Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Herman and Hal: Two legends pass on

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 10:52 PM

In the past two weeks, two legends in their respective fields (photography and track and field) passed away without much notice unless you happen to read the major metro newspapers online.

For those who take or admire photos of musicians at work, Herman Leonard's images are the cornerstone of popular music photography. His dramatic backlit black-and-white images of America's great jazz musicians are truly iconic (

Leonard was a minimalist working with two small lights and a Speed Graphic (in his early days) camera. Perhaps Leonard's most famous image is his one of tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Gordon, porkpie hat on his head, dressed in a sharp zoot suit, coll-looking shirt and tie, rests with his instrument in his lap between numbers at a rehearsal. A wisp of smoke flows up from a cigarette he holds in one hand past his face forming a small cloud above his head.

It's an image that captures the essence of the jazz era of the late forties and early fifties: hipness in black and white.

But easily his greatest photo, in terms of capturing a moment, is the one of Duke Ellington sitting at a table in a New York club watching Ella Fitzgerald on stage. Ellington's look of admiration and love says it all.

Speaking of love, when American hammer thrower Hal Connolly fell in love with Czech discus thrower Olga Fikotova during the 1956 Melbourne summer Olympic Games (where he won the gold medal), it was a major incident. Why? Because she was from a then-Communist-Bloc country and the Cold War was still very much alive.

After months of diplomatic negotiations, Connolly and Fikotova were married in Prague in front of a throng estimated between 30 and 40 thousand well wishers.

Connolly would go on to compete in the 1960 (8th), 1964 (6th) and 1968 (did not qualify for the finals) Games.

Connolly's story was even more dramatic because he was born with badly damaged left arm that was much shorter than his right arm. He overcame his apparent problem through serious weight training and went on to break the world record in the hammer six times.

After retiring from competition, Connolly became a school teacher and tireless volunteer helping potential Olympians and the Special Olympics movement.

Connolly's love story and enduring love for track and field and Leonard's turning music photography into an art both contributed greatly to the American scene.

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