“I Am King of the World”: Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky at New-York Historical Society, December 11, 2016 – March 26, 2017

“Muhammad Ali’s legendary professional boxing career spanned twenty years, from 1960 until 1980. December 1965 George Kalinsky followed sportscaster Howard Cosell into Muhammad Ali’s workout session at the 5th St. Gym in Miami. Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, stopped Kalinsky at the door, telling the young man with a camera that he had to pay to enter. “But I’m the photographer at Madison Square Garden,” he said. It was a position he did not have…yet. Nevertheless, he gained entry to the gym and a week later, using the one roll of film he took of Ali in Miami, Kalinsky convinced personnel at Madison Square Garden to give him a shot as their official photographer, a position he still holds today.

The encounter in Miami launched a relationship between boxer and photographer that quickly bonded into a close friendship, one that lasted through the rest of Ali’s life.

Kalinsky spent days with Ali—at the Garden for his fights, at Ali’s Deer Lake training camp, and at other facilities where the boxer prepared for bouts. Sometimes they would just walk the streets of New York City together. Kalinsky once remarked that Ali always thought of himself as an entertainer, a salesman, and a fighter and the photographer recorded it all—in the ring and out of it. Kalinsky saw Ali win and he saw him lose. But he also saw the side of Muhammad Ali that the boxer wrote about in his memoir, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey (2013). “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” Ali said many times in reference to his fighting. His stinging punch was, like a bee, fast and direct. But he also likened his soul to a butterfly—a wonder of nature with delicate beauty and grace.

Tributes poured in after Muhammad Ali died. Billy Crystal eulogized that Ali’s “intense light shined on America and we were able to see clearly: injustice inequality, poverty, pride, self-realization, courage, laughter, love, joy, and religious freedom for all.”

President Obama remarked that Ali had become a “powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world….Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it.”

George Kalinsky also helps us see this Muhammad Ali.” — Introductory Wall Text

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Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra for Arts Summary.

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Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra for Arts Summary.

1966: Muhammad Ali trains at 5th St. Gym in Miami, Florida. Image from the first rolls of film of photographer George Kalinsky's career.

George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali working out at the 5th St. Gym in Miami, 1965. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky. This photograph was from the first roll of film that George Kalinsky shot of Ali.

January 1966: Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali at 5th Street Gym in Miami, Florida. Image from the first rolls of film of photographer George Kalinsky's career.

George Kalinsky. Sportscaster Howard Cosell interviewing Ali in Miami, 1965. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky

March 8, 1967: Muhammad Ali trains in New York City for his March 22, 1967 fight vs. Zora Folley.

George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali at a newsstand in New York City, 1967. Chromogenic print from original scanned film; Courtesy George Kalinsky. Ali was especially interested in the civil rights implications of the election between James Meredith and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. for a United States House of Representatives seat from the district of Harlem.

circa 1970's: Muhammad Ali, "Ali and Kid."

George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali training at Madison Square Garden, 1967. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky. Ali, who had a soft spot for children, took a break from a workout to banter with a young fan. Kalinsky recalled this young admirer announcing, “I am the greatest for a moment.”

circa March 8, 1967: Muhammad Ali trains in New York City for his March 22, 1967 fight vs. Zora Folley.

George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali with a coloring book of military officers, 1967. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky. This was a time of soul searching for Ali who was contemplating his response to a draft notice from the United States Army.

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George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali working out at Madison Square Garden, 1967. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky. Ali as he prepared for his fight with Zora Folley. This photograph reveals a growing bond between the boxer and the photographer.

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George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali vs Zora Folley fight, 1967. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky. Zora Folley was knocked out by Ali in the seventh round of the fight. It was Ali’s last fight before his three-and-a-half-year suspension for refusing to be inducted into the United States Army.

February 1971: Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali spar in Joe's Philadelphia gym.

George Kalinsky. Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, 1971. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky. The first of the famous “head to head” shots of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali or any boxers. They were preparing for their epic match-up in 1971, the Fight of the Century, at Madison Square Garden.

circa 1972: Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

George Kalinsky. Muhammad Ali working out at his training facility in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, 1972. Chromogenic print from original scanned film Courtesy George Kalinsky

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Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra for Arts Summary.

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Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra for Arts Summary.

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Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra for Arts Summary.

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George Kalinsky. Photograph by Corrado Serra for Arts Summary.

Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky was curated by Marilyn Kushner, curator and head of the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections at the New-York Historical Society.