My good friend photographer Michael Brennan has a superb exhibition of his work with the legendary Muhammad Ali opening in November at the Artworks Gallery in Pasadena Los Angeles. It will be Ali's 70th birthday.
The centrepiece is a stunning close-up of Ali, taken in 1977 and is described by the gallery as 'capturing the fighter's vitality and determination.' I think it does more than that. The fighter himself describes it best. When he first saw the picture, Ali said of it, "I can feel the texture of all the sweat and hard work. I can feel my life."
Michael describes taking it: "He (Ali) had been sparring and a television guy had been in the ring with him shooting film but for a few seconds he came into the corner of the ring where I was and I saw the expression on his face. I could see everything that lay behind it. In a hundredth of a second I shot the picture I had always dreamed of. Ali used to joke that he gave me access I could never expect from Barbra Streisand or Frank Sinatra." It was typical of the man that Ali wanted to be helpful to a young photographer making his way.
I met Ali at a press conference at the Piccadilly Hotel at the height of his fame and can only describe meeting him as a shock and awe moment. He exuded an aura I've never experienced in any other sportsman or celebrity. He riveted a crowded room and you knew you were with someone very special.
A limited edition of the portrait, signed by Ali and Michael Brennan, will be available for sale and a portion of the exhibition proceeds will go to The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorder Clinic.
This winter the portrait will be inducted into the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian as part of the permanent collection.
In addition, there will be on display a very rare collection of Brennan's photographs from a series entitled "Ali and his Educators" taken in 1980. Michael travelled extensively to locate and photograph those elite few men who had actually faced Ali in the ring. Most have fallen into obscurity since their moment with the most famous boxer of all time. Their careers varied from a chief of police to a building contractor, a convict to a CEO.
Brennan has photographed some of the most iconic personalities of our time including The Queen, Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, Pele, George Best, Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson, Mother Teresa and John Lennon to name just a few. In 1970 he was awarded British photography's highest accolade, "Photographer of the Year," presented to him by Princess Anne.
For those in Pasadena the exhibit opens at Design Within Reach on 8070 Beverly Blvd from 10th Nov to the 17th when it moves to the Artworks Gallery.