. The record of what I witnessed there can be seen in Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974.
Great news! I have four photographs in a big Muhammad Ali exhibition opening in Berlin on August 15th. The Camera Works Gallery show will run through October 10th.
The images are all 16×20 gelatin silver limited edition prints seen on this site:
These four images well represent my intention to capture Ali’s activities naturally at this critical moment in his career.
This is the only time I asked Ali to do anything for the camera. As we came back from his dawn run I saw the entrance to the camp for the first time, and I told Ali I’d like to get a shot of him there. Tired from the run – still without breakfast – he posed himself as you see. It is the only picture I can recall where you see Muhammad Ali in a passive pose. The previous day I had watched his father paint the boulder on the left. Already it was in place, joining other boulders with the names of boxing greats arrayed around the camp. The camp’s buildings all were made of logs as Ali specified for his Fighter’s Heaven.
The knocking came at 4:30 a.m. The voice through my motel door said, “Grab your pants and your camera, the champ is running!” The sun was just breaking through the trees when I jumped out of the car and began shooting. Muhammad Ali was ahead of me jogging along the rural Pennsylvania black top, his breath visible in the early morning cold. A cow in a field of daisies watched as he passed.
August 25, 1974
I was in and out of the car, not up to running five miles before breakfast. Running by a cornfield Ali raised his arms in a victory salute .
At the end of the run he jabbed the air and danced in the road, cooling down, I shooting all the while. “Get this,” he said. I raised my camera positioning for a vertical. Ali pulled up his sweatshirt and the rubber liner inside it. As I shot water poured out. “It’s called letting out the sweat,” he said. At that moment I realized that Ali had got me. He understood that I was not interested in him posing and mugging for the camera but in observing the reality of his process of preparation for the comeback heavyweight world championship fight in Africa a month away.
The people genius was right. I was writing public affairs documentary films for television when I discovered how much excitement and pleasure photography gave me. Edward R. Murrow had said television was like reporting with a one ton pencil. Now the pencil weighed 33 pounds with camera and sound unattached but in sync. The Living Camera narrationless films Ricky Leacock, D A Pennebaker and a few others were making were devoted to capturing “the feeling of being there”. And that was precisely what I aspired to do with still photography.
I was astounded by what I found at Ali’s camp. “If there’s a secret to my fights,” Ali had said, “it’s how I prepare,” . The place had an air of artistry and imagination: log cabins, magic tricks, huge power stones bearing the names of boxing greats, poetry and humor. In the next two days I went everywhere with Ali – an old people’s home, an exhibition match, watching him practicing the “Rope-a-Dope”, taking tea and talking poetry with a visitor. I shot 33 rolls in the two days. Ali said nobody had ever taken so many pictures of him.
In 1974 Muhammad Ali was thirty-two years old. He was notoriously fast on his feet and quick with his tongue. Today to simply speak or move is a challenge. A world of well wishers still cherishes his spirit and is inspired by his extraordinary life.