Get Familiar: Peter Angelo Simon
Peter Angelo Simon has been a ground-breaking fine artist focusing on documenting the working processes of creative people which has been shown in publications all over the world, in the New York Times magazine and the Smithsonian Institute. His vast experience as a photographer has seen him capture painter George Deem, theater director Robert Wilson and of course the boxer Muhammad Ali. The Brooklyn based photographer, publishing house Reel Art Press and Patta produced a capsule collection focused around images Steven made of the athlete in his Hardcover book “Muhammad Ali: Fighter's Heaven”. This photo-essay was captured up close and unguarded on 33 rolls of film during the run-up to the “Rumble in the Jungle” in October 1974 over the course of two days. These images, only previously seen in the 2016 book, have been championed by Patta in the form of a four piece capsule collection.
In August 1974, photojournalist Peter Angelo Simon was invited to experience the private world of one of the most famous people on the planet. In a small Pennsylvania hotel, around 4.30am, Peter was awoken by a loud knock at his door. "Grab your pants and camera, the Champ is running!". The person in question was Muhammad Ali who would soon be attempting to regain his world heavyweight title. A title stripped from him, punishment for his refusing the Vietnam draft seven years earlier. His opponent was to be the brutal, undefeated George Foreman. The venue, Zaire, Africa. The fight would be dubbed "The Rumble in The Jungle". In an intimate, stream of consciousness, Peter reveals in words and extraordinary photographs, what happened during his unique 48 hours with Muhammad Ali at his private retreat, deep in the Pennsylvanian countryside; a place dubbed 'Fighters Heaven'. He shot 33 rolls of film. What he captured reveals aspects of Ali's fascinating character not previously or since seen. Most of the photographs appear on film for the very first time. Peter, in his New York studio, discusses his process, his impressions of Ali, the legacy of this monumental moment and the allure of photography to us as human beings and as an art form in its own right. Few photographers got as close to the boxer behind the legend. This hypnotic and dreamlike film reveals the preparation for a seminal moment in cultural and political history and is a fascinating insight into the creative process of an American photographer of significance.
Director: Daniel Glynn
Photography: Pat Dubose
First off, how are you?
How did photography come into your life?
My passion for visual expression began with performing magic as a child,
creating illusions to mystify an audience. With photography I could capture
(or create) visual events to instill wonder. Arriving for my first job as a
reporter on a small town newspaper, the editor said “By the way we need a
photographer too. The camera is in the closet.” It came naturally to me. My
curiosity has always been the most important aspect of my photography.
What was it your first artistic expression?
The photographs I took in Brazil while there on a writing assignment.
Who did you look up to in the fine-art world as you were starting out?
Ernst Haas. Lartigue. Robert Frank. Jay Maisel. Harold Feinstein.
What camera and film stock were you using in 1974?
35mm Nikon. Tri-X and Kodachrome
Kodak Tri-X was the go-to for journalists at the time, what was it about that
monotonality and grain that made it an industry standard?
The black and white world engages the imagination in visual experiences
that are fundamentally dream-like. And it has a built in graphic appeal.
Do you still shoot in the same way?
As time has passed I have discovered that my cameras have grown
heavier. The iPhone is a wonderful tool: always at hand for spontaneous
How was it shooting with the boxer for 48 hours?
My 48 hours with Muhammad Ali were at his training camp in rural
Pennsylvania. An assignment for a magazine took me there. I knew next to
nothing about boxing, but I knew what an extraordinary human being Ali
was and that he was at a pivotal moment in his career. I approached the
assignment with a sense of discovery and shot everything I saw that was
new to me and interesting. When I left I was overcome with the certainty
that I had failed to take at the most important photograph.
After spending quite some time around the boxer, who did you think was
going to win going in?
George Foreman had never lost a fight. He usually knocked out his
opponent in the first or second round. He had what were called “Wrecking
ball arms”. Even Ali’s own people were concerned for him. But I saw that
Ali channeled his inner champion even while running at dawn on the
country roads of rural Pennsylvania. And he had studied and analyzed
Forman and developed a strategy designed to exhaust him and defeat him.
And it worked.
What were some quotes from Ali over the course of that weekend that
stuck with you?
The first thing Muhammad Ali said to me was “Get This!” It was at the end
of his five mile dawn training run along rural Pennsylvania roads. He was
punching the air, cooling down. I had been shooting, shooting all along the
way. Ali was standing. As I raised my camera he lifted up his sweatshirt
and the rubber liner underneath and water poured out. “It’s called letting out
the sweat,” he explained. At that moment I realized that Ali had got me. He
understood that I was not going to ask him to pose or do anything for the
camera; that I was truly interested in what he did to prepare himself for the
looming Championship match in Africa, what he dubbed “The Rumble in
The Jungle”. There was an unspoken agreement. He would do his thing
and I would do mine, and for the next two days I went everywhere with him
capturing everything he did. The World Heavyweight Championship boxing title had been stripped from him seven years before when he refused the Viet Nam draft. A victory in Zaire would allow him to regain the world title. He was the most famous person on the planet and his fate hung in the balance. He told me no one had ever taken so many pictures of him. I believe his sense of history saw the value in the documenting this unique moment in his life. He also told me “You’re not as dumb as you look”. I took that as a sign of affection.
What parallels could you see in his process and your process?
Ali did magic too. He liked to surprise and engage an audience with
language and performance. He wrote poetry. The entrance to his Fighter’s
Heaven training camp was studded with boulders bearing the names of
boxing greats: Joe Louis, Sugar Ray, Joe Frazier. I believe they served as
tributes to the heroes of his sport as well as cautionary auguries of the
perils he faced. He created an imaginative formula for success. In short he
was an artist.
I think analog photography belongs in print form, how does it feel to see
your images printed to textile in this collaboration between yourself and
It feels quite natural to me. I’ve combined my photographs with textured
surfaces and projected them onto sculpture and people’s faces. Now with
the Patta Collection they become identified with an individual and circulate
in the world. For me this is a very welcomed first.
Which is your favourite piece from the collection?
The series of four pictures of Ali sparring, posing, and admiring himself in
his gym mirror. This way of shooting - something between stills and film – is
very fast and reveals the spontaneity of individual moments.