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The Bowdoin College Museum of Art presents 'On 52nd Street: The Jazz Photographs of William P. Gottlieb'
Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. Gelatin silver print, 1947. ©2014 Louis Armstrong House Museum.

BRUNSWICK, ME.- The Bowdoin College Museum of Art presents On 52nd Street: The Jazz Photographs of William P. Gottlieb. On view from July 10 to September 14, 2014, the exhibition features forty vintage photographs of jazz musicians in performance from the collection of the photographer’s family. Gottlieb created these images between 1938 and 1948, a period when African-American jazz musicians first brought the concept of “cool” into the modern vernacular. As exemplified by individuals such as Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and Thelonious Monk, “cool” became a password in bohemian life connoting a balanced state of mind, a laid-back artistic mode of performance, a certain stylish stoicism. This exhibition brings together Gottlieb’s photographic portraits of these and other jazz musicians whose rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge, and mystery made them American icons.

Born in Brooklyn, William P. Gottlieb (1917-2006) began photographing jazz musicians in 1938 to illustrate a weekly feature, “Swing Sessions,” that he wrote for The Washington Post. Over the next decade he created almost 2,000 portraits of more than 250 musicians. At this time he also had a regular jazz program at WRC Radio and served as an assistant editor for Down Beat magazine. Gottlieb’s black and white photographs are notable for their artistic originality and the intimate relationship he formed with many of his subjects. In 1948, he retired from the jazz world in order to found a company that produced educational filmstrips.

Gottlieb’s jazz photographs took on a new life after the publication in 1979 of his well-illustrated book The Golden Age of Jazz. Further recognition came in 1995 when the Library of Congress purchased more than 1,600 of his negatives. While displays of modern prints from these negatives have been organized in the past, this exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will present for the first time vintage prints from the 1940s that Gottlieb and his family retained. These images bring forward the leading jazz musicians of this era and make visible the birth of “cool.”

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