Although Tony Vaccaro (Tony Vaccaro Studio) took these photos of Leonard Cohen nearly 50 years ago (a few months after Songs of Leonard Cohen, his first album, was released at the end of 1967), his ardent recall of and enthusiasm about this shoot are clearly evident even over the telephone.
Keep in mind that Tony Vaccaro’s first photographic career was as renowned combat photographer in World War II, after which he went on to work in Europe for the State Department and for the newspaper Stars and Stripes. After the war, he was a staff photographer for Look, Life, and Venture as well contributing pictures to Time and Newsweek and serving as chief photographer for Flair. He shot such luminaries as Sophia Loren, John F Kennedy, Bertrand Russell, Marcello Mastroianni, Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O’Keefe, Stirling Moss, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jackson Pollock, Peter Sellers, and many, many more.
Yet, that trip to Nashville to shoot photos of Leonard Cohen on behalf of Look magazine (the photos were published in Songs Sacred and Profane by Ira Mothner in the June 10, 1969 issue of Look magazine) stands out. Vaccaro has a distinct memory of details such as walking early in the morning to his appointment with Leonard and serendipitously meeting hm en route walking someone else’s dog. He also recalls that Leonard “was simple and personal. We talked about his girlfriend in Greece [Marianne].” He goes on on:
The world didn’t mean much to him. He was only interested in the music.
Leonard Cohen was a monument. He possessed great humanity. That was my interest in him.
Vaccaro, in fact, lists Leonard Cohen as “one of the four or five greatest people I have photographed.” This evaluation becomes even more impressive when one learns that Tony Vaccaro rejected assignments to photograph certain celebrities, naming as examples two entertainment icons he felt were “phonies.”
The photo below, showing Leonard prone on the grass, was taken after the photographer rolled down an incline and, as Tony Vaccaro tells it, Leonard followed “like a child, he rolled over and over. We were having a ball.”
Note: A selection of Tony Vaccaro’s photos, including one of his Leonard Cohen images, is currently on exhibition at Santa Fe’s Monroe Gallery (112 Don Gaspar; Santa Fe NM).
See more of Tony Vaccaro’s work at Tony Vaccaro Studio