Leseprobe zu »Muhammad Ali / Fighter's Heaven 1974« (engl.)

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MuhammaD Ali Fighter’S Heaven 1974 e b o r p Lese

Peter angelo Simon
















































PEOPLE WITH CAMERAS People with cameras live peculiar and magical lives. Sometimes they just fall into things. I met Ali in Miami in the early 1960s. He was working out with Angelo Dundee, his trainer, and with his brother Rudy as his sparring partner. He was Cassius Clay then. He had not done any major fight that I knew of. He was simply an extraordinary looking physical being. Likeable and very funny. And you could talk to him like anyone else. I was wondering if we could film one of his fights. Bill Ray, who was with me, thought filming a fight was going to be difficult because we weren’t in that sort of film business, but still liked the idea. Bill was a Life photographer who had joined our filmmaking operation. He had a ferocious spirit—you couldn’t stop him, and we worked together for as long as I stayed with the magazine. I had worked on Primary, our first documentary, for Robert Drew Associates, which Life magazine sponsored. I learned a lot about shooting with a camera from Bill. He showed me a lot of things photographers know about, things I would never normally think of doing, like changing focus in order to look at different people in a line of faces. The kind of filming we did, you’re always hunting, you’re not even sure for what, and you’re taking pictures of everything that’s going on around you. Later you must turn them into a story, a theatrical event, with characters who tell you what’s going on. By then you’re a different sort of person. You’re a chef and the film you make will be the only one of its kind you will ever make. It will be like a dream remembered for the rest of your life. What Peter did with his camera at Deer Lake in August of 1974 lets us experience Muhammad Ali’s private world in a way not seen before. These photographs preserve the ambience of a time and place and reveal aspects of the character, now world famous, that Bill and I had met in Miami long ago. The camera was an invention of the nineteenth century; it may have existed before but not as a medium for public viewing, and the whole nineteenth century opened up to pictures of itself in many ways. I’ve filmed many times with President Kennedy and I think he may have seen what I was doing as filming a history of the presidency for presidents to come. He once told me that he wished someone had been filming Roosevelt when he declared war on Japan. By the time Peter photographed him at Deer Lake, Ali meant a great deal more to people than as just a famous sports figure. It’s clear from the access Peter had that, like Kennedy, Ali was interested in history and saw value in the creation of a record of his activities at a crucial moment in his life. And with his camera, Peter accomplished that.

D A Pennebaker New York, New York February 2016







ENCOUNTER AT DEER LAKE August 10, 1974. As I drove from New York City to rural Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, I tried to imagine what I would find there. I was on assignment for New Times magazine to take some photographs at Muhammad Ali’s training camp that the art director could use to illustrate a piece they had in the works on Ali’s preparation for the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, Africa. A global audience was fixated on the fight that would determine the next world heavyweight boxing champion. I had never been to a boxer’s training camp. In fact, aside from movies, I knew very little about the “sweet science.” Educated by Hollywood films I supposed thick, menacing men in ill-fitting dark suits would be lurking about the premises with no clear purpose, the left side of their suit coats bulging near the heart. What I did know was that Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay, Jr.) was the most recognizable human on the planet. I knew that he was an extraordinary individual whose personality encompassed multitudes. Often he was loud, pushy, and arrogant —a clown, whose witty and provocative antics were always surprising. He was also an outspoken voice for civil rights with a global perspective. Like everyone else, I knew he had become a Muslim and was a follower of Elijah Muhammad. I knew that he had been arrested when he refused the military draft at the height of the Vietnam War, that his world heavyweight championship title had been stripped from him, and that his draft case had ultimately been decided in his favor by the United States Supreme Court. Following my instructions from the main highway I spotted a sign with an arrow: “Ali’s Camp.” I found the motel where a reservation had been made for me and I retired early. At four thirty in the morning I was awakened by an insistent pounding on the door. A voice shouted, “Grab your pants and your camera! The Champ is running!” There were four men in the car. I squeezed into the back seat. Soon we were driving very slowly on a rural black top past trees and cornfields, past a letterbox on a wooden post. Nobody around. Up ahead was Muhammad Ali dressed in gray sweat pants and sweatshirt, army boots on his feet. I scrambled out of the car and started shooting Ali from behind as he jogged. In the very first shot Ali’s breath is visible in the early morning cold. He is running along the right edge of the road toward the awesome blast of the rising sun. Over the next five miles I was in and out of the car shooting Ali as he jogged. A cow in a field of daisies watched as he passed. In the empty countryside the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world raised his arms in victory. At the end of the run Ali jabbed the air and danced in the road, cooling down; with me shooting all the while. We had not spoken. “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 got me. He understood I was not interested in him posing and mugging for the camera but in observing the reality of his preparation


