As far as photographic legacies go, Neil Leifer can make the make case as having captured some of the most famous and iconic sports images of all time.
He’s best known for shooting one of the most famous images of Muhammed Ali; the photo of Ali calling out Sonny Liston to get up off the map in 1965, is without a doubt the most iconic image of the late boxing legends’ career.
Muhammad Ali after a first-round knockout of Sonny Liston during World Heavyweight Title fight at St. Dominic’s Arena in Lewiston, Maine on 5/25/1965. From neileifer.com
Ali aside, Leifer has been shooting sports for over 50 years. He has 170 Sports Illustrated covers to his name, and at least another 40 of his images have graced the covers of Time magazine.
While Leifer is known for his sports photography, you may not know that he is also a passionate collector of photographs. Either through gifts or purchase, Leifer has amassed a collection of works from famous photographers including Annie Leibovitz, Ralph Morse, Ozzie Sweet and Milton Green.
On December 2 and 3, Leifer’s collection of personal prints and collected images will go on auction through the New York auction house, Guernsey’s. The lot consists of about 700 different photos ranging from the Ali-Liston image above (which was signed by Ali) to famous images like Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “Time Square Kiss” and a Milton Green shot of Marilyn Monroe.
The auction will be held in New York City’s Bohemian National Hall, but out of town bidders can bid through liveauctionneers.com and invaluable.com.
For more details and information about Neil Leifer and the auction, see the press release below.
The Neil Leifer Photography Collection at Auction
Widely recognized for photographing Muhammad Ali like no other, the great sports photographer to sell his own work along with his riveting collection of printed images by other legendary 20th century photographers
Neil Leifer has achieved that rare distinction of global recognition in his field with the vibrant visual world of sports contained within his photographic oeuvre. On December 2nd and 3rd, Guernsey’s will present Leifer’s personal collection of his own photographic prints and a broad array of noteworthy prints he has received over his lifetime from other highly regarded photographers from all genres of photography. The approximately 700-lot event (of which 96% will be sold without minimum reserve) will be held live at New York City’s Bohemian National Hall and available to absentee bidders on both liveauctionneers.com and invaluable.com.
With more than 170 of his photos appearing on Sports Illustrated’s covers and another 40 on the covers of Time magazine, there is barely a sports story or a major news event that Neil hasn’t documented. When a big moment or person in sports history, politics, or entertainment was in the news, Leifer was surely there with his camera, positioned to capture the very essence of the event’s “big climactic moment.”
Leifer’s remarkable career began on his sixteenth birthday, December 28, 1958, when he found his way onto the field at Yankee Stadium for the NFL Championship between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts. That game, more than half a century later, is still referred to as “the greatest game ever played,” and Leifer’s picture of Allan Ameche scoring the winning touchdown in “sudden death” has come to be considered a classic image.
Although many of the most memorable images from baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, horse racing and the Olympics can be traced back to a memorable photo taken by Leifer, for many it is his work within the world of boxing that most resonates. And while Leifer has taken compelling shots of the likes of fighters from Sugar Ray Robinson to Sugar Ray Leonard, and from George Foreman to Mike Tyson, it has been his career-long relationship with the legendary Muhammad Ali that will forever stand the test of time.
In June of this year, the world paused for a moment when the great Muhammad Ali passed away. One would imagine that there wasn’t a spot on this planet where he wasn’t memorialized. The image most often used to celebrate the late Champ was that of a young Ali (who had only recently changed his name from Cassius Clay) challenging the fallen Sonny Liston to rise off the canvas. That iconic photograph, often referred to as “the greatest sports photograph of all time” was, of course, taken by Neil Leifer.
Remarkably, this auction will contain nearly one hundred classic photographs of Ali, many of them unpublished, and many of them signed by the late Champ. Without question, one of the most compelling lots in this event will be that image of Ali standing over Liston printed decades ago using the Dye Transfer method (a now unavailable technique that produced the highest caliber color prints) and mounted alongside Leifer’s “working press” credentials that put Leifer front row ringside. As luck would have it, this was exactly the place from which to capture the iconic image on that fateful 1965 night in Lewiston, Maine. The following inscription appears at the base of the photo: “To Neil Leifer, thank you for such a great picture – From Muhammad Ali.”
The photographer’s own work represents only half this auction. As it turns out, half a century ago when Leifer’s work started attracting attention, he found a new hobby, which over years became an obsession. As an ardent admirer of other great photographers, Leifer traded his photographs for prints of theirs assembling a world-class photography collection documenting the 20th Century. By contacting, and ultimately befriending the likes of Alfred Eisenstaedt, Carl Mydans, Martha Holmes, Margaret Burke White, Annie Leibovitz, David Kennerly, Arnold Newman, Gordon Parks, Mary Ellen Mark, Dmitre Kessel, Ralph Morse, Hy Peskin, Joe Rosenthal, Ozzie Sweet and dozens of other legendary photographers, he built a remarkable collection of original prints, all personally autographed by the masters who created these compelling, lasting images.
Whereas Leifer’s work has primarily been focused on the field of sports, these many other greats were involved in every aspect of photography. Imagine bidding on vintage prints of Eisenstaedt’s “Time Square Kiss”, a provocative image of Marilyn Monroe by Milton Green, Nat Fein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic shot of Babe’s Farewell at the Stadium, or Martha Holmes’ riveting picture of Jackson Pollock at work.
More than simply great photographic prints, the images that together constitute the Neil Leifer Collection are memorable and remarkable. To learn more about this December auction, please contact Guernsey’s.
More About Neil Leifer
Neil Leifer’s photography career has spanned over 50 years since becoming a professional while still in his teens. Beginning in 1960, his pictures regularly appeared in every major national magazine, including the Saturday Evening Post, Look, LIFE, Newsweek, Time and, most often, Sports Illustrated.
Leifer eventually became a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated before leaving in 1978 to become a staffer for Time magazine. In 1988 he was made a contributing photographer at LIFE magazine and spent the next two years dividing his time between Time and LIFE. When Leifer left Time Inc. in 1990, his photographs had appeared on over 200 Sports Illustrated, Time, and People covers—at that point, the most ever published of one photographer’s work in Time Inc. history. Neil Leifer is the 2006 recipient of the prestigious Lucie Award for Achievement in Sports Photography. In 2008 he was honored for his outstanding contribution to Time Inc. journalism with The Britton Hadden Lifetime Achievement Award.
Leifer has traveled all over the world on sports assignments. He has photographed 16 Olympic Games (7 winter and 9 summer), 4 FIFA World Cups, 15 Kentucky Derbies, countless World Series games, the first 12 Super Bowls and every important heavyweight title fight since Ingemar Johansson beat Floyd Patterson in 1959. He has photographed his favorite subject, Muhammad Ali, on almost 60 different occasions—covering his biggest fights and over 30 one-on-one studio sessions.