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Remembering Chuck Stewart Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 February 2017

He was getting an allowance of 25 cents a week when, turning 13 in 1940, his mother gave him a Six-16 Brownie box camera. The next day he went to work as a photographer, taking it to school to photograph the singer Marian Anderson and selling the prints to his schoolmates for $2 each.

Earlier that year Anderson had sung at the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her sing in Constitution Hall. Her stunning performance at the Lincoln Memorial made her such a hero at Stewart's school that he was able to sell prints of his photos of her to his classmates. He made eight times his allowance from that first gig.

He knew what to do.

He attended Ohio University to study photography where he befriended photographer Herman Leonard. Leonard graduated in 1949 and opened a studio in New York where Stewart joined him when he had graduated himself.

They frequented the jazz clubs, photographing Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. It was Stewart's introduction to the rest of his career, photographing the greats of jazz and doing over 2,000 album covers.

Leonard had been an apprentice of the portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh. When Karsh would come to New York, he would take Leonard and Stewart on his shoots as his third and fourth assistants. It was invaluable training for a man who would make his mark as a portrait photographer.

Like Karsh, Stewart developed a relationship with his subjects. They liked him. They trusted him. He was never intrusive "He would never snap a shutter in the middle of a take," the jazz historian Dan Morgenstern remembered. "He was the extreme opposite of the paparazzi."

As for his approach, Stewart said, "It wasn't about who they were, it was about how best they looked to me." The video above, from a Newsweek profile illustrates that.

Nearly a million photos later through over seven decades, Stewart shot more than jazz musicians. The slide show in his New York Times obituary includes a touching selection of his candids of children on the streets of Harlem. And he shot the Nevada atomic bomb tests in 1952 after being drafted into the Army.

Many of the color album covers, designed decades ago, can't help but look a little dated now but his black-and-white work outlives him, just the way the last note from the stage lingers a bit in your ears after it has been played and just before the applause deafens them.

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