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George Kalinsky’s Intimate View of Muhammad Ali

George Kalinsky began his job as official house photographer for Madison Square Garden in 1966, when it was still in its old building on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street. Kalinsky says he came up with the idea for the job a year earlier, while talking his way into a training session for Muhammad Ali in Miami. In a 2009 interview, Kalinsky recalls his career-changing first encounter with Ali. “I basically invented the job…I was on vacation and I saw Muhammad Ali walk into the 5th Street Gym. I followed him, and Angelo Dundee stopped me and said, ‘You can’t come in unless you pay your dollar.’ And I said, ‘I’m the photographer of Madison Square Garden,’ and at that point I was, at best, the photographer of my family.” The bluff, he says, “just came out of my mouth. I have no idea how that happened.”

The iconic photographs he took there were the start of a long friendship with Ali. In a show opening today and on view until March 12 at the New-York Historical Society, “‘I Am King of the World’: Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky” features 45 photographs of Ali in and out of the ring—buying a paper from a newsstand, contemplating his draft notice in bed with a military coloring book and posing head to head with Joe Frazier in the run up to their 1971 Fight of the Century. (Also on view at the New-York Historical society is a show of LeRoy Neiman’s drawings and painting of Ali.) Ali “was a boxer, yet the greatest peacemaker ever,” Kalinsky says in a statement. “Till the very end, he was an inspiration to millions to live in peace and believe in themselves.”

Related Stories:
Jean-Pierre Laffont’s Turbulent America
Telling the Story of Sports Photography
Gregory Heisler on Photographing Muhammad Ali

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