Herman Leonard  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Herman Leonard (born 1923 in Allentown, Pennsylvania; died August 14, 2010 in Los Angeles, California) was an American photographer known for his unique images of jazz icons. A famous photograph by Herman Leonard of Dexter Gordon smoking a cigarette during a set at the Royal Roost in New York City in 1948[1] is one of the more iconic images in the history of jazz.

Life and work

Leonard earned a BFA in photography in 1947 from Ohio University, although his college career was interrupted by a tour of duty in the U.S. Army during World War II. In the military he served as a medical technician in Burma, while attached to Chiang Kai Shek's Chinese troops fighting the Japanese.

His parents Joseph Leonard, and Rose Morrison were Romanian immigrants, who emigrated from Yassi, Romania to the United States.

After graduation, Leonard apprenticed with portraitist Yousuf Karsh for one year. Karsh gave him valuable experience photographing celebrities and public personalities such as Albert Einstein, Harry Truman and Martha Graham.

In 1948 Leonard opened his first studio at 220 Sullivan Street in New York's Greenwich Village. Working free-lance for various magazines, he spent his evenings at the Royal Roost and then Birdland where he photographed the ongoing roster of jazz musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and others. The number of shots possible at a time was limited. Using glass negatives at this time, Leonard increased the sensitivity of the plates by exposing them to mercury vapor.

After working for jazz record producer Norman Granz, who used his work on album sleeves, Leonard was employed in 1956 by Marlon Brando as his personal photographer to document an extensive research trip in the Far East. Following his return, he moved to Paris, photographing assignments in the fashion and advertising business and as European correspondent for Playboy Magazine. Leonard's last flurry of photographing jazz musicians dates from this period. Among the features he shot, one behind the Iron Curtain nearly landed him in a Polish jail.

In 1980, Leonard, with his wife Elisabeth and two children, Shana and David, moved from Paris to the island of Ibiza, where he remained until 1988 when he relocated to London with his children. It was here that Leonard had his first exhibition of his work at the Special Photographers Company in Notting HIll. The show was viewed by over ten thousand new fans, including singers Sade and Bono of U2. The show toured the US in 1989 and Leonard briefly moved to San Francisco. After an exhibition at the A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans, he fell in love with the city and made it his home for the next fourteen years, immersing himself in the city's lively jazz and blues scene.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed Leonard's home and studio when the 17th Canal Levee broke near his home. The photographer and his family lost much property, including thousands of prints, but his negatives were protected in the vault of the Ogden Museum in New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina, Leonard moved to Studio City, California, and re-established his business there, working with music and film companies and magazines.

Leonard's jazz photographs, now collector's items, are a unique record of the jazz scene of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and his collection is now in the permanent archives of American Musical History in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2008, long-time friend Tony Bennett presented Leonard with the coveted Lucie Award at a ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York City. In June 2009, Leonard will be the commencement speaker for the 2009 graduating class of Ohio University where he will also receive an honorary doctorate.

He has been working with Lenny Kravitz on a project as of January 2010.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Herman Leonard" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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