Obituary: Leigh Wiener
Saturday 22 May 1993
LEIGH WIENER was a prolific and accomplishad photo-journalist whose portraits gained him a significant reputation in photography circles.
Wiener was based in California and over a 40-year period his work appeared in many journals and newspapers, including Life, Paris Match, Los Angeles Times, and Saturday Evening Post. In the public mind he was never ranked amongst the world greats, like contemporaries such as Alfred Eisenstadt or Arnold Newman, but the consistency and perceptiveness of his work placed him within an important movement in photographic history. His early death, at the age of 62, came at a point when he was beginning to have retrospective exhibitions in the United States, and as the increasing historical interest in the early 1960s drew attention to his considerable work of the period.
From the age of 14 when he made his first sale, Wiener was involved in photography. His first professional position was as a staff photographer with the Los Angeles Times, from 1955 to 1958, and later as a freelancer distributing his own images. Later he branched out into film and television, producing mostly corporate work, and in 1975 drew back to his photographic roots to create, produce and co-present an Emmy Award winning television series Talk about Pictures. This programme made him a nationally recognisable figure in the United States, and in it Wiener interviewed photographers like Ansel Adams about their work and discussed the role of the still photographer in today's society. More recently, Wiener lectured in photography at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Wiener's work embodied the prevailing taste in photographic portraiture in the post-war decades, which was to capture the personality at a spontaneous and revealing moment through their expression, gestures and situation. 'Leigh Wiener is at grips with action,' noted Camera International magazine. 'His photos stop the image in the manner of a moving-picture camera.' Wiener had a talent for working in naturalistic situations, treating a domestic setting or a workplace as though it were a studio, focusing all the attention of the image on the subject. Often he would use available light, rather than flash, to very dramatic effect.
Early on in his career Wiener developed a reputation for taking documentary style portraits and an ability to handle a wide range of subjects. Many of his most memorable images were of show business celebrities, such as Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and Duke Ellington, usually shot backstage, in rehearsal or preparing for a performance. His noted political assignments included photographing John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960, Robert Kennedy in 1963, and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Los Angeles in 1987.
One of his earliest assignments was to photograph the atomic bomb tests on the Nevada desert flats in 1958. The exposure to radiation he sustained there was the probable cause of the blood disease Sweet's syndronne, which led to his death.
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