Herman Leonard

Jazz Giants

November 30, 2006 – January 13, 2007

Press Release

HERMAN LEONARD
Jazz Giants

November 30, 2006 through January 13, 2007
Reception for the Artist, Thursday, November 30, 7 - 9 p.m.

The Fahey/Klein Gallery is pleased to present Jazz Giants, the mural-sized photographs by Herman Leonard. This exhibition is a photographic journey through the golden years of the Jazz, Blues and Bebop eras that documents the larger-than-life legends that comprise the visual album of America's music. Focusing on the life and times of famed artists such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk among countless others, this exhibition features a selection from Leonard's extensive photographic history.

Despite the devastating loss of his New Orleans home, studio, and darkroom in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, Leonard's definitive archive, as well as his spirit, remain strong. Though over 6,000 of Leonard's original photographs along with many of his exposure records were lost in the hurricane, Leonard, at the age of 83, continues to shoot, develop and exhibit his comprehensive archive. Timeless and true, Herman Leonard's photographs continue to serve as the iconic portals into Jazz's rich culture.

Using a unique lighting approach, Leonard's signature "backlighting" style gives his portraits a dramatic quality that is highly humanistic, capturing the illuminating personalities behind the music. Regarding his technique Leonard has said, "I wanted to do with light what artists do with a line sketch, show the whole character" (Departures, 2006). Using elements such as smoke and strobe lighting, Leonard undoubtedly presents his subjects in a softer ambiance, allowing each personality to shine beyond his/her stage personality. Leonard's rare ability to connect with his subjects-from Charlie Parker to Miles Davis-made him a much-loved and welcomed figure among Jazz's musicians, giving Leonard the permission to pervade and interpersonally document the Jazz scene from the 1940s through today.

"The musicians appreciated his discretion, his respect for their work, and it is from their complicity-an unchanging aspect of his style-that his images derive their originality. These unprecedented documents radiate the musicians' humour and philosophy, but also their emotions, melancholy or delight. It would be tempting to say that Herman is revealing the soul of the jazzmen to us" (Francis Paudras, Jazz Memories).

Herman Leonard was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1923. Discovering the camera at the age of 11, Leonard began his career by photographing friends in school. As a teenager, Leonard discovered that the camera could grant him access into many concert venues. Leonard attended Ohio University to pursue a bachelor's degree in photography--a relatively new course of study in the 1940s. In 1943, World War II interrupted his studies and Leonard joined the Army Medical Corps in Burma, but continued his affair with the camera, developing film late at night in his combat helmet.

After the war, Leonard continued his coursework and graduated in 1947. Undergoing a series of projects throughout his early years, Herman Leonard studied under Canadian portraiture photographer Yousuf Karsh for a year which granted Leonard the invaluable opportunity to photograph the likes of Albert Einstein, Harry S. Truman and Clark Gable among others. In the 1950s, Leonard became the personal photographer to Marlon Brando and later moved to Paris where he worked fashion and advertising jobs for magazines such as Playboy, Life, and Time.

Most recently, Herman Leonard was honored by the Smithsonian Institution by housing his entire collection in the permanent archives of musical history.