Meet the Artist: Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz

Meet the Artist: Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz

Jimmy Katz is the most prolific and celebrated jazz photographer of the last 30 years.

As NPR stated, “How you know you’ve made it in jazz: you get your photo taken by Jimmy Katz!”

I am incredibly proud to show his work and grateful for his trust and support. We met through Tim, my husband, who worked with Jimmy and his wife Dena on a few of their shoots.

They opened their world to us and invited us to intimate jazz performances. Thanks to them, we got the chance to see some incredible talent and witness jazz’s creativity and mastery.

Jimmy’s love for the music can be felt through his photographs. Since that fateful evening when, as a teen, he went to see Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey at Carnegie Hall, he has loved and breathed jazz. He now has more than 4,000 records and an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and its history.

Arthur Taylor playing on his drums

One of his most cherished memories is when the great Andrew Hill invited him to sit practically under his piano during his last recording session. Hill was dying of cancer but enjoyed the creative energy of the moment.

Art is an act of creation and so, by extension, it is life — never was this truer than on that day.

Over the last 30 years, Jimmy has photographed the who’s who of jazz. He added audio recording and engineering to his arsenal to further his work and connections to the musicians.

Jimmy and Dena have done over 200 magazine covers for Downbeat and Jazz Times alone and have worked on over 580 recording projects for a variety of labels. They have witnessed and captured creative collaborations few others ever get to see or hear.

Portrait of Keith Jarrett at home
Portrait of Ray Charles
Giant Steps Arts, the non-profit he founded in 2018, is his way to give back to the community. Thanks to donations, he’s able to help musicians create personal projects free of artistic compromise or commercial constraint. Unlike with a traditional recording company, the musicians keep ownership of the master tape and are then able to sell their music freely.

The fact that Jimmy knows his subjects so well gives an extra depth to his portraits. They are not just people in front of his camera for him – many are friends and people he has worked with over the years as a music recorder and engineer. He sits next to them while they play and works alongside them to capture improvised moments of musical brilliance.

Jimmy approaches photography like a jazz musician approaches music. There’s a plan, yes, but there’s always room for last-minute changes and for that elusive magic all artists chase after. He brings all his gear to the set and chooses on the spot the ones that work the best for that moment. Like in jazz, things are calculated AND free – a perilous exercise many fail, but one Jimmy excels in.

See Jimmy Katz’s exhibit here.

If you want to support Giant Steps Arts, go here.

Portrait of Ornette Coleman

Photographers I Love: Jeanloup Sieff

Photographers I Love: Jeanloup Sieff

I had the incredible opportunity to pose for Sieff… but then never followed up to ask him for a print! I could kick myself!

I was working at BBDO, an ad agency in Paris, as an assistant art buyer (as we were called then) when his agent came to show us some books.

She thought I looked great, took a quick polaroid of me, and next thing I knew, I was meeting the great man himself!

He was looking for nude models for a new book. I was then beyond shy and so ill at ease in my own skin that the idea freaked me out to no end.

But I did it, mostly to prove to myself that I could do it, and also because it was Jeanloup Sieff — the man was a legend in France! How could I say no?

Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, naked, sitting on leather pouches on the floor

He was nice and attentive, professional and patient. The shoot took place in his loft. I remember it was during summer and Paris was quiet.

A few weeks later, Sieff invited me back to see the contact sheet and choose an image for a print, but we kept on missing each other. I got busy getting ready to move to New York; I got scared and shy again… and I never went and never got my print!

When he passed away, that door closed forever… I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life but that’s definitely one of them!

Torso of a woman wearing a tight corset
Woman wearing high heels laying down on a bed

Born in 1933 in Paris, Sieff first dreamed of cinema before switching to photography. He started his career as a photo-reporter working for Elle and Magnum. Although his reportages got his recognition, he eventually moved to fashion and portrait work.

While living in New York in the early 1960s, Sieff shot for Look, Glamour and Esquire, among others. When he came back to Paris, his dramatic and sensuous black and white style was fully defined, and he went on to create striking images of the who’s who of that time.

His use of dramatic lighting and darkroom printing techniques, like dodging, make his photographs immediately recognizable. From portraits to nudes to landscapes, all his images share the same strong compositional sense and tactile quality.

I could kick myself for not following up and missing the opportunity to have a print of his!

Nade woman laying on a couch

© Jeanloup Sieff

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Jeanloup Sieff, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Ruth Bernhard

Photographers I Love: Ruth Bernhard

Ruth Bernhard’s images are both sensual and graphic in their simplicity. Her lighting and compositions elevate everyday objects and bodies to minimalist abstractions. 

Bernhard had quite a life. Born in 1905 in Berlin, in what was then the Prussian Empire, she went through the horror of World War I as a child. Her parents divorced when she was two and she hardly saw her mother afterward.

Her father was Lucian Bernhard, a famous graphic designer and artist, who became her champion and encouraged her to find her own voice.

She came of age in the Weimar Republic, that cauldron of arts and ideas, where Bauhaus aesthetics and ideals reigned supreme.

I wonder if her unconventional upbringing didn’t help her in a way as she was unburdened with society’s expectations of women. She was left free to become who she wanted to be and create the images she wanted to see — a rare thing for women at that time.

Bernhard moved to New York in 1927 and soon after started her photography career.

She frequented other artists and became a fixture in the lesbian world, moving back and forth between the East Coast and California, before settling for good in San Francisco where she died in 2007 at 101 (!!).

Her female nudes are her more well-known works – and rightly so as they are stunning. But I’ll admit a fondness for her still life images. They are very graphic and, at times, abstract.

