In 1966 the German photographer Thomas Hoepker was the first Magnum photos photographer, commissioned by the Stern magazine to portray the heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali, so he accompanied Ali over a lengthy period of time. This resulted in a unique photographic image of this exceptional athlete.
The present photograph, taken with the Leica MP-88, shows Ali in a confrontational boxing pose, looking straight into the camera with his clenched fist directly in front of the lens in the foreground. This is the only vintage print of the image from the holdings of the photographer, who printed it optically himself in the darkroom. It was to become the most important picture of Muhammad Ali’s career. Hoepker himself recalls its genesis: “During his training session on another evening the champ […] sees me standing on the sidelines, in the shadow. He comes over and aims his fist at my Leica – left, ‘wham’, right, ‘wham!’, left! The light is terrible, miserably low. I try to get the fist into focus, and just when I have only three images in the can, Ali prances back to his punching bag.”
This legendary photo is convincing in its density of content, its compositional sensitivity and its technical brilliance, and it also gives testimony to Hoepker’s extraordinary talent of capturing the right moment and telling a grand story with only one image. This lot is accompanied by two further photographs documenting the harmonious cooperation between Hoepker and Ali. Shot and counter-shot: Ali takes a photo of his portraitist Hoepker using the Leica MP-88, and Hoepker photographs Ali at the same time with his Leica.
- Ulrich Pohlmann (ed.), Thomas Hoepker Photographien 1955-2005, Munich 2005, p. 60;
- Magnum Contact Sheets, Munich 2011, p. 158.
Photo credit: © WestLicht Photographica Auction