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Photographer Reflects on Jazz Giants, Storm Losses

Photographer Herman Leonard, 84, captured jazz giants like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis on film as they worked in smoky, cramped, late-night clubs. But he almost lost his amazing collection to Hurricane Katrina.

As the storm bore down on New Orleans, Leonard rushed most of his negatives to a vault at a museum near his home. However, thousands of his prints were lost to the flood waters.

Some of the photos that were salvaged went on display last month at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. And Leonard's latest book, Jazz, Giants and Journeys, includes a full collection of photos that span his long career.

Leonard tells Michele Norris he's grateful for what he was able to salvage from the storm, but much like favorite recipes, photographic prints never turn out the same way twice. He hasn't moved back to his home city of New Orleans, and says he'll live there again only if the city can regain some semblance of what it once was.

During his career, Leonard took hundreds of pictures of Davis, who he has described as his favorite artist to photograph. He also captured Holiday in her kitchen and in a killer pair of shoes. Leonard said the small chains attached to the shoes caught his attention.

"I thought to myself, this sort of epitomizes her life. She was in chains most of the time. She never really had any full control of her own life," he says. "I like to photograph images — particularly of well-known people — where you don't see their face, but the image does express part of their personality."

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