Flood Imperils Work of Famed Jazz Photographer

Louis Armstrong, caught in a reflective moment, his shadow against a white wall. i i

Louis Armstrong, caught in a reflective moment, cast a giant shadow on the world of jazz... and so does Herman Leonard's photography. Herman Leonard hide caption

itoggle caption Herman Leonard
Louis Armstrong, caught in a reflective moment, his shadow against a white wall.

Louis Armstrong, caught in a reflective moment, cast a giant shadow on the world of jazz... and so does Herman Leonard's photography.

Herman Leonard

Photo Gallery

Herman Leonard has been called the Charlie Parker of photography. His dramatic black and white images of jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk — and Parker himself — helped create a visual record of one of the most fertile periods of jazz. A great deal of that record may have been lost or damaged in the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina.

More Leonard Photos

Herman Leonard, photographed with his camera by Greg Miles.

Herman Leonard has been behind the camera since he was a student at Ohio University in 1940. Greg Miles hide caption

itoggle caption Greg Miles

On Aug. 27, as the storm approached New Orleans, the 82-year-old Leonard, his manager and a small group of friends scrambled to save as many of his photos as they could, hustling them to the third floor of his home. The negatives are in a museum vault that Leonard says remains above the flood waters... though it likely lost all climate control.

But he's heard the studio and darkroom on the first floor of his house were submerged under eight feet of water.

His daughter and her family had recently moved to New Orleans to be closer to him. They lost nearly everything to the hurricane and flood.

Now Leonard and family wait in Los Angeles for the chance to return and find out what's left.

The Smithsonian has more than 130 Herman Leonard photographs in its permanent collection, spanning a career that began when he was a photography student at Ohio University in 1940. Leonard eventually found work as a portrait photographer in New York. To blow off artistic steam, he would hang out at jazz clubs along 52nd Street and take pictures.

Leonard is putting a brave face on his situation. "That's all right," he says. "It gives me incentive to get back in the darkroom and start printing again."

Books Featured In This Story

The Eye of Jazz

by Herman Leonard

Hardcover, 155 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
The Eye of Jazz
Author
Herman Leonard

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Purchase Featured Book

Herman Leonard Jazz Portraits Postcard Book

Purchase Book

Purchase Featured Book

Title
Herman Leonard Jazz Portraits Postcard Book
Author
Herman Leonard

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

 

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.