for the pivotal fight just a month away. Our unspoken agreement: he’d do his thing and I’d do mine. Ten years earlier I had been successfully disguised to myself as a writer (public affairs television documentaries) when I heard about a workshop given by an exciting teacher and photographer, Harold Feinstein. The workshop made known to me my essential visual nature and inflamed my passion for photography. With an extraordinary compact tool—my camera—I could go anywhere and capture what I saw and felt in the moment. At this time a revolution was taking place in the making of documentary films—a radical shift in attitude and in the equipment available for filming. Robert Drew, Ricky Leacock, D A Pennebaker and a few others were cobbling together lightweight cameras and tape recorders that could make sync-sound movies without the umbilical cable connecting camera and recorder. These cameramen and camerawomen were a new kind of storyteller, their films a new kind of drama. They were motivated by a yearning to seize real life as it unfolded: no script, no narration, no authoritative voice to tell the audience what they were seeing. Like anthropologists, they were committed to witnessing and recording the flow of life while influencing it as little as possible. They had a sophisticated appreciation for the value of capturing historic activities and behavior raw. The first of these “Living Camera” films was Primary: produced by Robert Drew, shot by Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles, and edited by D A Pennebaker. It focussed on the 1960 Wisconsin presidential primary contest between John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. It gave me goosebumps. You were there when Jack bounded out of his car and dashed in to get a quick haircut. You followed Kennedy right up the back stairs of a Polish union hall and onto the stage to face a cheering crowd of exhilarated workers, and you crammed into crowded hotel rooms with the candidates and watched their faces as they awaited voting results. Leacock said he wanted to capture “the feeling of being there.” And that was precisely what I aspired to do with still photography. Ali was facing the most crucial challenge of his professional life. Here was an opportunity to see what he did to prepare for it; to witness a historic moment in time. In 1970, though stripped of his title, Ali remained in the minds of his people the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. But he was still training at Miami’s Fifth Street Gym where conditions were appalling. According to his right-hand man, Gene Kilroy, Ali was paying exorbitant rent; the steaming hot facility was infested with rats and termites and had no working shower. A training camp for Ali worthy of a champion was an idea with appeal. Ali’s “Fighter’s Heaven” was built on a hilltop site overlooking a distant valley to give him a place to withdraw from the world and get ready to do battle. Gene Kilroy was at Ali’s side much of the time from the 1960s to the 1980s. He was the facilitator who helped Ali achieve big visions and everyday particulars. Kilroy knew the area around the Pennsylvania town where he had grown


up and he knew the local politicians. He knew how to get things done. “We found a nice piece of land and we bought it. It was central to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. We had a little trailer on it. Ali wanted log cabins, and I found a guy who built log cabins. We built the camp. I got the state to put in a road. We even had cable TV.” The gym, mess hall, and kitchen were all made of logs. Ali’s mother, father, and Aunt Coretta saw to the cooking. Among the talents of Cassius Clay, Sr. was sign painting. As boulders were hauled to the camp and maneuvered into place, Clay, Sr. painted the names Ali chose for each one: Sugar Ray, Rocky Graziano, Kid Gavilan, Floyd Patterson, Rocky Marciano, Willie Pep, Tony Zale, Joe Frazier, and Archie Moore. Ali’s dad also danced and sang. Ali had absorbed the old man’s infectious banter, which he spun into streaming, high energy taunts and poetry to become— some have said—one of the first rappers. No one visiting Fighter’s Heaven could fail to be intrigued by the painted boulders that lined the edge of the camp, certainly not me. The biggest was six feet wide and four feet high. Visitors were drawn to them, gathering nearby or sitting on them. Occasionally Ali enacted quick little performances with them. In the late afternoon light, he stood on “Jack Johnson” with fists raised in a gesture of triumph. Another time he leaned against “Joe Frazier” with a grimace and clenched fists, draped his body across the boulder, put his booted foot high up on it and pressed toward it with flat palms, all in swift succession. Then he walked away as if it meant nothing to him. I could only speculate what these stone monuments meant to Ali. The feeling was unavoidable that they served both as tributes to the heroes of his sport and cautionary auguries of the perils he faced. The silent stones were strong men felled by time. They reminded me of the renowned standing stones in Carnac, France, placed there six thousand years ago and marching across acres of the countryside in parallel lines. Each has a character of its own. “A field of souls,” I thought. There are several stories about where the idea for Ali’s site-specific artwork originated. In the fall of 1960 the young Cassius Clay, Jr. went to train with the old boxing master Archie Moore at Moore’s camp, “The Salt Mine,” in the hills outside San Diego. In his book, King of the World (Random House, 1998), David Remnick says Clay was enchanted to find large rocks bearing the names of boxing greats of the past adorning the grounds. Some ten years later when Ali created his own camp at Deer Lake, he carried out the same idea on a larger scale. Gene Kilroy told me, “The stones at Moore’s camp were much smaller.” In his book, Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven (Hutchinson, London, 1998), Victor Bockris says Ali introduced him to a local man named Harvey Moyers who had helped build the camp. Bockris says Ali told him it was Moyers idea to bring large boulders to the camp and paint the names of past boxing greats on them. Ali said Moyers located a large boulder and had it brought to the camp and suggested it bear the name of the boxing legend Jack Johnson. Perhaps this was Ali’s way of thanking Moyers for all he had contributed to the building of the training camp.


