Every once in awhile I get sent various materials to my office, such as books for review. About a month ago, I received one that was particularly interesting: BOX: The Face of Boxing, which is a collection of more than 300 portraits featuring various figures from the fight game. It’s a hardcover book that covers almost 200 pages (with text from my colleague Tom Hauser) but the star of the book is the man who shot these pictures, Holger Keifel.
He had all these beautiful- often poignant and revealing- pictures but with nowhere to display them.
"It took me eight years to get them all together. So three years ago was the first time I tried to get them published in a book," Keifel told Maxboxing a couple of weeks ago. "Well, it didn’t happen. It’s tricky because boxing is just a niche sport, apparently nowadays, and so it’s really hard and the book business is a very risky business. We just couldn’t make it work. They just couldn’t get it together."
It has been said before that a fighter’s face is a roadmap to their careers. Well, this book is boxing’s version of Rand McNally’s atlas. But what is striking about Keifel’s work is that it is shot exclusively in black-and-white, which is appropriate, given that boxing and its performers are in such a stark black-and-white business. You either win or lose (for the most part) with no gray area in between.
"To me, it’s not even a question," said the accomplished photographer whose work has been featured in New York Times magazine, Der Spiegel, ZEIT Wissen, Observer Sport Monthly, Black+White magazine and American Photography, as well as various museums, CD covers and galleries. "For this subject, there was not even a question; it had to be in black-and-white. It’s Black+White magazine, more depth to it and with the faces, the bumps and bruises. It was just never a question. It just brings it straight to the point. And color, in certain aspects, deflects from the subject a little bit. So this brings the focus straight on the face. There’s no distractions whatsoever."
Personalities from Shane Mosley, Bob Arum, Larry Merchant, Don King, Jake LaMotta, Manny Pacquiao, Joe Frazier, and Evander Holyfield (whose permanently damaged right ear adorns the cover of the book) are featured. However, there was one figure who was particularly difficult to tie down.
"Bernard Hopkins was not that easy," admitted Keifel, echoing a statement that has resonated throughout the boxing business for years. "Mike Tyson was not easy and I tried it once before and it didn’t happen. But this time, Gene Kilroy, who used to be Ali’s business manager in the ‘70s, he set it up. He made it happen, which I have to thank him very much for that."
But back to Hopkins; was it hard to get hold of him or to get him to cooperate?
"Both," was his answer. "But Bernard, I like him and everything and respect him very, very much but in general, it’s not easy. But then in the end, he said, ’If you come to the gym in Philadelphia, I’ll do it.’ And he didn’t give me that much time- which is most of the time. I didn’t get a lot of time with these guys but I loved the pictures. He looks great; it’s one of my very favorite pictures, the profile of Bernard at the very beginning of the book. Love it."
But his experience with Hopkins was not unique. Keifel did not have the luxury of snapping pictures of his subjects in elaborate photo shoots over a few hours. Instead, he would go to various fights, press conferences and the annual BWAA dinner to gather those he wanted in his book. Oftentimes, he was given a few minutes- if that- to get that perfect shot.
"Like [Sylvester] Stallone, I photographed there. He gave me two frames, the close-up," said Keifel, who now lives in New York, after growing up in Germany. "Like Don King, he didn’t give me much. When I photographed him from the back, he also gave me two frames. I said, ’Don, can you please turn around? I want to photograph your beautiful jacket,’ and he said, ’What am I doing this for? For my enemies?’ So it was not easy but it worked out and I have to say, Don was very, very grateful to me. The first time was tricky to get him because the first time, he wouldn’t do it. But then I photographed him three times and he’s really, really nice to me. He’s always friendly. Don King knows when he sees something good."
As Keifel becomes more familiar to those in the industry, he has become more accepted within the boxing community. Over time, getting individuals to cooperate in the future should get easier. He says, "I sure hope so. Like you said, there’s a lot of big names in there and I’m really honored to be able to get them. But there are still a few missing and I hope, really hope, Marvelous Marvin Hagler- I want him so bad. And of course, Muhammad Ali. Also Tommy Hearns and a few of the Mexican fighters, which was tricky because a lot of them were photographed in New York, some in Las Vegas, some in Los Angeles. I financed the whole thing on my own, the traveling. For like Mike Tyson, I flew in for ten minutes in Vegas. Ricky Hatton, he gave me 15 minutes for another time I flew into Vegas."
In particular cases, even fighters from Brooklyn presented logistical difficulties.
"Luis Collazo, great photo, I love it; it’s the last photo in the book. It took me two-and-a-half years to get him in the studio," said Keifel.
It turned out that he had injured his hand in his loss to Shane Mosley in February of 2007. "And I want to make him look good," reasoned Keifel, who came to this country back in 1993.
Growing up in Black Forest, Germany, he says of boxing, "I watched it as a little kid; I watched Ali and Frazier and I loved Frazier, always coming, always coming and coming back. But basically starting this [book], I became a fan." Keifel now has something that can be proudly displayed on coffee tables, offices and dens of boxing aficionados throughout the world. But he has even grander visions of displaying his art.
"I have an amazing, extensive collection," he says, "and one day, I want to see this collection go somewhere to a museum. It will go somewhere. It’ll be the right place and I want to make sure I get these other missing people."
For more information on this book, you can log onto to www.chroniclebooks.com.
BOX: The Face of Boxing retails for $29.95.
It looks like we’ll have a junior welterweight showdown between Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander on January 29th, 2011.
"We have half-a-fight because I know Tim Bradley signed but I’m not positive Devon Alexander signed," said Gary Shaw on Friday, who promotes “The Desert Storm.” According to Alexander’s trainer/manager, Kevin Cunningham, they are signed, sealed and delivered. "We’re definitely ready; we’re happy to put some closure on the signing of the fight and we’re ready to prove that Devon is the best 140-pounder in the world."
The four cities in the running to host this bout are New Orleans, Detroit, Atlanta and St. Louis.
There is a chance that featherweight contender Daniel Ponce de Leon will be added to the December 4th show in Cancun alongside Saul Alvarez, I was told on Friday night at the fights in Ontario...Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told me that card will be broadcast on Televisa in Mexico and he is looking for a televised outlet here in the States...Congrats to middleweight Donyil Livingston, who improved to 2-0 on Friday night at the Doubletree Hotel by stopping Steve Macomber in two...Junior middleweight prospect Julian Williams, who has a mark of 2-0 from Philly, has signed on with Gary Shaw...TKO Boxing (yes, they are still alive) has their third annual show with the Jonathan Ogden Foundation, “An Evening Ringside” at the Martins Valley Mansion in Cockeysville, Maryland on Thursday, October 21st....Heavyweight Chris Arreola will make his return, I’m told by an informed source, on January 7th on the season premiere of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights”...OK, that Miami-FSU game on Saturday was just a very bad dream, right? They got out-hit, out-coached, out-played, basically, out-everything’d. I’m completely off the Jacory Harris bandwagon; he is what he is- a decent, weak-armed, college signal-caller who is very limited. As for Randy Shannon, nobody wants you to succeed as much as I do, Coach, but as your mentor, Jimmy Johnson, was fond of saying, “Nobody’s scholarship is guaranteed.” Now, you are on the clock…I didn’t think a team led by Stephen Garcia could beat Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide but “The Ol’ Ball Coach,” Steve Spurrier got it done at Carolina...Wade Phillips and Norv Turner seem like such nice men- and that is probably the thing that works against them as NFL head coaches...Can I get more Miami Heat coverage on ESPN? I’m not getting nearly enough from them.....
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