Leonard, Herman

American (1923-)


Herman Leonard (1923) is best known for his images of jazz musicians. After graduating from Ohio University, Leonard apprenticed with Yousef Karsh for a year. While he acquired invaluable photographic skills, more useful was the primer in how to behave and operate around dignitaries and celebrities. Leonard put his winning ways to work when he opened his own studio in 1948 in Greenwich Village. After spending the evenings in local jazz clubs taking candids, Leonard would convince his heroes – Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis and more – to stop by the studio for more formal shots. His distinctive use of backlighting graced the covers of more than 200 albums.

As the music scene changed, Leonard expanded his repertoire by taking on unique assignments. In 1965, he traveled as Marlon Brando’s personal photographer on a research trip to the Far East. Upon his return, Leonard moved to Paris, where he worked for several years in the fashion world. After living throughout Europe, Leonard returned to the US, specifically New Orleans, and to photographing jazz musicians. In 2005, he lost thousands of prints in Hurricane Katrina, but his negatives were protected in the vault of a local museum.