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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
He shook his head: "You're gonna party tonight." And that was it. It was easy for Dan, he had to wake up at one in the afternoon. Me, I'd never seen this kind of action on the road. I can't even begin to tell you what took place that night, but he introduced me to the night, Dan Jenkins did.
I shot Ali and Joe Frazier together in 2003 at Joe's gym in Philadelphia, and it was hard to sleep the night before. I knew it was something that would never happen again. This train's passing through my station once, I thought, and I want a good picture. Not just good, I want a monumental picture, one that stands the test of time. But SI wanted a goofy fist-to-the-jaw pose.
I decide to go with the 20-by-24 Polaroid. This camera is the size of an elephant. A technician has to wheel it around. The only thing I do is squeeze a cable release. But with its tonality and film stock, it makes gorgeous photos. I've had people cry when I showed them the prints. It's almost analogous to what Native Americans once thought photography did: The Polaroid captures your soul.
I arrive early and go in the back to see Joe. I say, "Joe, how're you doing?"
He can barely talk. "My legs are killing me, man," he says. He just walked in some sort of charity event, and he's beat.
I say, "Look, Joe. I've gotta put a stool into the ring for Muhammad"—here I pause—"but not you." This isn't good.
Then in comes Muhammad, and it's showtime. He goes, "Where Joe Frazier? I want that big, ugly gorilla. Where Joe Frazier?" But after that entrance, he never says another word. I have him in the ring for 45 minutes, which is a long time for a guy who can barely move due to his illness. Not a word.
I finish off the photos SI wants, and then I start to shoot these sepia Polaroids known as "chocolate," a combination of color Polaroid and black-and-white film processed together through the back of the camera. These I'm shooting for myself, which is the only way to get good pictures. If you just take what your editor wants, smiley pictures, you're sometimes dead. They hire you to do what you do best, but they always fight it a little, because they have this preconception of what they want.
So I have these two old, battered, sick warriors who left their lives in the ring, and Ali still looks mean. Every boxer's mean. And we got this one photo, the last one, in which you can see it all, everything right there on the faces of these two men.
I first photographed LeBron James in 2003, when he was a rookie in Cleveland. He was pretty raw as a teenager; he didn't have any of the smoothed edges he has now. When I shot him six years later, in 2009, the difference was amazing. He walked in like a king that day, and he took over that room. And not only physically, although he was massive then. I've never seen an athlete look like that. He was muscular, charming, articulate, the prince of hoops. He couldn't have been more of an ambassador for the game.