Charles Adams


Reno’s Bethel African American Cultural Center has a display of photographs of Muhammad Ali over a period of years. The photos were taken by Carson City resident Charles Adams, who traveled with Ali. The display can be seen at the Center at 220 Bell St.

How did you get into photography?

I worked in the film industry as a decorator, and in the ’70s, I left the film industry to go independent and to work on independent films. And I went to Europe, and I took a lot of photographs, and when I came back … people said to me, “Those are great photographs. Why don’t you submit them to the L.A. Times travel section?” So I did. I took some photos in, and they published and printed them. Once they published and printed those photos and gave me a credit line, I realized that photography was not so difficult.

How did you cross paths with Muhammad Ali?

My next door neighbor … came to me, and he said, “Listen, I want to make you an offer. … I want you to go wherever he goes with me and photograph him [Ali]. Now, the catch is, I’m not going to be able to pay you for this, but you will be the only photographer with me on all of these outings at L.A. airport or hotels or his home or whatever. So as a result, you’ll have an arsenal of work that nobody else will have because you’ll be the only photographer there.” So despite the fact that I was never salaried for shooting Ali—I did get a few assignments from a magazine that I worked for that did interviews, I shot that, as well—but all these candid photos that you see of mine of Ali, I photographed at various places and various times when Ali was done with fighting, and he was Ali the citizen.

How did he react to you always shooting him?

He was generous, thoughtful, playful, candid, extremely entertaining, knowledgeable. The big mouth that I’d always thought he was—I found him to be very civil, very disciplined, very religious in his own way. … As a younger person, I had two heroes. One was Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali. And the other one was Marlon Brando. So it was MA and MB—my two heroes. And as fate would have it, in my career as a photographer, I did get to spend time with both of them and shoot both of them candidly as people. … I wanted people to see them as vulnerable people, sensitive, thoughtful. That’s how I ended up with shots like this shot against this wall—it’s an allegorical wall in the Westlake Hotel where this wall is right in front of the elevators. We were at the Westlake Hotel where he was visiting patients at the Westlake Hospital. … So when I arrived, and I saw him standing just by himself against this wall, and the wall was so colorful in its own way, he was in deep pensive thought about I’m not sure what. And I thought, now here’s a shot that you don’t often see of Ali. And I called it “Contemplation.” [See photo.]

How did you end up here?

After working 35 years in Hollywood, I left and bought a home up in Lake Tahoe, but had bouts with bad weather and snow, and if they didn’t clean my street, I couldn’t go out. … So I’ve lived in Carson City now for quite a while.