By Neal Buccino, Media Relations Staff
“A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.” – Muhammad Ali, excerpted from “The Champ: My Year With Muhammad Ali” by author/photographer Michael Gaffney
There is no better place for a major photo exhibit commemorating Muhammad Ali’s birthday on January 17 – the first since the Champ’s death in June 2016 – than the Port Authority Bus Terminal, according to photographer Mike Gaffney. Ali fought 10 bouts in New York City, more than anywhere else in the world.
Despite his international celebrity, Ali valued most his family’s privacy and cherished time alone with his children, Gaffney said. As Ali’s personal photographer, Gaffney was one of the privileged few allowed inside that private world, with the result that Gaffney’s photos capture many intimate and playful moments that Ali spent with his children and (former) wife Veronica. There also are rare glimpses of The Champ training alone.
In all, Gaffney took some 8,000 photos of the world-beloved boxer, social activist and pop culture icon between 1977 and 1978. Sixty-four of these images are on display at the Port Authority’s “Gallery of the People,” an exhibition space located inside the bus terminal at street level near the Ninth Avenue entrance and south of the main ticketing plaza. The exhibit continues throughout Black History Month in February. It is free of charge to visitors and the 232,000 weekday commuters who use the world’s busiest bus terminal.
Like Ali himself, the photos are ferocious and tender, moving and hilarious. They highlight an important year in Ali’s career and boxing history — “his tough win against Earnie Shavers; a shocking loss to Leon Spinks; and a glorious comeback victory (against Spinks) to win the Heavyweight Championship for an unprecedented third time,” according to the book.
The curated exhibit presents Ali as a multi-faceted father, fighter, comedian and celebrity. Intimate photos reveal a dejected Ali surrounded by stunned supporters following his loss to Spinks. Action shots express Ali’s brutality, his artistry in the ring and his final triumphant victory. Ever the gentle father, Ali is shown cradling his newborn daughter Laila and playing with two-year-old Hana. Ali the comedian is displayed taunting his opponents at press events.
Other images showcase his celebrity status as he meets Presidents Carter and Ford, Michael Jackson and an unabashedly star-struck Sylvester Stallone. Yet it’s the inspirational side of Ali that Gaffney most wants to share with the world: Ali the inspirer, in cities throughout America, where locals greet him with open affection and pride.
“During a pre-civil rights era, he showed himself as larger than life and beautiful in order to inspire other African-Americans,” Gaffney said recently. “In 1977 and ‘78, at the height of his fame, he worked to inspire all people. Seeing how much people adored and looked up to him, Ali once said, ‘I wish people would love everybody else as they love me. It would be a better world.’”
“Muhammad Ali spent a lifetime giving a voice to people who needed to be heard, inspiring all people to work hard and to never give up. His message of hope remains ‘The Greatest’ gift he gave us,” said Gaffney.