The work is not only iconic, it’s incredibly well done. Is timeless the best way I can describe it? No, it doesn’t really do it justice. Neither do these crumby, fake polaroids shot on my phone, but I’m asking a temporary forgiveness until I get my camera back, or camera going I should say.
Herman Leonard, 85, is a legend in the music business, and photography world for that matter, but I think the foundation of his success is the music. I’m not sure if he plays, or ever has, but his images of music are impossible to forget. Black and white, mostly medium to large format, and dripping with smoke and history, these pictures are forever a part of the world’s collective knowledge of music. Sarah, Dizzy, Louis, Lena, Billie, and most importantly, Miles, all I need to mention.
Leonard began in the 40’s when race was a dominant card, but somehow managed to connect, even when someone like Lena couldn’t share a drink with him after the shoot because she could not sit in the general admission area due to her skin color.
Sitting and listening to Herman I am conflicted. I am in absolute awe of the ability to make these pictures, and the more you know about them, the more, if you know ANYTHING about photography, you realize were even more difficult than they look. Two, three, four sheets of 4×5 at a time, and that’s it. Strobes hidden as they popped into life freezing time capsules as Herman hid backstage. But I am also sad because I know these days are gone, both in music and photography.
Intimate is SO rare these days, a development of our own fabrication, and now we pay the consequences of short attention spans, everything rushed and on deadline, creating a shallowness that forces our mind to drift and our eyes to look away.
I’m conflicted because Herman is so good, so nice and there will be not be another.
I made many, many notes of this event, which I had planned to share, but someone saved us from this translation. In the audience were relatives of Miles Davis, and friends of Miles, one of whom stood up and said, “I was friends with Miles, and Herman, you were special to him.” There isn’t anything I can say better than that, so if you haven’t had a chance to see Herman’s work, I urge you to do so.
I should also mention Leonard was not alone on this day, but was speaking with Brian Cross, who goes by the name B+, another LA based photographer, but someone who originates from Ireland. Brian, soft spoken and modest, had the difficult task of following Leonard. B+ has spent the better part of the last ten years, perhaps more, shooting and living in the world of Hip Hop, and like Leonard has an intimacy with his associates that doesn’t come along every day.
The adjacent studio at the Pacific Design center held B+’s show, which was a fluid, active presentation, that to me was subtle in print size, but proved to me one simple thing…he is a photographer and not a showman. Many of Brian’s images are simple, quiet moments, as opposed to huge, lit, large crew, overdone music pictures that we are so fond of assigning these days. Through his images you could tell that B+ was a guy you would love to hang out with, someone that had one version of himself, not one public and one private. It also showed me that he also has a camera all the time, not just when he is on assignment, and that is something I really respect.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Brian, who said when asked, “What would life be without photography?”
“That isn’t an option,” he said.