Herman Leonard

(Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1923 - 2010, Los Angeles, California)

North America, American

Herman Leonard was born in 1923 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Interested in photography from a young age, he did not begin to photograph the world of jazz until college. While a photography student at Ohio University, Leonard captured his first jazz photo in Columbus at one of Norman Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concerts. After graduating, Leonard moved to Ottawa for an apprenticeship with famed portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh. In 1948 he moved to New York City, where he opened up his first studio in Greenwich Village. Leonard began frequenting jazz clubs, trading his photography services for entry into the city’s finest clubs. In 1956 Leonard moved to Paris where he delved into the world of fashion photography while continuing to capture American jazz musicians abroad. Although respected amid the jazz world, it was not until the 1980s that Leonard’s photography gained international recognition as fine art. He released his first book, The Eye of Jazz in 1985; his first solo exhibition occurred in London in 1988. Relocating to New Orleans in 1992, Leonard continued to photograph and exhibit his work. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina flooded the artist’s home and studio, destroying over 8,000 of his prints. Luckily, his negatives had been moved to a safe place before the storm. Leonard moved to Los Angeles, where he lived until his death in 2010. Throughout his career he was honored with numerous awards including the Milt Hinton Award for Excellence in Jazz Photography, the Excellence in Photography award from the Jazz Journalists Association, a Lifetime Achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine, a Grammy Foundation Grant for Preservation and Archiving and an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from his alma mater, Ohio University.


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