Hopkins was not easy to shoot
By Steve Kim: Every once in awhile I get sent various materials to my office, such as books for review. About a month ago I recieved 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 hard-cover 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 fighters face is a roadmap to their careers. Well, this book is boxing’s version of Rand McNally’s atlas. But what is striking about his work is that it is shot exclusively in black-and-white. Which is appropriate given that boxing and it’s 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 photograher who’s 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 museus, CD covers and galleries."For this subject, there was not even a question, it had to be in black-and-white. It’s 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 LaMottta, Manny Pacquiao, Joe Frazier, and Evander Holyfield( who’s permanently damaged right ear adorns the cover of the book) are featured. But there was one 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 be Ali’s business manager in the 70’s, 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 ahold 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 know lives in New York, after growing up in Germany."Like Don King, he didn’t give me much. When I photograhed 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 photograhed 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 case, even fighters from Brooklyn presented logistical difficulties.
"Luis Collazo, great photo, I love it, it’s the last phota 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." He now has something that can be proudly displayed on coffee tables, offices and dens of boxing afficianados 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 musem. 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