Sport and Humanitarian Icon Muhammed Ali photographed by Gregory Heisler for Time Magazine for an article on Parkinson’s Disease. One of the greatest photographs ever made, in my humble opinion…

Known in the early 60’s as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr, Muhammad Ali passed away yesterday. Early in his career as a boxer, Clay had a meteoric rise due not only to his fierce athleticism, but to an equally abundant and fierce wit, uncommon courage and deep personality. Good or bad, you will hear a lot about this man in the next weeks or months, so I will not reinvent the wheel here. You will see the crude B&W videos of him taunting Howard Cossell and Joe Frazier alike in rhythm and verse. (which BTW delighted me and enraged my father) He became a cultural Lightning Rod for the 60’s turmoil, by converting to Islam, being the Heavyweight Champ, and a conscientious objector in the shadow of the War in Vietnam.

But I am photographer by trade and passion, my mission here is a bit different: I REALLY want you to see is this photograph of Ali created by Master Portraitist Greg Heisler. In his book 50 Portraits, Heisler tells the story of making this portrait on Ali’s farm in Michigan, a photograph that surely must have brought the photo editors at Time to tears. Find this book and read his recounting of his experience with Ali. You get some keen insight into how a successful photographic portraitist works. Look at this image and see how rules are broken (2 stops underexposed, shooting right into the sun and a fence dividing the image perfectly in half, top and bottom.) Then see how artfully he composed Ali with the tree and the sun for a beautiful triadic composition that cycles you to repeat your view.Yet we see Ali’s dark figure with visage luminous in this somber winter scene. With one Norman 200b portable strobe held by an assistant, (and thanks to pocket wizard) just outside the frame, Heisler adds light. Real and metaphoric light in the face of the man who was once “The Greatest” show us that though he is silenced by Parkinson’s he is alive indeed. We are invited to imagine what it is like to be Ali, unable to speak, AND what America and the world lost when Ali lost his voice. This image exemplifies the power of photography to express beyond the realm of words. If it does not move you you are not human. ~TEU

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