Blog #152 4/15/16
All portrait photography sessions are intimate encounters, both for the portraitist and the subject. In the best of these encounters, the process, and the results, are memorable. Of the thousands of portraits I have done during more than three decades of studio and location work, none was ever more memorable than the time I spent with one of the most ferocious heavyweight champions in the history of boxing.
The assignment came from the photo editor of Sports Illustrated, Jim Colton.
Since Tyson has a giant and well-known reputation for bad behavior, from depraved to vicious to monstrous, the chance to photograph and talk with him about his life, career, and his feelings about boxing seemed to be a rare opportunity; an opportunity that turned out to be a gift. The experience ended up revealing a very human Mike Tyson, one that at the time had not been widely seen.
I share it here, now.
I do all I can before a portrait shoot to interview my subject. A pre-shoot interview allows the subject to see that I am thoughtful and very interested in them as human beings, that I am serious about the undertaking and intent on making a great portrait. Just as important, the interview also teaches me something about the subject. Often there are revelations that are fascinating, some of which can be utilized as directions during the shoot.
Here are some of the images we made, and some of the things he told me about himself and his life both in and out of boxing.
Tyson: “In the first stage of boxing, the infantile stage, you win only because you are stronger. The second stage you win because you’re tougher. The top stage, the apex stage of boxing, you win because you are smarter. You watch the guy moving, you are tough enough to endure. You see the bigger picture, you may give up rounds for the bigger picture.“
“I don’t care how great you are, how talented you are, without discipline you are nothing. Under the slightest trouble you give in without discipline.”
“I’m a predator. I’m very distinctive; I actually study my opponent, I study my opponent’s parents and children. I study everything about him, and by studying him and knowing myself, out of a thousand battles, I’ll know the results.”
“I’m sure I have brain damage. When I get involved with something, I don’t go check chapter one, chapter two. I don’t even know what I’m getting myself into because I go full speed. My whole goal to success was depriving myself of pleasure. That was my thing…. I can torture myself for a goal, that’s just how my mind works. If I want to accomplish something, I will suffer; I can do anything if I have that desire for that goal, to be something, to be the best fighter in the world.”
“All my hero’s were schmucks. They all got ripped off, got used by women and everyone else, like me. Look at these guys now, they are in a horrible place. But when they fought they could do something, they had this magic; they could make the whole world stop and watch. And then they’re going to end up in the gutter, they are going to end up miserable. They have nothing. But these guys, when they were on they were ON! The world noticed them. I admired those guys, but I don’t want to be like them. I don’t want to finish up like that.”
“I go to boxing matches just for the excitement now, more than the fight. When it’s done magnificently, it’s just hard not to love boxing.“
After I had made a wide range of images I told him that he had done tremendously well and that we were essentially finished. Then, I said, “So, how about we’ll do something “different?”
He responded, readily, “Sure, like what?”
I gave him a few ideas and he produced, among a few other things, this image.
I sent this one in to the yearly American Photo contest and it won “Image of the Year” and made the cover.
After seeing the published images in SI, RING Magazine asked me if there were others. They chose this one for their cover.
When our session was at its end I asked him if we could make a portrait of his family who he brought with him to the shoot.
He gently called out “Milan,” and his 18 month-old daughter came running onto the set and into his arms. She looked at his oiled body (done for the initial photography), wondered, then touched his chest hesitantly and giggled.
Tyson: “I think my wife and my daughter deserve the best of me. They need to have the best of me physically, spiritually, and mentally. So I have to work on becoming the best and find out how this path has got to go.”
After he was showered and dressed, we asked his wife, Lakiha, to complete the picture.
Glitterati Incoprorated, the publisher of the Retrospective, Schatz Images: 25 Years is now offering the two- book boxed set at a discount from the original price. The set comes with an 11″x14″ print of the buyer’s choice.
Click here for information about the Retrospective:
To view more of my work, visit my website.