Gordon Parks photograph of Muhammad Ali titled “Trainer Works on Muhammad Ali’s Shoulder, Miami, Florida, 1966” represents Ali’s humanity which the photographer was able to portray by capturing him in his most vulnerable state (while his shoulder was injured). This photograph was taken in 1966. The photograph was taken in Miami, Florida and its present location is 48 Wheeler Avenue Pleasantville, New York at the Gordon Parks Foundation Exhibition premises. At first glance, one can clearly see that Ali is suffering from a left shoulder injury which he must have suffered during a fight, seeing as he is still wearing his boxer attire. He appears to be in quite some pain which is shown by the fact that his right hand is raised towards his left shoulder as if he is about to grab it (a common reaction human beings have when an injured part of their body is touched is to reach out and protect it).
In a nutshell, the photograph is of Muhammed Ali, lying on a stretcher table while a trainer works on his injured left shoulder. Ali is wearing a pair of shorts only and he is lying on a towel laid on top of the table. This photograph is taken from an aerial view so that the viewer has a bird’s eye view of Muhammad Ali while the trainer works on massaging his left shoulder. From this angle, one can clearly see Ali’s face and as a result, the emotions depicted on it. By capturing from this angle, Gordon made sure that Ali’s face (as he is the subject of the image) was the only one in view so that the viewer sorely focuses on him. This is further emphasized by exclusion of the trainer’s face from the view so as not to distract the viewer from the centre of focus i.e. Muhammad Ali. Had the trainer’s face been captured, the viewer’s attention would shift occasionally between the two subjects.
The image makes no utilization of natural framing objects since it was taken in a room therefore the photographer took it upon himself to frame the picture artificially in a square frame. From the aerial point of view, this image has only one composition, the main subject appears to be in the foreground of the image and the photographer has placed in him at the centre of the image thereby making him the sole focus of the viewer. By doing this, he has eliminated anything that would act as a distraction to the viewer’s eyes making him lose focus on the main subject. By placing the subject at the centre of the image, the photographer ensured that there was little empty space left therefore, making sure the image did not feel empty. In the place where there would be an empty space, the photographer ensured that it was filled by the trainer working on the main subject’s shoulder.
In this photograph, the light source is not in direct view. However, lighting for the photograph appears to be from the right side of Ali’s body since there is a shadow of a window cast on the floor of this side. This image appears in black and white which a good medium since it adapts to any lighting situation. Since the viewer cannot see the light source, it is not clear whether the light exposure is low, medium or sunny. However, this becomes a non-issue since it is black and white and this adapts very well to any kind of light. Additionally, black and white images tend to exclude the distractions that come with so many colours which can sometimes shift focus from the subject. The rawness and honesty portrayed by black and white images allows the subject to speak for themselves thereby portraying them as the real person they are.
At the time of capture, Muhammad Ali’s image was suffering greatly as the press portrayed him as egotistical and arrogant which resulted in many people perceiving him in this same exact manner. This was brought about by the fact that at that time, he had made it clear that his religion would not allow him to fight in the Vietnam War. This brings about the context of this particular picture which is that it was taken in order to capture Ali’s humanity which helped restore his suffering image.
People’s humanity is best displayed when they are hurt. It is only natural others would better relate to other humans when they see these kind of similarities in those who they consider to be great. Ali was an exceptional boxer, the ideal image of strength and greatness. By taking this image in black and white and from an aerial point of view, Gordon was able to capture Ali in his most vulnerable state (i.e. at a time when he was injured). And as a result, he was able to strip away this ideal image of greatness and strength thereby depicting Muhammad Ali’s humanity in its truest and purest form.
The Gordon Parks Foundation. Muhammad Ali, 1966/1970. Accessed from http://www.gordonparksfoundation.org/archive/muhammad-ali-1966-1970