The atmosphere and activities at Fighter’s Heaven were designed as an antidote to the grueling exertion and boredom of training and to nourish Ali’s image as Champion. I believe everything I saw there was part of Muhammad Ali’s imaginative formula for success in the looming fight against the brutal, undefeated George Foreman. Although the camp was created as a sanctuary for his training Ali was nourished by people. This meant visitors—locals to watch him spar, young people to inspire, and notables of every kind including writers, boxers, artists, movie stars, politicians, and musicians. They could not be kept away and they were all welcomed at Fighter’s Heaven. In the forty-eight hours I was there, Ali toured a home for old people, gave an exhibition match at a local high school, worked and joked with the construction team delivering boulders, shared his poetry with a visiting actress and writer, relaxed and entertained local visitors in a log cabin, worked the punching bag while the black power activist Stokely Carmichael looked on admiringly, performed slight of hand tricks in the gym’s ring, and played straightman as show business magician Doug Henning linked five solid metal rings to form a chain (a trick I had performed myself as a child magician). I don’t think about how many pictures I’m taking when I’m shooting. It’s about what engages me moment to moment. The outside world and my inner world meet in the rectangular proscenium of the viewfinder to be captured in an instant I choose. Rarely do I have time to think consciously. I’m like a downhill racer. I’m in the zone. Ali told me no one had ever taken so many pictures of him. It turned out to be 33 rolls—1080 individual frames in the two days. In the 1970s you shot 33 rolls, you had 33 contact sheets to look at, a complete record of what you got every time you pressed the shutter. The eighteenth century poet William Wordsworth said poetry is “emotion recollected in tranquility.” That’s how I see editing. In this pleasurable chore you discover things you got that you had no consciousness of at the time; something happening at the edge of a frame: gestures, expressions, activities, objects. In many of the photographs Ali is the focal point, the center with people arrayed around him. It is as if his energy organizes them in space. The art director used three or four of my photographs with the published article in New Times. I identified perhaps fifty images that I have printed and exhibited over the years. It was a revelation to have Tony Nourmand, this book’s editor and publisher, scrutinize every single frame with his hungry, knowing eyes and spot and select frames I had passed over, and frankly, had no memory of, but now saw as if for the first time. Looking at these pictures now I feel again the authority of the inner character who compels me to shoot. “Take This! And This! And This! Click! Click! Click!” And once again I am in a region between stills and movies. I am in Photographer’s Heaven! Peter Angelo Simon Brooklyn, New York February 2016










Edited by Tony Nourmand Art Direction and Design by Joakim Olsson Project Co-ordination and Text Edited by Alison Elangasinghe Production Assistance by Rory Bruton Pre-Press by HR Digital Solutions First published 2016 by Reel Art Press, an imprint of Rare Art Press Ltd., London, UK. www.reelartpress.com First Edition 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 ISBN: 978-1-909526-38-9 All photos © Peter Angelo Simon www.alifightersheaven.com except p.173: Photo of Pennebaker & Simon © Frazer Pennebaker Copyright © Foreword Text “People with Cameras”: D A Pennebaker Copyright © Introduction Text “Encounter at Deer Lake”: Peter Angelo Simon Copyright © in format: Rare Art Press Ltd., 2015. The high resolution scans for this book were provided by: Panopticon Imaging www.panopticonimaging.com and Empiricalnon Drum Scans www.drumscanning.com Photographic prints of Simon’s work are available through Serena Morton II, London. www.serenamorton.com This book is available worldwide: Available in the USA & Canada through ARTBOOK | D.A.P., 155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10013. T: (212) 627-1999 Fax: (212) 627-9484. www.artbook.com Available worldwide (exc USA & Canada) through TURNAROUND, Unit 3, Olympia Trading Estate, Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6TZ, UK T: 020 8829 3000. www.turnaround-uk.com All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. Every effort has been made to seek permission to reproduce those images whose copyright does not reside with Rare Art Press Ltd., and we are grateful to the individuals and institutions who have assisted in this task. Any omissions are entirely unintentional, and the details should be addressed to Rare Art Press Ltd. Printed by Graphius, Gent.