From the Archives: Muhammad Ali takes a moment for L.A. Times photographers

From the Archives: Muhammad Ali takes a moment for L.A. Times photographers
Dec. 19, 1996: Muhammad Ali standing in a ray of light for photographers attending photo exhibit for Howard Bingham in Watts. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

In December 1996, Los Angeles Times photographers Genaro Molina and Gary Friedman met Muhammad Ali at a gallery opening in Watts. Here's Molina's account:

Muhammad Ali was always a friend to the photographer. He knew the power of the photographic image and he was always willing to accommodate. In the mid-’90s, shortly after starting at the Los Angeles Times, I heard that Ali would be attending his photographer Howard Bingham's photo retrospective in Watts.

It was my day off but who could pass up an opportunity to photograph "greatness" in person? Ali was late for the opening and reception dinner and dozens of photographers waited for him to show.

Ali arrived as the evening sun was setting and all this amazing light was spilling into the gallery.

My Los Angeles Times colleague Gary Friedman said, "Genaro, we have to get Ali to stand in the light.”

“I'm just going to try and get whatever image is possible," I said.

Gary, being Gary, went up to Ali's press rep and asked if Ali could pose in the late afternoon light. "Are you crazy," yelled the rep. "He's late and he doesn't have any time for this!"

Gary glanced at Ali and then walked away dejected with shoulders slumped. Ali took a deep breath and on his own accord started to follow Gary. Gary glanced back and saw that the champ was walking behind him. "Oh my God, I'm being followed by Muhammad Ali," Gary thought.

Gary looked toward me standing with a group of photographers lurking in the shadows and shouted, "Genaro, help me find the light!"

There was one small patch of late afternoon light spilling in and I placed my hands in the the light, palms open, swirling in a narrow stream of light suggesting to Ali to place his face in the beam. Ali's smile at me suggested he knew exactly what to do. He stepped into the light and everyone made their image. This is mine.

Ali, forever one of the "greatest" lights to shine in our lifetime.

This post was originally published on June 4, 2016.

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