Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Herman Leonard, 1923-2010


Postwar jazz photographer Herman Leonard died of leukemia in August at the age of 87. 

Born in Allentown, Pa., in 1923, Leonard took his first photographs as a child and later studied photography at Ohio University. After school, he apprenticed for Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh before opening his own New York City studio at age 25.Although Leonard shot many portraits in New York and Paris between 1948 and 1956, his stark, black-and-white images of jazz musicians enrobed in swirls of cigarette smoke did not become popular until the 1980s. His subjects included such jazz virtuosos as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, and his photos were featured throughout New York’s nightclubs.

Outside of the jazz scene, Leonard spent many years as a freelance fashion and commercial photographer in Paris and Ibiza, Spain. His rise to fame finally came in 1988, when he held a show of his archived jazz photos at a London gallery. Around that same time, he published "The Eye of Jazz" in France.

In the late 1980s, Leonard returned to the United States and settled in New Orleans. In 2005, he suffered with the rest of his community and lost more than 8,000 jazz prints in the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. His negatives, however, were spared and still reside at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

His other books include "Jazz Memories" and "Jazz, Giants and Journeys." A third book, "Jazz," will be released this November.Leonard was also known for his unusual printing technique of soaking unexposed film in mercury to enhance its speed in low light. His photographs have been exhibited at galleries worldwide, and his work is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution. A few weeks before his death, Leonard was awarded the 2010 Bruce Lundvall Award for his lifelong contribution to the world of jazz.