The Story Behind That Photo Of Leonard Cohen Blowing Smoke Rings


Clearing The Smoke

After receiving an email from a reader asking who took the hipster-friendly, classic photo of Leonard Cohen blowing smoke rings (shown above), I ran my usual series of searches without turning up a clue. As is my wont when clueless, I contacted  Dominique BOILE. This stratagem once again proved successful. Dominique responded with not only the name of the photographer, Jim Wigler but also his postal and email addresses:

He also included this information about the photo from the Jim Wigler Web Site

From the Leonard Cohen Songbook: My first camera, my first photoshoot. Leonard’s manager lived beneath me in NYC. The awesome 60’s.

Proceeding on my customary ADHD-informed What The Heck, Why Not Give It A Try operating principle, I emailed Mr Wigler a few questions about the photo.  Shortly thereafter I received this remarkably gracious reply:

Dear Allan:

DrHGuy: How did you end up going to Tennessee to take this shot?1 I assume “Leonard’s manager” (Mary Martin?) had something to do with this but a few details would be of interest to my readers.

• The smoke ring photograph of Leonard was taken in New York City, early 60’s. I lived at 377 Bleecker Street and Mary Martin, his manager at the time, lived beneath me. I had, a few year earlier, left the Austin Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts (an open psychiatric treatment center). One day I heard this awful singing and guitar strumming beneath me and I put the speakers of my stereo face down on the floor and played Mormon Tabernacle choir music. Mary immediately ran upstairs and confronted me. We instantly became friends. She was living with Bob Dylan’s cat, Lord. Through her, I met Leonard and Sheila Campion (who worked with Bob Krasner at The Realist) and the Zappas, Zalman Yanovsky and other 60’s rock luminaries.

DrHGuy: This was your first photoshoot – what were you doing before you were a photographer and why did you shift to photography? Are other photos of Leonard Cohen you took available?

• My father had just sent me a Nikon camera and a few lenses as I had expressed an interest in photography when I left the mental hospital. Mary asked me if I could take some pictures of Leonard, which I did. The first edition of “Spice Box of Earth” has one of my photographs on it, and I did a whole shoot for some German magazine, but they retained the negatives.

 How did the smoke ring photo come about? (E.g.,  Was Leonard casually blowing smoke rings and you realized it would be a great shot? Was it posed? Was it one of many that an editor somewhere happened to choose?)

• The smoke ring picture was taken at Peter’s Pot Belly (or something like that) a coffee shop in our neighborhood. The shot was simply serendipitous. It wasn’t planned or anything, I was just taking pictures as he was smoking and talking.

 DrHGuy: How would you characterize Leonard Cohen when you met him in 1968?

• Leonard and I really didn’t say much to each other because after reading his book, “The Favorite Game,” I pronounced it “jejune.” There was an episode in the book where a friend of his fell out of a tree or something like that, and all Leonard could write about was his feelings regarding the incident.

 Do you have any further contact with Leonard Cohen?

• We never had further contact… It’s interesting to note, that several of my friends from that period also because successful artists, most notably, Alison Rose who went on to write for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and publish a book. I went on to become the most widely published gay erotic photographer of the 80’s & 90’s. Attached is an iconic photograph of mine.  🙂

Thanks for getting me to remember some awesome years of my life,

Jim Wigler

Note: Originally posted Nov 18, 2012 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. My initial information was that this photo had been taken in Franklin, Tennessee []

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