Howard Bingham has been the influence of my photography and film making over the last ten years or more. As a child, due to the influence of education from both parents and extended family, I found history and news to be an interest and strength of mine in school. When my father placed me in a shutterbug class at Glendale Community College in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 10, I began using the camera as a way of telling historical stories.
Howard Bingham, born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1939 where his father was a minister and Pullman car porter for the railroad, moved the family to south central Los Angeles in 1943 in search for a better life. After graduating from Centennial High School in Compton, California in 1956, Bingham attended Compton Junior College, initially as music major, while also showing an interest in photography. Due to substandard grades in a photography courses, Bingham was subsequently forced out of school.
His interest in photography was not over. Bingham’s interest grew once he noticed his neighbors, the Hodsons, were involved in the photographic arts. Bingham states, “I would see many beautiful women going in and out of the house and that’s what really sparked my love for photography.” Bingham soon began working for a weekly community newspaper. In 1962, young Howard met a young boxer around the same age named Cassius Clay, (soon changing his name to Muhammed Ali) while on assignment. Upon their meeting, Bingham took Ali on a tour around Los Angeles, which turned into a lifelong friendship.
With Bingham becoming Ali’s personal photographer, the two traveled around the world supported by great entourages with Bingham documenting Ali’s life successes and failures. The two have been close friends now thirty-eight years. Anyone who knows these two as well as they know themselves would say they were brothers.
As time passed, Bingham’s photographic and film opportunities grew. Howard met Bill Cosby for the first time during the filming of the prime time show I Spy with Ali leading to camera guild as a still photographer in 1969. The guild created opportunities for work on such films as The Candidate, All the Presidents Men, The Electric Horsemen and Ghost Dad and Ali. Bingham also became an essential photographer for magazines as Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated People, Ebony and other international magazines. His work also is recognized by the several years he spent documenting significant people such as the Beatles and many other legends; and events, not to exclude moments in history surrounding the civil rights movement.
Bingham has also published books; Muhammed Ali: A Thirty Year Journey which chronicles Ali’s life and career, and the book Howard Bingham’s Black Panthers, 1968. Bingham is also quite a humanitarian, having a scholarship named after him at the Rochester Institute of Technology for minority photographers as well as a media center soon to be named after him in Watts, California for young people living in south Los Angeles to learn photography.
Although Bingham has obtained the highest of heights within the forty-six years of when he first picked up the camera, he remains the icon and model for countless aspiring photographers and filmmakers worldwide.
At 70, Bingham is still active as being on the board of trustees at Eastman House in Rochester, New York, traveling from coast to coast while simultaneously juggling numerous projects.
No matter what keeps him busy Bingham still manages to accommodate time to leave Los Angeles to go visit his life long best friend Muhammed Ali in Scottsdale, Arizona. Bingham is “The Greatest” and I don’t think Ali would dispute that title.