Gordon Parks Rarely Seen Photos of Muhammad Ali Are A Knockout.

Gordon Parks Muhammad Ali photos

American Champion, an exhibit which showcases intimate and never before published photos of Muhammad Ali by American photographer Gordon Parks has just opened at 48 Wheeler Avenue in Pleasantville, New York.

Gordon Parks Muhammad Ali Photos

Gordon Park MuHammad Ali exhibit

The exhibition of 22 photographs of the infamous Olympic gold medalist and world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali were taken in 1966 and 1970.

Muhammad Ali photos by gordon parks
Ali relaxes by reading an article about himself in London, 1966

Gordon Parks photographed Ali for a September 1966, LIFE magazine article, “The Redemption of a Champion,”  a profile of Muhammad Ali.  At the time the athlete was in the midst of an intense national controversy after chaining his name from Cassius Clay, converting to Islam, and joining the Black Muslim cause. He was chastised for anti-white sentiments and for declaring himself a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War (on grounds that his religion forbade him to fight in this conflict).

Muhammad Ali's Fists. Miami, 1966 Gordon parks
Muhammad Ali’s Fists. Miami, 1966

Amid the uproar, Parks met Ali in Miami in 1966, where the champ was training, then accompanied him to London for his next fight.

Muhammad Ali training
Ali training in Miami, 1966
Gprdon Parks pics of Muhammad Ali
A trainer works on Ali’s shoulder in Miami, 1966
Muhammad Ali in Florida by Gordon Parks
Muhammad Ali, Miami, Florida, 1966
Muhammad Ali photos
Ali in a hotel kitchen, playfully boxing with a staff member. Miami. 1966
Gordon Parks photos
Untitled, Miami, Florida, 1966
Ali prays before eating in his rented bungalow in Miami, Florida, 1966
Ali prays before eating in his rented bungalow in Miami, Florida, 1966
Muhammad Ali driving his Cadillac 1966.
Muhammad Ali driving his Cadillac during training for his coming fight against Henry Cooper. Miami. 1966.

In his photographs and text, Parks crafted a psychological portrait of Ali that most Americans might never have imagined; he hoped to rehabilitate Ali’s image by showing the human side of the smooth-talking fleet-footed boxer who often came off as supremely confident, even arrogant, in his public appearances. The article was tremendously popular and helped redefine Ali’s career.

Muhammad Ali portraits
Untitled, London, England (1966)
Muhammad Ali Trains in Hyde Park, London, 1966
Muhammad Ali Trains in Hyde Park, London, 1966
rare photos of Muhammad Ali
Untitled, London, 1966
rare Gordon Parks photos of Muhammad Ali
Ali composing a letter while in London, 1966.
Gordon Parks, Ali praying in London, 1966
Ali praying in London, 1966
Ali fighting in London by Gordon Parks
Untitled, London, 1966
Muhammad Ali Fights Henry Cooper
Muhammad Ali Fights Henry Cooper, London, England, 1966
Black and white photos of Muhammad Ali
Just after his successful 1966 heavyweight title defense over Henry Cooper in London, 1966
never before seen gordon parks photos
Ali meeting with reporters at his fight against Henry Cooper. London, 1966
rare photos of Muhammad Ali
Ali leaning against a banister in his newly tailored suit. London, 1966

Four years later, in 1970, Parks profiled Ali again—this time as he was attempting to win back his world heavyweight crown from Joe Frazier.

Muhammad Ali sparring 1970
While training for his fight against Jerry Quarry, Muhammad Ali bounced a right hand off a sparring partner in Miami, 1970
Muhammad Ali at his Champburger restaurant
Ali surrounded by young admirers, who held up pictures of him, at his Champburger restaurant in Miami, 1970.

While the initial images in the 1970 Life article express the ferocity the twenty-eight-year-old boxer brought to his training, Parks again evinced sympathy for Ali through disarming images, such as the famous picture of him glancing wide-eyed in the locker room (below).

Gordon Parks, Ali in locker room
Ali in the locker room in Miami, Florida, 1970

The twenty-two photographs on display in American Champion provide a glimpse into these two picture stories and the burgeoning friendship between Ali and Parks at a pivotal moment in each man’s career. The exhibition remains open through September 24.

Muhammad Ali American Champion exhibit

American Champion
Gordon Parks Foundation
Pleasantville, NY
June 6 – September 24, 2016

All images in this post are © and courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation