Essay about Photography and Sport, following back the Euro 2016 football games, the Paralympic games 2016 in Brazil by the eyes of one visually impaired Brazilian photographer, João Maia da Silva, and then paying homage to the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, just passed away this last summer. Original post published on ICP Library Blog, here.
IF YOU EVEN DREAM OF BEATING ME YOU'D BETTER WAKE UP AND APOLOGISE*, or something about fighting against the Impossible, Resilience and Nevergiveup
Just entered in its closing months, the 2016 year has been crossed by so various complex and dramatic events. The ongoing war in Syria and Iraq, terrorism in Europe and in Asia, the continuous flow of migrations of thousands of people crossing at risk of their lifes the Mediterranean sea and the Balkans route from Middle-Orient and Africa, escaping most of the case just from war, the Brexit, the back of the fear of nuclear nightmare in the Koreas, the try of a coupe d’etat in Turkey and what followed, not mentioning conflicts or tensions already active from previous years, as in Africa or Ukraine, or some natural disasters, as earthquakes, just few days ago in New Zealand and in center Italy, or the recent, and now so called ‘super’, typhoon in Taiwan or Philippines.. or all the tensions and even social clashes before the result of the election of new USA president in the States.. list could be longer, but if it is true that ‘the world began without man, and it will end without him’ (Claude Lèvi-Strauss), we still might have the time to fix everything.
have been also some international sport events, followed and shared all around the planet, as the 15th UEFA European Football Championship, from June 10th to July 10th, hosted by France, or the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, from August 5th to August 21rst. But also one of the most famous sportman ever,
former Heavyweight boxer Champion of the World Muhammad Ali, left us on night of this past June 3rd. in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA.
For first time in football history, Portugal national team unpredictably won the Euro cup and his first international trophy. The Seleção made the dream in some rocambolesque way, just winning on the final match with France self, which was arguibly one of the most favourite winner, and also starting to play it in the worst possible condition ever, sending off Cristiano Ronaldo just 8 minutes after the start of game, for an heavy injury caused by French Dimitri Payet. But “we said we would win it for him,” as Pepe, the Portuguese defender, said of Ronaldo “and we just managed to win it for him” with gol of Portugal’s Éder on the 109th minute in extra-time.
Rare supplement magazine of France FOOTBALL MAGAZINE on the European Cup of Nations 1960, with all games. Only known documentation of the first final tournament of a UEFA European Cup RIGHT: Russian player with black t-shirt, Valentin Ivanov, during USSR 3-Czechoslovakia 0, July 6, 1960. (courtesy FOOTBALL MAGAZINE)
The precursor of the European Championship is considered a tournament held in 1960 right in France, after that in 1954 The European Football Association (UEFA) was founded, with its first congress in Wien in 1955. The final tournament took place in Paris at 21:30hrs on July 10, 1960: the Soviet Union won 2-1 after extra time against Yugoslavia.
(courtesy FOOTBALL MAGAZINE)
The new Championship triggered enthusiasm all over Europe. After the Second World War the Idea Europe had many supporters, propelled by political developments. The will for a European unification culminated then in the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957, the basis of the current European Union.
Many big countries we are used to see today to play resulted missed, for various reasons. The Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, England and the other British associations did not compete. Cold War also played a role in the tournament: at the quarter–finals, the under Franco’s dictatorship Spain refuses to face the comunist URRS, which was free to keep going and winning the final match.
Picture taken with a Tilt Shift lens shows the Velodrome stadium in Marseille on June 21, 2016 during the Euro 2016 match between Ukraine and Poland. (AFP/Valery Hache)
Wales’ supporter cheers with a flare in his mouth downtown Toulouse, southern France, on June 20, 2016 before the Euro 2016 football match of Russia vs Wales. (AFP/KILIC)
An airport firefighter’s unit spray water in the national colours over the aircraft carrying Portugal’s national football team members during a welcome at Lisbon airport on July 11, 2016 after the Euro 2016 win(MOREIRA/AFP)
Fotografia não és
“It makes you tremble. You feel the vibrations of people shouting or banging their feet against the stands, and when the mexican
‘Ola’ wave comes, and everyone raises their arms, or lowers them, it’s an indescribable feeling as though you are floating on emotion”.
Properly not describing about what he was seeing, João Maia da Silva expresses very well the atmosphere of 2016 Summer Paralympics, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from last September 7th to September 18th. Just like many photographers, he has covered the events of the 15th Summer Paralympic Games, but with a slighty difference: Maia is visually impaired.
A photo made by his smartphone, published on the Instragram account of João, earned high praise from fellow photograhers. Then also Brazilian and Colombian edition of ‘Metro’ newspaper during Olympics showed his beautiful works and telling about his story.
There is a key word which is also a key tool: he does use both a professional camera then a smartphone, but “on my cellphone, my iPhone, I have access to voiceover. Whenever I push the button I get an audio reply so I can configure the flash, change the back camera to the front camera, choose the photo formats, the framing panorama, normal or video. That is the kind of Accessibility that a visually impaired person is looking for”.
Blind runner, with his guide compete in the men’s 400-meter in Olympic Stadium, during the Paralympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Guides are used in cycling, equestrian, five-a-side soccer, triathlon and track and field events (all photos © joaomaiafotografo)
A former postman from Sao Paulo in Brazil, João, 41 y.o., lost his sight after contracted uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, which made him possible to only see things close up, hazily, with misty colours. But if you look at his photos, as the one of the French long jumper Marie-Amelie Le Fur setting a new world record, it seems to be really not an impediment to capture by camera incredible instants.
(all photos © joaomaiafotografo)
Colours and the sounds around him are his reference: “I see the contrast of the colors, anything that moves and is colorful gives me direction. For example blue with white, red with white, yellow with black, this is what guides me as well as what remains of my vision.. I also use my hearing a lot.. For example the 5-a-side football and goal ball, I follow the sound of the ball [which has a bell device inside for the blind players] to know where the action is..”
Sao Paulo edition of ‘Metro’ newspaper September 6th, 2016, with article on works of João Maia and cover with his photo of Brazilian Paralympic swimmer Daniel de Faria Dias (all photos © joaomaiafotografo)
Ricardo Rojas, who works closely with him and run a smartphone photography initiative, Superación-2016, tells about Maia, that“despite his visibility difficulties, he immortalizes sports moments of great events difficult to be captured even by those who see. And João does this unbelievably naturallly, it’s like photography is right there inside him”. He and Leonard Eroico are his“borrowed eyes”, but Maia also asks some guides to whomever is nearby him: to describe the ambience, to tell what the athlete looks like and what they are wearing. “Without them two I could do nothing. They help me with the editing, which I could never do, and they put my pictures up on social networks,” João says.
“When I was 14 I fell in love with photography but at age of 28 I lost my sight and got very sad thinking that I wouldn’t be able to photograph anymore, but I found out special courses for disabled people so my passion came back and I was able to smile again… Photography is not only vision (fotografia não és visã). It is perception, is hearing, tact… is Accessibility.. my vision is a large watercolor and I’m painting this picture with my clicks.. It’s an Opportunity, to tell people that I exist, that I am here… All you need is to be able to feel … I always dreamed of being here and now I am here, I feel I am representing a lot of people, mainly visual impaired… I feel like I’m representing them all .. People have to believe that we are capable, we can and we have to believe and study and improve.. This is Inclusion …”. Today Maia’s Instagram account has over 8,000 followers. My wish for you João, please keep to feed your spirit, by your marvelous work in sport, and over.
The man who changed his name History of Sport, and generally History, might be different today, if Joe Martin, a local policeman of Louisville (Kentucky, USA), at least in two occasions, didn’t talk to a young afro-american boy met by chance during 50ies in their town. First, just right after his push-bike had been stolen, and the skinny 12 y.o. boy was swearing to the white officer that he was going to “whup” the thief: Joe, also a boxing trainer on a local gym, suggested him at least learning to fight on a ring. Second, when the same boy, now 18 years old, was selected to go at Olympic Games in Rome of 1960, as part of the USA team of boxe. Only a problem, the kid was scared to death to fly, and insisted to take a train to Rome:“Among Usa and Italy there is the ocean, if you don’t take that airplain, well, you’ll lose the opportunity of being a great fighter”. Reluctantly boy agreed, but not before getting a parachute from an army surplus store, worn for the entire journey to the Eternal City, alongside with prayers.
Cassius Clay in action during Men’s Light-Heavyweight Gold Medal bout vs Poland Zbigniew Pietrzykowski at Palazzo dello Sport Rome, Italy, Sept 5, 1960. (Jerry Cook/Getty Images)
“Then Cassius Marcellus Clay of Louisville followed the script of another Cassius and bloodied his Caesar, even though this Caesar bore the rather unappropriate [sic] name of Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. No Roman was he, but a Polish light-heavyweight.” (Arthur Daley, in ) It was just 56 years ago, at the ‘magnificient conclusion’ of the Summer Olympic 1960 of Rome, told as the first of the Modern Era.
The slender, promising, mouthy and shy guy was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, in the racially segregated Kentucky city of Louisville, and he just passed away this year, on June 3rd 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Rarely a sport personality has been so much influent and known out of his field, transcending the sport itself and talking and inspiring straight to so various numbers of persons, from youngers all around the world to celebrities of all kind..
