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One Tank Trip: Muhammad Ali Tribute

One Tank Trip: Muhammad Ali Tribute

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. - Every once in awhile, you're a part of something big, and when you're lucky enough to recognize the significance, you hold on to the memories, knowing someday, someone else will want to know them, too.

That's how it was for photographer Jeff Julian, who was once side by side with "The Greatest."

"I first met Muhammad at Deer Lake in 1978," Julian explained. "I was just an aspiring young photographer and I thought it would be a good place to go and do some shooting."

With a second-hand camera, he just showed up. To his surprise, he was more than welcome at Muhammad Ali's training camp in Schuylkill County.

"I spent a lot of time there, and I just fell in love with the place," Julian said.

You can see Julian's photographs at the Walk In Art Center in Schuylkill Haven. It's latest exhibit: Muhammad Ali Tribute.

"A lot of photography, a lot of candid shots of Muhammad Ali," said Lisa Robinson, the center's executive director. "Muhammad Ali was part oft he community. Everybody felt like he was just one of the theirs."

"I was always amazed how people reacted in his presence," Julian explained. "People are just so full of joy and excitement in his presence. Even the most famous person would really be thrilled."

Julian was there when Ali was training for his rematch with Leon Spinks.

"I remember the gym being so hot, in the middle of summer, nothing like air conditioning, and it would be packed full of people," Julian recalled. 

He said he doesn't think Ali would have had it any other way. Even though Deer Lake was conceived as a way for him to get away, people came anyway.

"I really gained a lot of respect and admiration for Ali as a person," Julian said. "I saw how he interacted with people from all walks of life. I mean, he just treated everyone the same, and it really made an impression on me. I was invited into his cabin with some of my photos. He spent a lot of time looking at them. He didn't rush through them. Kind of gave me the encouragement to go on with photography."

Julian would go on to collaborate with the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2004 and reconnect with the man he had once captured on film.

"When we walked in, there my photograph of Ali was above his desk. Just blew me away. There have been so many great, iconic photographs of Ali by many great photographers and to see my photograph above his desk was a big thrill for me," Julian said.


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