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William Gottlieb
Portrait of William P. Gottlieb at WINX radio station, Washington, circa 1940
William Gottlieb
William Gottlieb

William Gottlieb

Country: United States
Birth: 1917 | Death: 2006

William Paul Gottlieb was an American photographer and newspaper columnist who is best known for his classic photographs of the leading performers of the Golden Age of American jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. Gottlieb's photographs are among the best-known and widely reproduced images of this era of jazz.

Gottlieb made portraits of hundreds of prominent jazz musicians and personalities, typically while they were playing or singing at well-known New York City jazz clubs. William Gottlieb's subjects included Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Jo Stafford, Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Ray McKinley, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Toots Thielemans, and Benny Carter.

Gottlieb was born on January 28, 1917, in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, and grew up in Bound Brook, New Jersey, where his father was in the building and lumber business. He graduated from Lehigh University in 1938 with a degree in economics. While at Lehigh, Gottlieb wrote for the weekly campus newspaper and became editor-in-chief of The Lehigh Review. In his last year of college, he began writing a weekly jazz column for the Washington Post. While writing for the Post, Gottlieb taught economics at the University of Maryland. After the Post determined that it would not pay a photographer to accompany Gottlieb's visits to jazz clubs, Gottlieb borrowed a press camera and began taking pictures for his column.

William P. Gottlieb was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1943 and served as a photography and classifications officer. After World War II, Gottlieb moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. He worked as a writer-photographer for Down Beat magazine, and his work also appeared frequently in Record Changer, the Saturday Review, and Collier's. In 1948, Gottlieb retired from jazz journalism in order to spend more time with his wife, Delia, and children.

After Gottlieb left Down Beat, he began working at Curriculum Films, an educational filmstrip company. He founded his own filmstrip company, which was later bought by McGraw Hill. Many of his filmstrips won awards from the Canadian Film Board and the Educational Film Librarians Association. Gottlieb also wrote and illustrated children's books, including several Golden Books such as The Four Seasons, Tigers Adventure, and Laddie the Superdog. He also wrote educational books such as Science Facts You Won't Believe and Space Flight.

Apart from his photography career, William Gottlieb also played amateur tennis. Gottlieb and his son Steven were often ranked the number one father-and-son ream on the East Coast and were twice ranked among the top ten teams in the US.

Gottlieb married the former Delia Potofsky, daughter of Jacob Potofsky. They had four children, Barbara, Steven, Richard, and Edward. Gottlieb died of complications of a stroke on April 23, 2006, in Great Neck, New York.

In accord with Gottlieb's wishes, his photographs were placed in the public domain. Many of his pictures are used in Wikipedia and other public domain or freely licensed venues.

Source: Wikipedia


It was the love of music that brought the superlative photography of William P. Gottlieb to the world’s attention. Originally a writer and jazz columnist, William figured that columns accompanied with photographs might give him a better chance to be published. During the late 30’s he began photographing jazz musicians to illustrate articles he wrote for the Washington Post. His weekly feature “Swing Sessions” was probably the first jazz column in a major newspaper. He simultaneously had radio programs on WRC/NBC and on a local station WINX. At the age of 22 he was Washington’s “Mr.Jazz”.

After WWII, he became the assistant editor of “Downbeat” where, again, he took photos to augment his writing. At both The Post and Downbeat he was only paid just for writing, not for pictures. In 1948, he left the jazz field for a career in publishing with Britannica and McGraw Hill and it wasn’t until his retirement that he resurrected his old jazz photos and in 1979, published The Golden Age of Jazz, now in its 12th edition of printing. In a review of the book, The New Yorker wrote, “Gottlieb stopped photographing jazz musicians in 1948… No one has surpassed him yet.” Today he is still regarded as one of the top jazz photographers of all time.

Although he never resumed taking jazz photos, his photographs have become our most widely reproduced jazz illustrations, having four US postage stamps, 250 record album covers, and having appeared in over 160 exhibitions around the world. He is represented in the National Portrait Gallery, and his photos were an essential part of the PBS Jazz series by Ken Burns. In 1995, The Library of Congress purchased 1,600 of his jazz photos “for posterity” and in 1997 he became the first and only photographer to receive the Downbeat Lifetime Achievement award.

Source: Gallery 270


 

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Another question is from what moment afterwards and I began taking pictures. Light and its effects have a great influence on me; I was always conscious of what was happening around me. I think that’s the first need a photographer must have.AAP: Do you remember your first shot? What was it?They were some household pictures that I took after my dad finally let me borrow his camera. It was during a school-trip. Those pictures were horrible; and, however they were really symbolic and full of emotions. That’s what magic is all about.AAP: What or who inspires you?Life inspires me.AAP: How would you describe your style?I have no clue. I don’t frown upon a specific style; I just go along doing what I feel is best. I don’t tell myself that things have to be a certain determined way. I start building and end up doing it in a certain way. But it’s all about circumstances, your vibes and needs and priorities when it comes down to transmitting them that end up paving a style for each series.AAP: Do you have favorite pictures or series?I’ve hated all of them at one point or another for not being loyal to what I expected them to be like; and all of them are favorites because there is something from me in all.AAP: What kind of gear do you use? Camera, lens, digital, film?It depends on each cases. Now more digital, Canon and with Hasselblad; always old ones and which treat the image with honesty. That is why I like old ones, ones that have a less forced definition.AAP: Do you spend a lot of time editing your images? For what purpose?It depends. It's all in the take. After that it's all a question of taking out defects and over all working on the texture and what it looks like in the end.AAP: Favorite(s) photographer(s)?A lot of them. For example I love Paolo Ventura.AAP: What advice would you give a young photographer?Shoot and shoot. Above all to shoot what you feel; not what is in fashion.AAP: What mistake should a young photographer avoid?Trying to go too fast and do what is currently succesful. Because when doing that, success will be in another type of photography.AAP: An idea, a sentence, a project you would like to share?(W)Hole time. A project I would like to take to movie-making. AAP: What are your projects?A book with 365 pictures, it is a poetry about the world we live in and the full-length film that I mentioned before.AAP: Your best memory as a photographer?When I stumble upon a photograph I didn't mean to do.AAP: Your worst souvenir as a photographer?Deal with creative managers who don't have a clear concept of their idea. It happens quite often.AAP:If you were someone else who would it be?I don't know. You can be creative in any activity that humans do.AAP: Your favorite photo book?I have a huge library because I actually love photo books as an object as a whole; regardless of its content.
Nakaji Yasui
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