LEFT UP/DOWN: Rare photos from archive of photographer Lars Nyberg, showing Cassius Clay during the Olympic Games at weight-in before a fight. Rome, Italy, August 19, 1960, and in free time in Rome (Nyberg/CORDON PRESS)
After became Olympic light-heavy weight gold medallist, his first international recognize, Clay won his professional fight number one against Tunney Hunsaker on October 29, 1960, with a record of 19-0 fights, with 15 knockouts. Thanks to his high stature (1.91m) his slender physique, he developed a unseen before unorthodox style for a heavyweight boxer, based on foot speed, carrying his hands low, eluding quickly opponent’s blows but fast to punch.
Cassius Clay poses with children in his home town of Louisville after winning the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome (courtesy Howard Bingham). After initially failing a photography course, Howard Bingham (born in Jackson, Mississippi, May 29, 1939) was hired by a local newspaper. While working there, he met the young Cassius Clay The two had an instant rapport, one that led to a lifelong friendship. Bingham went on to create arguably the definitive book of photographs of Ali, “Muhammad Ali: A Thirty-Year Journey”, Simon & Schuster; (1st edition, October 7, 1993), IMAGE BELOW
For his next bout Clay moved his training base to Miami and Dundee’s 5th Street Gym, now one of the boxing temple in the world, looking right to be trained by the legendary, Italian roots Angelo Dundee (1921-2012), which will be his unique coach until the end.
But his true greatness as a fighter took place on February 25, 1964, when Cassius Clay fought with heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, for his first world title match. Liston was an unstoppable ‘Tyson of his days’, with a complex story, an ex-convict with ties to organized crime but came out by punchs from a harsh childhood of poverty. Meanwhile Clay was seen as something of a young excellent boxer, but with a mouth perhaps greatest than his real strength. The ‘Louisville Lip‘ as he was named, started literally to campaign first to make Sonny signing for the bout, and then to restlessly provoke him, declaring Liston ‘The Ugly Bear to be hunted’ and himself “The Greatest”: “He is too ugly to be the heavyweight champion, the champ should be pretty like me!”. Despite all of that was deliberately the strategy of a challenger, largely loved and followed by press man, Clay was also not that calm: “that’s the only time I was ever scared in the ring,” he then said “Sonny Liston. First time. First round. Said he was gonna kill me.” 
But in the famous sixth round of the fight, Clay proved to his various detractors that they were wrong: his spectacular combinations of punches at 6th round changes the match, stopping Liston at the corner at the beginning of the 7th, for an injured shoulder. “I don’t have a mark on my face. I just turned 22. I must be the greatest. I shook up the world!” His impossible victory over Liston not only made a revolution in the boxing world, but also influenced the entire nation’s soul.
Muhammad Ali after first round knockout of Sonny Liston during their rematch for
World Heavyweight Title fight at St. Dominic’s Arena in Lewiston, Maine on February 25, 1965. Probably the most iconic photo of his boxing career, where Ali won over Sonny Liston in
less than three minutes, it is often misinterpreted as Ali gloating but in actuality he was upset that the his famous and still debated ‘phantom punch’ had actually knocked Liston down and was
screaming“Get up and fight sucka”. Photo happened to be shot almost in the same way by two photographers one close to each other, John Rooney and Neil Leifer, the only one
who took pictures in colours that night
Deep changes were going on through the year 1964, for USA: President John F. Kennedy was just assassinated year before, race riots started all over the country, civil rights activism was growing among students while the conflict in Vietnam was awaking attention. At press conferences following his victory, the day before braggadocio suddenly announced his conversion to Islam religion and that he would be changed his name Cassius Clay, for Muhammad Ali a name suggested to him by Elijah Muhammad, leader of Nation of Islam:“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me”
Muhammad Ali arrives at the home of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, in Chicago, on Feb. 24, 1965. (AP Photo/Paul Cannon, from “Muhammad Ali: Athlete of the Century”, a collection of Associated Press stories and visuals about of the boxing champion)
Choice of Ali came by a few years before contact with Nation of Islam group (also tagged the Black Muslims). Their beliefs were controversial and radical, talking about a black separatism from whites, but Clay, who also had experienced racial segregation, felt probably a sense of empowerment and justice in Elijah’s preaching. But it was only after Clay was invited at a Black Muslims convention, meeting Malcom X on June 10, 1962, in a Detroit’s diner, that change came for young Cassius.
Few years later, during 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces: “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong..why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?” For these statements, as much as the act itself, on June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years.
April 1968 ‘Esquire’ cover designed by George Loi featuring Muslim boxer Muhammad Ali mirroring the famous Italian 15th century Francesco Botticini painting of martyr St. Sebastian, a Roman soldier who was executed pierced with arrows for converting to Christianity. Due to his refused induction into the army, as af conscientious objector based on religious beliefs Ali was widely condemned and even branded a traitor.
