In the darkroom with Muhammad Ali

Now that the hand made silver-gelatin portfolio of Muhammad Ali photographs has been installed and the official grand opening is Saturday night at The Colony Theater in Miami Beach, let’s talk about the darkroom sessions that produced these prints.

I’ll try not to geek out too much about gear and focus on the creative.. Let’s see, I feel so extremely lucky to be entrusted to printing another photographer’s portfolio of Muhammad Ali. These images by Larry Spitzer and Jebb Harris of the Louisville Courier Journal are from a new book about Ali. Have a look…

Did I mention how important it is during your career to collaborate? As an artist it is something you should incorporate into your repertoire all the time. When you involved others in your work it is creating community and a dialogue. Two things that can’t done enough. Big ideas happen this way. The work can take on a new life or head a different direction. Why limit the possibilities?

My favorite 35mm enlarger. The Focomat V35.

I got the negatives from the newspaper. It was like receiving a time capsule in the mail. First of all the film was in plain brown envelopes. As ordinary as can be. One of them was type written Cassius Clay, Miami Beach. Feb, 1971. The other written in pencil, “Drama in The Bahamas” for Ali’s last fight ever against Trevor Berbick also February, but 1981. Inside these envelopes was silver and gold, silver for the film and gold for the quality of the images. It was amazing to think that film was with Ali when he was training for the title fight right here in Miami Beach.

The contact sheets.

First things first, the contact sheets. I learned to edit directly from the film in the early part of my career. There was no time for them in those days chasing news. But, I grew and learned to appreciate a good contact sheet. Having both the negatives and positive there at the edit is the best way to consider the work. It’s an overall perspective that shouldn’t be ignored.

All images were printed full frame with a small black border.

What stumps me is that each photographer who had been sent from Louisville to Miami Beach and also the Bahamas to cover Ali only shot about 13 rolls a piece. There are 26 rolls of film in total that I was working with from an archive of over many thousands of images. That amount of film seems so minuscule nowadays. That didn’t matter though, these images are priceless. These photographs are 47 years old now. Sure, there are some processing stains on the film. I guess they emerged after all the years of storage. I’m waxing nostalgic now.

A good old fashion test strip in the fixer. This image ultimately didn’t make it into the portfolio.

The portfolio that I am calling ALI/MIA consists of 20 double weight fiber silver gelatin prints. They are all sized the same at 16x20”. What intrigues me is that I had a somewhat similar path in life as Ali but in reverse. I grew up in South Florida and spent many, many days on Miami Beach. But, I went to college in Kentucky, Ali’s home state. Ali grew up in Kentucky and at age 18 moved to Miami so he could train with Angelo Dundee. So, there is a chance we both sat in the same chair at Wolfie’s on Collins Avenue.

The AK Foto ALI/MIA portfolio. Edition of 1.

Being in the darkroom is always a cathartic experience. The amber glow of the safe light. The cadence to the process. It’s mesmerizing. Creating something by hand with paper and chemicals that will last over 100 years, that there is silver in the paper. I was inspired decades ago when I watched the first print come up in the developer and I still am now.

Stay tuned, for more information about a film screening and a round table discussion on Ali.

Make sure to stop by the Colony Theater and see the prints for yourself.

and order your copy of the new book Picture: Muhammad Ali

Of course none of this wouldn’t be possible without Warren Winter at PSG who published Picture: Muhammad Ali and Olga Granda at The Colony Theater for exhibiting the work.

Thank you,