Tag Archives: history of jazz

Viewing Jazz in Siouxland, Billie Holiday at the Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

24 Jan
A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Recently on a trip to Omaha I was able to view a traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution about the singer Billie Holiday and photographer Jerry Dantzic who spent time following her about in the New York area documenting her life on and off the stage. This occurred in the late 1950’s and Dantzic’s documentation of Holiday was done with cameras and B&W film. The exhibit at the Durham Museum is there through early February. And it reminds me of my earlier days of photographing for newspapers when the film of choice, basically the only film, was black and white. Normally Kodak Tri-X, with an ASA (these days ISO) of 400.

A traveling exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution of photographer Jerry Dantzig’s images of singer Billie Holiday’s life in and around Sugar Hill, a section of Harlem in New York City in the spring of 1957, seen on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Dantzic photographed in available light so as not to disrupt the performance of Holiday in the various places she performed. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

An enlarged contact sheet from the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Dantzic was a photojournalist and this particular project was something he had done at the time and it was published in magazines that used a lot of photographs, namely Life magazine and similar publications. These publications did photo spreads of several pages of subjects both topical and varied.

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

One of photographer Jerry Dantzic’s Leica M3 cameras he used to create images of singer Billie Holiday’s life in and around Sugar Hill, a section of Harlem in New York City in the spring of 1957. A traveling exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution is on display at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©) using mostly black and white film with available light at the Durham Museum Friday, December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Dantzic was a “fly on the wall” as he recorded unguarded moments of his subject, Holiday, by then a renowned singer recognizable by people on the street and performing in upscale clubs. The B&W film made for a more gritty presence but also necessary as Dantzic photographed without flash using whatever available ambient light was present. In film days shooting in difficult low light situations photographers were always happy in capturing the content and telling a story, and sometimes the “graininess” of film came with the territory. Whereas today people might get chastised for not ridding an image of that grainy/pixelated look because of technology that makes it possible to make an image look perfect.

It is fun looking at the images Dantzic created and understanding the conditions in which he worked and being able to capture his subject in ways to tell the story he was pursuing.

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Dantzic photographed in available light so as not to disrupt the performance of Holiday in the various places she performed. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

History comes in many forms, mostly in books and the written word, sometimes in film through cinema and again in photographs. The photos encapsulate a particular time period and allows one as much time as needed to stand and view and contemplate what is seen. The exhibit also invokes a recording method that is now mostly extinct as far as the process used. Technology has made it easier to photograph in seemingly difficult conditions. And technology should make life “easier” through progress no matter the subject or medium.

But this exhibit harkens to another time period. The B&W invokes an era that has passed but was preserved so others who did not see the work published could still enjoy it for what it is a generation or two later.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE. Billie Holiday performed with many of the greats of that jazz era including Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and others. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition of photographs by photographer Jerry Dantzic of singer Billie Holiday during 1957 while in Sugar Hill, New York City, a part of Harlem now on display at the Durham Museum Friday, seen December 17, 2021 in Omaha, NE.

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