The sentence was particulary harsh to ensure that he not became a symbol, but this conviction generated also a new global horizon of anti-war movements. Ali stayed out of prison as the case was appealed and over the next three years he would collect more than 20,000 signatures on a petition for the return of his heavyweight title, while in many countries as Guyana, Pakistan, Great Britain, Egypt, indivdual or group protests against his sentence started to act. He returned to the ring in 1970, and on June 28 of 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft. “Some people thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a leader. I just wanted to be free. And I made a stand all people, not just black people, should have thought about making, because it wasn’t just black people being drafted”.
Just before the decision of the Court, on March 8 of same year, Muhammad Ali was allowed to fight again in what became the Fight of the Century, an event attracting massive popular interest. For Ali, it was one of his most burning defeats against young, tenacious and ferocious heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Despite dominating the first third of the match, Ali had a KO for only the third time in his career, but keeping to fight on his feet for the rest of round 15. In January 24, 1974, in a rematch at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Ali defeated Frazier by decision in 12 rounds.
But impossible took place again on October 30, 1974: an underdog Muhammad Ali regained his heavyweight champion belt in what was to become “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century”. Organized at the Stade Tata Raphaël in Kinshasa, Zaire (Congo), Ali’s fight against champion George Foreman was highly promoted by Don King as the Rumble in The Jungle. Almost no one gave Ali a chance of winning, Foreman, 26 yo (Ali 32), had gained the title from Joe Frazier in 1973, just in three devastating rounds.
An event worldwide broadcasted, with a deep cultural impact: it was among two black giants for a black public of 60.000 people, fighting in the heart of Africa under a black refereè, and with an imponenet music festival with all Afro and Americans stars introducing it. Ali, seen as a black redemption’s hero, also was vastly welcomed by population, supporting him at the scream “Ali Bomaye!” meaning “Ali, kill him!” in Lingala local language: Foreman, a black man too, was instead felt far away from his African roots.
Magnum photographer Abbas’s book on the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ bout: “Ali, le Combat“, Editions Sonatines,
The victory was a new shock, also in the following years Foreman and Ali became friends. For the fight, in a dramatic change of tactics Ali adopted the ‘rope a dope’ technique against Foreman, in which he absorbed his opponents blows until the other fighter was too tired to respond to counter-attack.
One year later, on October 1, 1975, Ali met Joe Frazier for a third and final fight at the “Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines. Leading up to the bout, Ali famously enraged Frazier through frequent insults, for example remarking: “It will be a killa … and a chilla … and a thrilla … when I get the gorilla in Manila.” The two, once friends, became arch enemies. Ali did to defeat him in 14 rounds, in one of the most brutal match of boxe ever. Ali was declared winner by technical KO, after Frazier’s coach refused to permit to his fighter to continue, but just interviewed after the match, Ali would stated that was “the closest thing to dying” he had ever experienced, and that Joe Frazier was “the greatest fighter of all times, next to me”.
Able to remain champion until 1978, when he was dethroned by Leon Spinks, Ali regained the title for an unprecedented third time after beating just Spinks in a rematch. His last, probably too late, bouts proved less successful, and he was beaten by Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick in 1981, the final match of his career. But when he left the ring he was the only fighter to be heavyweight champion three times, with a record of 56-5.
In 1984, it was revealed Ali had Parkinson’s disease, what Ali defined as his “trial”, his ultimate challenge. It has been longly debated if the degenerative sickness might have been caused from the extra violent fights he faced in the second part of his career, or not. Nonetheless, for his exceptional civil rights activism and sport life and also as a muslim, he represented United Nations and USA along years, during conflicts and delicate political crisis and moments, as post-September 11.
Also, this long struggle, which only increased the Worldwide admiration, seems having absorbed even Ali’s contradictions: as “being involved in huge events profiting from
and for oppressive governments abroad, or the disparity between his status as a liberal icon and member of a fundamentally conservative Nation of Islam”, or the mobbing on Frazier, which lately Ali would apologized
But “he encouraged millions of people to believe in themselves, raise their aspirations and accomplish things they otherwise might not have achieved. He wasn’t just a standard-bearer for black Americans. He stood up for everyone. And that’s the importance of Muhammad Ali.”(Thomas Hauser ).
And here is the only thing that would be just impossible, among all these stories.. not to pay a tribute to Ali, in the year of his death, and to spirits like him. Darkest times are just outside ? Well, it will be fun.
“To make America the greatest is my goal,
So I beat the Russia, and I beat the Pole,
And for the Usa I won the Medal of Gold.
Italians said, “You’re greater than the Cassius of Old.
We like your name, we like your game,
So make Rome your home if you will”.
I said I appreciate your kind hospitality
But the Usa is my country still
Cause they waiting to welcome me in Louisville”
Cassius Clay, after Rome Olympics Gold medal, 1960
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