Herman Leonard is one of this country’s most important portrait photographers. As a young man, he worked as an apprentice to renowned photographer Yousuf Karsh and worked with Karsh on his shoots of Einstein, Eisenhower and Truman. His career has included stints as Marlon Brando’s personal photographer and Playboy’s European photographer. And The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC has honored him by housing his entire collection in the permanent archives of musical history. Though Leonard has become highly successful as a commercial photographer, he remains best known for his portraits of jazz musicians, which will be represented in this exhibition. His subjects include Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, and countless others. These aren’t studio portraits. Leonard was at Birdland when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were performing. He was in the studios as Stan Getz recorded, in Paris to photograph Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, in New York for Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, and Miles Davis, and Monte Carlo for Frank Sinatra.
Beyond Leonard’s gift at sensing the right moment for the most dramatic image is his technical mastery of the photographic printing process. Rarely have photographs contained such depth or texture. As music writer Richard Williams once wrote of Leonard’s jazz portraits: “There could be no better symbol for the illicit mystery and poignant impermanence of jazz than the cigarette in a Herman Leonard photograph. Spiraling, billowing, hanging and twisting into shapes or oriental delicacy, the smoke is the perfect prop for the beautiful and sometimes tragic faces at the center of the night scenes.”
The exhibition is sponsored by Peterson & Myers, P.A., Robert and Malena Puterbaugh, and Kerry and Buffy Wilson.