William Paul Gottlieb, born in 1917, was one of the most important music journalists and photographers of his time. For his lifetime the New Yorkan artist was a big admirer of jazz music.
After some months at the “Washington Post”, where he started to work as an advertising agent in 1938, he was quickly promoted and began to write a jazz column for the Sunday issues. Since there was no budget for the photos matching his column and he had to rely on himself, he borrowed a camera from a colleague and took his own pictures from then on. He was covering concerts in New York’s smoky jazz clubs where he soon became a regular customer. In Gottlieb’s eyes, jazz was also a visual medium. He quickly realized how important photography actually was and how it filled his texts with life. After studying economics and some turbulent years during World War Two, where he served in the Army Air Force and also took photos every now and then, he was attracted to journalism once again. He was writing for famous music and jazz magazines like “Down Beat” and “Metronome” until he finally withdrew from the world of journalism in 1948 to trade his crazy night life for a calm family life at home.
Not only from a musical, but also from a photographic perspective it was a time of change. Gottlieb and a bunch of other photographers were at the beginning of a revolution as it came to portraying musicians.
Gottlieb kept working hard to convey individuality and the unique style of the most diverse musicians. In his texts he describes the personality of the musicians. His photos were supposed to complete his columns and reflect words visually. He experiments with extraordinary perspectives and by doing so comes extremely close to the musicians. Sometimes he also joins them on stage and takes snapshots from positions that are unknown to the ordinary public.
William Gottlieb was mainly a journalist. Even though photography played a big role to accompany his texts, the most important thing to him was an authentic presentation of the artists. An interesting fact is that Gottlieb limited himself to two to four photos a session. One reason was because of the respect to the musicians (the flashlight he used was anything but discreet) and for another reason to save money and his equipment from smoky jazz clubs. (For the nerds among you: Speed Graphic, a Graflex and a Rolleiflex)
He chose moments very deliberately, waiting for the certain something as it was characterized by H. C. Bresson. This way the autodidact became one of the most important jazz photographers of his time.
Gottlieb expected a “good” portrait shot to be more than just the image of a person. He didn’t only want to create his photos, he also wanted the shots to be as authentic as possible. His photos were “real” – unadorned and realistic impressions of a musician’s daily routine. Gottlieb understood how to get easy shots of artists, he had very good relations with many of them and they trusted him and his job.