Sunday, November 18, 2012

W. Eugene Smith: Jazz Loving Lensman

There are a lot of artists, writers, and photographers at the Lakewood Starbucks and I have come out of hermitdom and been socializing at the wonderful cafe society there. It's great to meet so many fine artists, creative types, and lovers of art-in-all-forms. Not ot mention the pretty and friendly women and kind people.

Anyway, after thinking about photography and such, I am reminded to showcase one of my favorite photojournalists, W. Eugene Smith, the famous lensman for Life.

Jazzman Thelonius Sphere Monk.

On and Off the Walls: W. Eugene Smith’s Bohemian Life

One morning when I tuned into NPR, the voice of Sarah Fishko announced a new radio series: The Jazz Loft Project. I was surprised to learn that the great humanist photographer Eugene Smith, famous for his work published in Life magazine, was a jazz obsessive who had taped roughly four thousand hours of jam sessions and conversations in his loft on Sixth Avenue between 1957 to 1965—the golden era of New York jazz.

In 1957, Smith left his family in Croton-on-Hudson, moved into a dilapidated loft in the Flower District in New York, disappeared from the radar of the magazine world, and immersed himself in bohemian life. His building, fully wired for recording, became a haunt for jazz musicians, artists, and all-night jam sessions. The greats—Charlie Mingus, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk—all came, and Smith taped their music and photographed them all.

During this time Smith was constantly printing and editing his work; photographs show every available space in his loft covered with layers of his pictures. Luckily for us, he was also taking thousands of new pictures of the musicians around him and of life outside his building. This treasure trove can be seen at the New York Public Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center until May 22nd, and in “The Jazz Loft Project,” a book by Sam Stephenson. It is a special treat for photography lovers as well as jazz lovers. For those like me who love both it is a double hit.

Here’s a flashback to W. Eugene Smith’s view from 821 Sixth Avenue.

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