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…