I never knew this photo existed in color

Ali color

I was startled to find the above image in my WashPost app over the weekend.

Startled because I had no idea that a color version of the photo existed.

You see the more familiar version below. While they are almost identical, aside from the color in the one above, they aren’t quite. I imagine they were shot by different cameras that were right next to each other, in the same split-second (although it’s possible that they’re from the same camera and exposed a tiny fraction of a second apart, with the black-and-white version printed from a color negative — but that seems less likely).

But they’re definitely not from the same negative. Note the position of his right elbow — it’s markedly different in relation to the waistband of his trunks. A more dramatic difference — the bald photographer at ringside is seen directly between Clay’s (this is before he was Ali) legs in the color photo, and is off to the side of his right leg in the the black-and-white.

Bottom line, though, which photo do you like better? A silly question, perhaps, but bear with me.

You might say the color one, as it gives you more information.

But I prefer the black-and-white. It just seems more… legit. It’s history, and one thinks of legitimate photos of history as being black-and-white — particularly specific photos one has already seen in black-and-white.

Also, at the time, it was news. And news photos were in black and white back then. (The color one, according to the credit, was taken by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated — which unlike newspapers at the time, used color photos.)

Color seems… fake somehow. Like it was a re-enactment. Or like a colorized version of “Casablanca.”

It’s not a rational response, I’ll admit. But that’s how I responded to it…

clay black and white

17 thoughts on “I never knew this photo existed in color

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, full disclosure…

    I improved the black-and-white image in Photoshop.

    For some reason, the file I grabbed from The State was very washed-out looking. I thought I had seen sharper, higher-contrast versions of it, and I had — but when I found them on the web, they all had a funky crop or something.

    So I just darkened it and increased contrast to make it pop out better, in keeping with my memory.

    By the way, the same thing could have been done in the darkroom in the old days. Different apertures on the enlarger lens, different contrast ratings on the paper, length of exposure onto the paper, time spent in the developer.

    The file I grabbed just seemed to have been scanned from a carelessly-made print.

    Here’s the way it looked when I grabbed it…


  2. bud

    Great photo; greater man. His principled stand against the execrable Vietnam war is more that suffient to put him among the greatest Americans of all time.

      1. Doug Ross

        When I heard the news of Ali’s death, I did wonder what your take was on him. I’m guessing it might not be as laudatory as others opinions solely because of Ali’s stance on the Vietnam War. Does he fall into Jane Fonda range for you?

        For me, I can appreciate the social impact Ali had but I think I was too young to see him box in his prime. By the time I was a fan of boxing (starting in the early 70’s) I didn’t really think he was that great a boxer. He spent way too much time on the ropes, dancing around, clowning and mugging. I like fighters who fight (Marvin Hagler for one). Ali lost 5 fights in his career which makes it hard for me to accept that he was The Greatest of All Time. Rocky Marciano was undefeated and had a much higher KO percentage. Joe Louis was champ for a dozen years and was as much of a cultural icon as Ali. I’m not convinced that Mike Tyson in his prime would lose to peak Ali… although Tyson’s peak years were much shorter.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        No. I disagree with Ali’s view of the war, and with his belief that he was not obligated as citizen to serve.

        But he was not a traitor like Jane Fonda. He didn’t go out of his way to give aid and comfort to the enemy. He just didn’t want to fight.

        The last few days I’ve heard a number of clips of Ali saying he didn’t want to go to Vietnam and kill little brown people because they had never done anything to him, personally. Well, one does not fulfill one’s duty as a citizen in order to settle personal grudges. In our constitutional representative democracy, our elected leaders determine where our soldiers will be sent. Disagree with their decisions if you wish, but in a liberal democracy, war isn’t about personal resentments or whims.

        I don’t think he was evil. I think he was wrong, and to a great extent naive.

        But I think he was a greater fighter than Doug thinks. It’s something special to see a heavyweight who can float like a butterfly.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Also, I found his braggadocio unseemly, even though he WAS able to back it up. I disapprove of it the way I did Joe Namath’s boastfulness at poolside before beating MY team, the Colts. I prefer good sportsmanship.

          In a way, he embodied the kind of “look at me” pathology of Donald Trump. It’s a very American thing, but not one of our best national attributes.

          But I don’t think he was ever malevolent about it the way Trump is. He was a just a very talented young man who was full of himself…

          1. Barry

            I didn’t respect Ali and his treatment of Joe Frazier revealed what a low class human being he was

            He was a racist, and openly advocated for separating the races.

            He treated Joe Frazier, who just wanted to box, like trash- actually worse than trash because he trashed him personally as a human being.

            frazier actually privately loaned Ali money when he was banned from boxing to help him and his family. Ali repaid him by publically – and repeatedly -calling him an Uncle Tom.

            Ali was a punk of a human being.

            “Now people ask me if I feel bad for him, now that things aren’t going so well for him. Nope. I don’t. Fact is, I don’t give a damn. They want me to love him, but I’ll open up the graveyard and bury his ass when the Lord chooses to take him.” – Joe Frazier

            The media and celebrity treatment of him is a joke.

            From an ESPN commentary on Ali

            “There is a tendency, an overwhelming one, for writers and analysts to present the best face of the man who dies. They steer clear, much of the time, of the negative bullet points on the life’s résumé. It isn’t honest journalism, and it’s something I’ve never understood, as the person in question cannot be offended”

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yeah, I’d forgotten about how he treated Joe Frazier. And I really disliked Ali for that. I always wanted to see Frazier beat him — which he did in their first fight.

              And maybe that was the source of the hostility, at least after that fight. They were both undefeated going into it. After that, Ali no longer was…

              1. Barry

                Ali tormented Frazier for most of his life.

                He called him every racist name in the book probably because Ali spent a lot of time being a racist.

        2. Doug Ross

          ” Disagree with their decisions if you wish, but in a liberal democracy, war isn’t about personal resentments or whims.”

          Except we never declared war. And there wasn’t the same “us vs. them” with Vietnam as there was in WW2. Vietnam didn’t attack us. We brought the fight to them for reasons that weren’t worth fighting for in the view of many (and eventually most) Americans.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I don’t know if this nation will ever declare war again. Unless we get into it with China and/or Russia, the nightmare scenario described on a separate thread. And then God help us.

            But we’ll fight again, many times. There are many ways for our elected leaders to legally, constitutionally send troops into combat short of “our nation is at war with your nation.” As we’ve seen so often since 1941….

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    One thing I always thought was a shame about Ali: I wish he hadn’t changed his name. Oh, it was fine for him to decide to be a Muslim if that’s what he wanted (although, having read Malcolm X’s autobiography, I have my doubts about whether the Nation of Islam is real Islam).

    I just think “Cassius Clay” is one of coolest-sounding names I ever heard. On aesthetic grounds alone, I wish he’d kept it. Sure, Mohammed Ali has a nice rhythm to it, but it can’t match “Cassius Clay” on that point. Not to mention the great alliteration, or the crisp contrast between the classical, three-syllable “Cassius” followed immediately by the sharp chop of the modern “Clay.”

    “Cassius Clay” just sounds like a fighter who would sweep all before him. What chance did a “Sonny Liston” have against a man with a name like that?

  4. Mark Stewart

    Check out the arm definition in the B&W photo! Yes, I see that this may have been a Brad enhancement, but still. The B&W wins for composition, hands down. In the color photo, the gloves are overly prominent and make it a boxing photo, not an iconic statue of human domination.


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