He only gets a second 

Music photographer snaps epic shots of the stage

Photographer Leonard White knows a little something about patience.

He's been looking through a camera lens for over 50 years, first as an art director for major magazines and then as a stringer for United Press International. He's worked through the revolution from film to digital and taught at Loyola University and doesn't mind waiting hours for the best light and perfect composition.

But the biggest test of his equanimity has been musicians. For the past 10 years, he has been granted close access to the main stage of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, allowing him to snap photos of musical icons like Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow. Capturing the artists in action is always a challenge, especially with high-energy performers like John Mayer or Dave Matthews, and White often braves swelling crowds to get his shot. The results distill events attended by three hundred thousand people down to front row intimacy.

His Jazzfest works have been printed on canvas and collated into an exhibit call "I Only Get a Second," on display at the JEA through July 31.

White spoke to Connect last week from Covington, LA, where he lives part time with his wife of 47 years. They spend the rest of their time in Savannah, where their daughter, Ashley Samuels, and her husband, Scott, are raising their grandchildren.

What about photography first hooked you?

Leonard White: Actually, photography was an adjunct to my majors of Graphic Design and Classical Drawing and Painting. When I started to use photos in my designs, it was easier to do the photos myself than to try and tell others what I wanted.

Pure photography came about much later when I was teaching. Students wanted to go farther into screen printing and other art forms. I always felt that the photo was the beginning not the end.

As a former professor, what is your best advice to photographers who shoot musicians?

Leonard White: Patience. And then, be as aggressive as possible.

Go after the shot and don't let anything get in your way. Timid photographers never win. Sorry, but Aggressive, Pushy and Obnoxious win every time — just say PLEASE!

What's unique about shooting musicians as opposed to other subjects?

Leonard White: Musicians by nature are always moving. Here for a second and then somewhere else on the stage. It took 45 minutes to get the photo of Billy Joel, moving through a crowd of 25,000 people, pushing and shoving, I finally had the shot. It lasted maybe a second or two — blink and you miss it.

Do your favorite musicians necessarily result in your best shots?

Leonard White: No, not necessarily. There are times when I am shooting a new group or person and have to ask someone "Who is Jason Mraz?" But I get him in all the right poses.

Or I photograph Bob Dylan and he decides he doesn't want to be photographed. His position on the stage is wrong and he purposely doesn't cooperate.

I love the action and the challenges at all the Jazzfests. I always come away with something that I think is great. Sometimes the best shots are of the crowd.

Do you ever get to just sit back and enjoy the music?

Leonard White: When I shoot a concert, I don't hear the music and probably could not tell you who I am shooting. I have also shot seven Super Bowls and could not have told you who was playing or what the score was.

When I want to listen to the music, I buy tickets and go with my wife and friends. Then I complain all through the concert about the great shots that I am missing.


"I Only Get a Second": Photos by Leonard White

Where: JEA, 5111 Abercorn St.

When: Through July 31; see website for building hours

Cost: Free

Info: 912.355.8111 or savannahjea.org


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About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

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