By Steph Jorgl
Photographic legend Herman Leonard opened his first studio in 1949 and soon pioneered new techniques in lighting while chronicling the Golden-era of American Jazz. He photographed many of the Jazz-era greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and others, in dimly lit clubs when these artists were still relatively unknown. Over 60 years later, the Smithsonian has more than 130 of his images, and single prints of his work sell for up to $15,000.
But in 2008, Leonard received a historic preservation grant for music from the GRAMMY foundation for his contribution to the history of music. He received the honorary GRAMMY music-preservation grant from colleagues in the music industry because they recognize his work as contributing to archiving the history of American jazz music.
The grant, for $33,000, will allow Leonard to archive and print more of the great shots he captured over 60 years ago. Many of his photographs were lost in Hurricane Katrina, and the grant will allow him to drum scan and re print more of his classic works. "I was really surprised when they gave the Grammy grant to me because I thought those grants were reserved only for musicians!" says Leonard. "It's a real honor to be chosen for this. It's wonderful."
Leonard is using part of the grant money to have BowHaus do drum scans of his negatives. He found out about BowHaus when he moved to Los Angeles from New Orleans. "After my works were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, I came out here and started asking around about where to go to digitize and clean up the negatives that we saved," says Leonard. "That's how I heard about BowHaus. And I have to say, I've been very impressed by the work they do."
He explains, "Here I've got film negatives, and I'm able to work with BowHaus to bring these into digital. And what I love is that we can really work with the tones the same way I would in the dark room." He also really enjoys working with BowHaus' Joe Berndt. "Working with Joe has just been a real pleasure," he says. "When we work on the images together, he just thinks the same way I think about these things, which is great. "
Leonard loves the tones that BowHaus is able to bring out with its True Black and White technology, and archival pigment inks.
"When I started shooting, I did things with lighting because we didn't have any choice," he explains. "The clubs were not lit for photography and so I just came up with a solution, using two lights and that worked for me. I didn't realize that-at the time-what I was doing was unique at all, until later. The thing about photography though is that it's really an art where you're painting with light. Without light, you can't capture a picture."
Leonard is excited about bringing more of his historic shots to print. "I have so many negatives and I was just looking through them now and finding so many pictures I'd even forgotten I'd taken," he says.
When asked which ones he finds most interesting now, Leonard responds. "The ones where the subject doesn't even know they're being photographed, where the shot is not staged and where, sometimes, their face isn't even in the picture."
A big part of the photographic art is sharing what you've captured and, thanks to the GRAMMY historic preservation grant he's been awarded, Leonard can now look forward to working with BowHaus to share more of his unseen works from the history of Jazz.