“Forty-two years ago I photographed Muhammad Ali in the rural Pennsylvania sanctuary he called ‘Fighter’s Heaven’ as he prepared for the greatest contest of his career. Here was the most famous and contentious personality on the planet in his private retreat – the calm eye of the public hurricane – which was most of his life. While a global audience was fixated on his fate, I was able to record aspects of Ali virtually unknown.”
Peter Angelo Simon, January 2016
Back in 1974, Muhammad Ali took part in the infamous, ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ fight against the undefeated, George Foreman in Zaire, Africa. This was Ali’s attempt to regain the world heavyweight title which had been stripped from him seven years prior when he refused to be drafted for Vietnam.
Just weeks before, photographer Peter Angelo Simon was invited to ‘Fighter’s Heaven’ in rural Pennsylvania to document a then 32 year-old Ali. Two days and 33 roles of film later, Peter Angelo Simon had hundreds of photos of the unseen world of Ali as he physically and mentally prepared for the fight. “I went everywhere with [him] – an old people’s home, an exhibition match, watching him practicing the ‘Rope-a-Dope’… Ali said nobody had ever taken so many pictures of him. I believe these photographs reveal aspects of Ali’s fascinating character not previously seen.”
Notoriously quick with the strategy of the greats, it was a place to witness one of the most famous men in the world away from the typical media spotlight. “I was astonished by what I discovered at Deer Lake,” comments Peter Angelo Simon. “The camp had an air of playfulness and creativity – power boulders bearing the names of boxing greats of the past, magic tricks, tea and poetry, Ali relaxing in a rocking chair receiving visitors in a log cabin. While Ali prepared his body with rigorous physical training, the camp’s congenial atmosphere was clearly essential to the nourishment of his soul. Everything I saw at the camp, I felt, was part of Ali’s imaginative formula for success.”
The images will now form a hardback book and exhibition of the same title, Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974.
The exhibition, Muhammad Ali: Fighters Heaven 1974, runs from 8 April until 28 May 2016 at Serena Morton II, 345 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 6HA. www.serenamorton.com
Muhammad Ali: Fighters Heaven 1974 is published by Reel Art Press in July 2016 £40 www.reelartpress.com