Look at the image she created using simple straws! Or the one with the Lifesavers candies! Her approach transcends her subjects and turns them into otherworldly aliens.

She might not be the biggest name in photography history (and not everything she did stood the test of time), but she deserves a second look.

Drinking straws seen from above, looking like an abstract sculpture

After all, Ansel Adams, who knew a thing or two about photography, hailed her as “the greatest photographer of the nude” (high praise indeed!).

“If you are not willing to see more than is visible, you won’t see anything.” Ruth Bernhard

Rows of Lifesavers hard candies, neatly arranged to create an abstract visual

© Ruth Bernhard

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Ruth Bernhard, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Sally Mann

Photographers I Love: Sally Mann

I am not a mother so I don’t have firsthand experience with kids. I only have a vague idea of what it means to have this viscerally physical connection with another being. Art gave me a glimpse into that reality.

Once was in Terrence Malick’s movie The Tree of Life, when you see a character lying down on the grass with her newborn baby – you could feel their closeness. The other time was looking at Sally Mann’s photographs of her children.

Mann started documenting her family in the 1980s. They lived on an old farm in Virginia filled with history and surrounded by lush vegetation.

She decided to use an old 8×10 camera, which gives her images their timelessness, but also means these are the opposite of quick snapshots.

There’s nothing casual when working with a 100-year-old clunky large format film camera! Her images are carefully constructed, and she later spends hours in her darkroom to achieve the desired effect.

Portrait of a child fiercely looking at us while an adult off camera holds her

The resulting images are beautiful and poetic. They also raise at times uncomfortable questions. Your reaction to them will depend in part on your degree of comfort with the uncomfortable.

“Immediate Family,” her 1992 gallery show, became a lightning rod and deeply divided the public.

Some felt she was exploiting her kids; others argued her work was nothing more than an artsy take on child pornography, while her admirers praised her for capturing childhood and its complexity in such an honest way.

A young child's naked chest covered with flowers

Her images can be read on a multitude of levels, which creates ambiguity and, in turn, unease. Without context, without knowledge of her and her family life, you can see the worst in her world.

For example, in the portrait Damaged Child, her eldest daughter is shown with a swollen eye and looking angry. You would be forgiven to think she might a victim of child abuse. The truth is much simpler though: she was upset because she had been bitten by a gnat!

Another image shows a young girl holding what looks like a cigarette. Many people thought she was smoking when in fact it was a candy cigarette. Still not a good idea [full disclosure, we had them too in France when I was a kid], not obviously not as serious as a problem as kids actually smoking!

A young girl holding a candy cigarette as if she's smoking

I’ll be honest: some images do make me pause, if not make me uneasy. At the same time, I learned to lean into this discomfort and question it (and myself).

Great art is meant to raise questions so we learn more about ourselves and the world. It’s not always about bringing us answers – some questions have no answers – but about making us think.

I love Sally Mann’s work not only for its beauty but also because it challenges me.

 

© Sally Mann

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Sally Mann, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

12-year-old girl sitting across a chair in a garden

Photographers I Love: Richard Avedon

Photographers I Love: Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon’s portraits stay with you, never to be forgotten.

MoMA had a retrospective of Avedon’s work many years ago; it was the first time I saw his prints and I was struck by their beauty.

I especially remember his portrait of Brigitte Bardot: it looked like she was irradiating light; it was truly magical.

That portrait made me understand how important the printing process is, how much it can add to an image.

Not to say that Avedon’s images need any help: his portraits are incredibly powerful – they are both intimate and epic at the same time.

I’m a huge Marilyn Monroe fan and he captured the sadness behind her smile like no other photographer ever did.

Actress Brigitte Bardot

“My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.” Richard Avedon

Born in New York in 1923, Avedon grew up in a family of fashion retailers. He joined a Camera Club at 12 and started documenting his life, using his younger sister as his model and muse. His father was a self-made man and a strict disciplinarian who had little time for his kids. It seems to me Avedon had both the freedom to pursue photography and the discipline to turn it into a success.

He worked for a while as a photographer for the Merchant Marines, taking ID photos of the crews. Throughout his career, Avedon regularly went back to everyday people as subjects – the most famous example is his portrait series of laborers in the American West.

Shirtless beekeeper covered by bees
Actress Marilyn Monroe looking downcast

Avedon went on to study photography with legendary creative director Alexey Brodovitch, who recommended him to Harper’s Bazaar. Avedon shot for the magazine where he became known for his distinctive style. While in the 1950s most photographers stayed in studios and models often looked more like mannequins than real, breathing women, Avedon didn’t shy away from shooting on location.

I remember a show at ICP of his fashion work. His images showed glamourous people in beautiful settings having fun. The exhibit’s scenography was striking: some rooms were painted black, with the B&W images seemingly floating in the ether.

In 1962, Avedon started working for Vogue, shooting most of its covers for the following 25+ years. Besides his fashion editorial assignments, he also developed a successful career in advertising, from Versace to mainstream companies like Colgate.

Group of people in evening wear

From iconic movie stars to unknown workers, Avedon’s portraits are powerful and timeless. His setup is minimalist and intimate, with no props to distract us from the person in front of us. He asked his subjects to look straight to the camera and probed them with personal inquiries or controversial discussions… Avedon was not just photographing their face but their personality, and even soul.

The most recent show I saw of his was at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, where gigantic prints of full-length groups of people loomed over us (see the photo from that day at the top of the post)… No matter the setting, Avedon’s images are always powerful and striking.

 

 

© Richard Avedon (except the photo of the gallery show, which is mine)

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Richard Avedon, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.