In the late 1930s, a Golden Age of Jazz started to emerge, as hard economic times began to fade. Airwaves were pulsating with jazz and record sales were rising. Legends like Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more were on the scene – and so was William Gottlieb.
Equipped with a bulky Speed Graphic camera, Gottlieb, a young columnist for the Washington Post and later a writer for Down Beat magazine, photographed jazz musicians and performers, capturing classic images that are well-known today. Gottlieb photographed the jazz greats from 1938 to 1948.
A set of these iconic images, part of the Library of Congress William P. Gottlieb Collection, has been uploaded to Flickr. The Library will continue to add more photos each month, until all 1,600 from the collection are included.
The initial 200 images show the photographs alongside Gottlieb’s personal recollections that were published in his book "The Golden Age of Jazz." The Music Division has loaded the original, un-cropped photographs on Flickr. Gottlieb’s cropped versions of the images can be viewed in the Library’s Performing Arts Encyclopedia, giving viewers a unique insight into Gottlieb’s creative process.
Of all Gottlieb's great pictures, his circa-February-1947 image of Holiday is his most famous. Here, he epitomized the great singer's soulfulness in a single frame.
"I hit it on the button," Gottlieb said of the photo, taken at a time, he said, when her voice "was at its peak" and she "was her most beautiful."
The photographs in the Library’s William P. Gottlieb Collection entered into the public domain on Feb. 16, 2010, in accordance with Gottlieb’s wishes. Gottlieb died at age 89 in 2006. Although copyright restrictions are lifted, rights of privacy and publicity may apply. Users of photographs in the Gottlieb collection are responsible for clearing any privacy or publicity rights associated with the use of the images.
Born in 1917, Gottlieb began working for the Washington Post in 1938 in his last year at Lehigh University. For the Post, he wrote and illustrated a weekly jazz column, perhaps the first in a major newspaper. When the Post decided it couldn’t afford to pay a photographer to shoot photos for the column, Gottlieb bought his own press camera and began taking pictures. Gottlieb was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1943. After World War II, he worked as a writer-photographer for Down Beat magazine. His work also appeared frequently in Record Changer, the Saturday Review and Collier’s.
After Gottlieb left Down Beat, he was offered a job at Curriculum Films, an educational filmstrip company. He then founded his own filmstrip company, which was later bought by McGraw-Hill. Many of his filmstrips won awards from the Canadian Film Board and the Educational Film Librarians Association. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the filmstrip, now obsolete, was a common form of still-image instructional multimedia technology, a precursor to PowerPoint presentations.
In July 1997, Gottlieb visited the Library and participated in interviews about his photography of jazz musicians.
Previous sets of Library of Congress photos uploaded to Flickr include Baseball Americana, Farm Security Administration Favorites, Abraham Lincoln, News in the 1910s, World War I Panoramas and more. The Library of Congress started to place images on Flickr in January 2008.