Just two years later, Robert Steinau and his potato masher captured a triumph from inches away. Fighting LaMar Clark in Louisville, Clay had just landed the second punch that sent Clark to the mat — and it was still the first round. The brilliant flash captures Clay in perfect focus.
To get the shot, Steinau must have stuck his camera inside the ropes. In his photo Clark is falling, arms outstretched to catch himself before he tumbles to the edge of the ring and onto Steinau. Yet more memorable are the other two faces. There’s the referee whose expression betrays his worry for Clark. But you will instantly recognize the expression in the other. It’s the steady glare with a set jaw of the man who, he said of himself, was “so mean, I make medicine sick.”
As Clay’s career advances, so does news photography. After Clay claimed the heavyweight boxing title in 1964 in a match against Sonny Liston, Bud Kamenish met him and his family at the Louisville airport and made one of the first candid photos in the book. It’s nothing special in a technical sense — underexposed — but it conveys the jostling around the new champ and still manages to include propellers above the crowd’s heads, so you know where the photo was taken.
By 1970 Ali had moved East, and photographer C. Thomas Hardin visited Ali’s Cherry Hill, New Jersey, home to record the champ with color film while he relaxed with his infant twins, painted a harbor scene and ate a meal on a highly polished dining room table under a five-tiered chandelier. The series shows the champ in suburban bliss.
Ali’s star status was confirmed in the next several years, when photojournalists took advantage of faster film, with grainy Tri-X lending prints the cinema verité feel. In 1971, Larry Spitzer photographed Ali being photographed and tape-recorded during a training break in Miami while children looked on. Ali loved horse racing, and when he attended the Kentucky Derby in 1975, Bill Luster was there to see him joke around with Howard Cosell, giving him a hug as big as the smile on his face.
Hardin found an expansive vantage point for a photo of Ali’s morning run one day in the Pennsylvania countryside. It was a misty day, one of those that black-and-white film struggled to record, but Hardin uses the grain to his advantage as Ali and his wife, Veronica, jog away from Hardin down a road on the far left, with a long row of tall weeds growing from foreground to infinity.
The couple take only a tiny bit of the frame, obscured by mist, photographed from behind — the opposite of early news photos. Mood and atmosphere, and the photographer’s creativity, had become part of the journalism.