As a boy and budding sports fan, Neil Leifer realized the best ticket in the house always went to the photographer.
Taking the short walk down from his home in the projects of New York’s Lower East Side, Leifer signed up for the Henry Street Settlement’s free camera club. Borrowed camera in hand, he clicked his way to photographer and picture editor of the school newspaper.
Leifer took a shining to seeing his name under a photograph, and, even after 60 years, says that feeling never goes away. More than 200 magazine covers, countless iconic captures and one legendary career later, Leifer is considered among the most iconic and influential photographers of our generation.
“I have been incredibly fortunate that my career has allowed me to bear witness to so many monumental events in history, and to have a body of work that connects with so many people,” said Leifer
Leifer’s impressive resume includes photos from 15+ Olympic Games, 4 FIFA World Cup soccer tournaments, 17 Kentucky Derbies, 15 Masters tournaments, numerous World Series games, 13 Super Bowls and every significant heavyweight boxing title fight since 1960.
Outside of sports, Leifer captured some history’s most notable figures and events including The Royal Wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, President Ronald and Nancy Reagan on Inauguration Day in 1981, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Fidel Castro… to name a few.
When asked what sets him apart, Leifer says he simply worked harder than everyone else; whether that meant being the first one at the arena or committing to the steady study of lights and shadows on the field.
His favorite photos are those that intentionally came from the head and heart as opposed to the happy accidents coupled with perfect timing. Leifer’s legacy is proof that the good get in position, but the great don’t miss.
At Heart of Gold Gallery, we are thrilled to have access to Leifer’s photography archive including his most renown captures of Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Bear Bryant and more. Check out a few of our favorite photographs or get in touch with us today to find and frame yours.
1). Ali vs Liston in Lewiston, ME. 1963-Muhammad Ali reacts after his first round knockout of Sonny Liston during the 1965 World Heavyweight Title fight at St. Dominic’s Arena. Arguably Leifer’s most famous photograph, this one never made a cover or was notably published, but grew in popularity with Ali’s rise to fame.
Lewiston, Maine 5/25/1965
2). Arnold Palmer (Arnold Palmer is surrounded by fans while playing during Round 4 of the 1966 US Open at the Lake Course of The Olympic Club.
San Francisco, California 6/19/1966)
3). Johnny Unitas-Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas (#19) calls a play during a foggy game against Sam Huff (#70) and the Washington Redskins defense at Memorial Stadium.
Baltimore, Maryland 12/13/1964
4). Tiger Woods (Tiger Woods and caddie Steve Williams react after chipping in on the 16th hole during Round 4 of the 2005 Masters Tournament at Augusta National GC.
Augusta, Georgia 4/10/2005)
5). NY Jets 1969. Super Bowl III. Miami, FL--New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath with (from left) Emerson Boozer (#32), Pete Lammons (#87), Matt Snell (#41) in a huddle during Super Bowl III versus the Baltimore Colts at Orange Bowl Stadium.
Miami, Florida 1/12/1969
6). Bear Bryant. (Alabama football coach 1979)-Alabama head coach Paul Bear Bryant writing a play on the board during a photo shoot. Liefer cites this photo as a prime example of a shot that came from his head and heart instead of a happy accident.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama 11/17/1979
7). Ali vs Williams at Houston Astrodome -1966-Aerial of Muhammad Ali victorious after his round two knockdown of Cleveland Williams during the 1966 World Heavyweight Title fight at the Astrodome. One of Liefer’s favorite photos, this is the only one hanging in his home.
Houston, Texas 11/14/1966