For almost four decades, the work of Art Kane (1925–1995) steadily and conspicuously infiltrated our culture and society—whether we realized it or not. Looking back at the entire body of his work, the amount of recognizable famous photographs are staggering, from “A Great Day in Harlem” to The Who’s first album cover; he was a legend in jazz, rock and fashion photography.
Although it was his photography that gained him worldwide recognition, he began his career as an art director, first for Esquire and then for Seventeen. And although he was quite successful as the youngest New York art director for a prominent magazine and won numerous awards, this work was not fulfilling. He wanted to work with his own photographs, not somebody else’s—hence the decision to become a full-time photographer.
The year was 1958 and it was Kane’s first freelance job—and it catapulted him into the limelight. Esquire was featuring a story on the “Golden Age of Jazz” and Kane’s assignment was to gather 57 jazz greats close enough to fit in the camera’s frame to shoot what is considered to be the “greatest photograph in jazz history.” The success that rippled from this assignment carried him throughout the rest of his career.
In a biography of his father, Jonathan Kane wrote, “Most important is the body of work he left behind. In 1995, after a twenty-year battle with depression, Art Kane took his life. In his amazing career he left behind a profound and lasting influence on the photographic world. A true innovator in his work and in his teaching, his mark is seen in the work of countless photographers and is also apparent throughout the print media, television commercials and music videos.”