Photographer Jack Leigh spent his entire adult life capturing the beauty of Georgia’s coastal region.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, the Savannah native launched a three-decade career shooting the local environment. His mostly black and white photography appeared in his own gallery, in museums, personal and corporate collections and in five books.
Leigh achieved national recognition for his picture of The Bird Girl, a statue in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery. The haunting image appeared on the cover of the 1994 book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. The popularity of the book generated a boom in tourism at the cemetery, forcing local officials to move the statue to a museum to keep neighboring graves from being trampled by increased foot traffic.
Leigh died on May 19 of cancer. He was 55.
May 29, 2004 by
Photographer Jack Leigh spent his entire adult life capturing the beauty of Georgia’s coastal region.
I remember Jack from the late 60’s and 70’s up until just a few months ago. Back when Jack was destined to be a journalist (he thought) a friend, John McNew convinced him to try photography. The rest is history.
He was always gracious when I’d trude into his gallery and take up his time catching up on old times and friends. I was not aware of his infirmary and taken aback to learn of his death. As I am living in New Mexico, I can remember him just by looking at the photograph he took on Ossabaw Island hanging on my wall.
Jack was my step-brother, although we were real brothers by the time he died. He was about the most decent human I ever met–his Dad, too–and I miss them both very much. They defined civility and were enormously fun folks.
While visiting my son at a nearby army post I visited Jack’s black and white photography gallery. Awesome!! That was approximately 7 years ago at a time when I was just getting started into black and white taditional photography. I was encouraged not only by his photography but also the time he shared discussing equipment, methods and answering questions I had. After 20 years in the same corner location he was still excited about what he was doing. Any way there are many people who have influenced my photography and he is one of them. Thanks Jack, my work is now finding its way into collections. Al Willette
A DIFFERENT MIDNIGHT, BONAVENTURE
It was a dying world you lived in.
Land of shrimp nets and doors,
dark room photography–
you painted the old way after all.
I worked those waters too,
cold as a statue at midnight,
wet as a moon dumping
water on your shutter.
So you rest now,
overlooking the Wilmington River–
the moon river your neighbor
sang about. Here, there is a pier. . .
Well Jack, I can’t tell you
how shocked I am your gallery’s closing,
but more, what happened–
and four years back come May?
So I’ll drive the six coastal hours
snap a different midnight photo
with my Polaroid–
for yours is a marker all the same,
marking one who kept a chapter
of Oglethorpe safely in place
for many growing years.
I’ll reread your letters,
my poems, your grave stone;
reflect on the image’s reflection–
and find a way to say farewell friend.
Jack was my dad. Well, He is my dad. He was my best friend and possibly the most amazing person i’ve ever met in my entire life. We were close and it was very difficult to be away from him at all when I was younger and really all the way up to his death. It’s still pretty hard for me to be away from him. I’ve got a picture on my wall of him when he was in his mid twenties, standing on a beach somewhere looking happy and content. It’s perfect, it really is. Having him for only 12 years was infinitely better than having any other father for a whole lifetime. Everyone knows he was an amazing photographer, that is indisputable. Not too many people hear about how amazing of a father he was. There are no words to describe how much I loved him and how much he loved my sisters and I. He never missed a school event, a play, a bedtime song. We had this tradition that we called “Friday Night Pizza Night” he would pick my sisters and I up from school, take us to “Rainbow Row Ice Cream” and then to the grocery store to go shopping for Pizza supplies. He would make it from scratch and it was the best. Nothing compares. Other nights he would drive us through the bamboo covered alleyways and call it a car wash or put us all in the car to go for a drive. I think that is why I still find cars the most comforting places to be. We would wake up early in the morning and he would teach me how to photograph. He was everything a father needs to be. His birthday is coming up soon. He would be 60 this year. That was always the age talked about, 60 just seemed too old, I never could see him that old, but it’s funny to think that I won’t ever seem him at 60. I feel a little silly writing all of this in here but I feel it is necessary for the people who read this to know things about him other than his profession because he was so much more than just a talented photographer. He couldn’t meet someone without inspiring them in some way. Everyone that knew him loved him. Everyone that knew him still loves him.
It has been 30 years since I lived in Savannah from 1976-1978. During that time I worked at Memorial Medical Center and pursued my passion of photography in my spare time. I was introduced to Jack at an art show and we became friends. I was unbelievably inspired by his black and white work and spent as much time with him as I could manage, which unfortunately wasn’t very much. I secretly had quite a crush on him. (Who wouldn’t?)
Later I moved to California and did in fact pursue a career in photography for many years. I remember walking into a bookstore in Larkspur, CA when the book “Midnight…” was new on the shelves. My first thought when I saw the cover was Hey, that looks like Savannah! And it was no shock at all to see that the photo credit belonged to Jack. Tonight I have been googling old friends’ names, just for fun, and now I learn that he is gone. I cried, even though we had virtually no contact for the last 30 years. I have just been “getting” it that we must hold our favorite people, family and friends, close, and stay in contact with them, as we never know if we will see them again. Jack was not only a phenomenal photographer, but I remember him as an amazingly kind and generous human being. A very sad loss.
i just like saying that.
the fact i’m writing this 5 years after his passing says something about jack, and maybe about me. i met jack, briefly, about the spring of 2000. i happened into his galllery, like so many others, i’m sure. and like so many others, he befriended me. and that’s saying a lot. a very lot. because although i’m a socialble guy, i don’t have many friends. most of us don’t. not real friends, anyway. but jack counted to me. we struck up a mutual friendship that lasted until just before his death, as i lost touch with him only to rediscover his passing.
i cannot express how deeply we connected. we corresponded about him opening a gallery here in california. i was surprised to hear him say he had never visited here. but he was such an east coast guy, or should i say southeast coast.
anyway, jack was the best. i want his daughters, especially, to know what a treasure jack was to us not so fortunate to be close to him as they were.
jack, good night, my friend.
i first met jack, a i’m sure many others did, by wandering by chance into his gallery on oglethorpe street. i was stuck by the clarity and intensity of his black and white photos covering the high windows of his corner street studio. inside were more amazing photos, each a master work, i thought. i knew immediately i would own one, and i just hoped the prices were affordable. they were, and i did.
but, the most valuable, and memorable offshoot of my visit was meeting jack. as i expressed interest in his work, the gallery manager asked “would you like to meet jack?” surprised, i muttered affirmative, and jack quickly appeared from his upstairs residence. in a manly way, it was love at first sight. besides jack’s obvious physical charm, i could see in his eyes the sincerity that imbued his photographs. i was taken aback by the warmth and kindness jack showed me, a complete stranger. we became friends. we corresponded, me from my base in southern california. i was so impressed with jack’s work that i offered to invest in a studio to sell his work on the west coast. jack was interested. we traded ideas, but ultimately we did not conclude anything, primarily because jack advised me he could not produce his photos fast enough to meet what i calculated we would need to be commercially viable. later, i would realize this was a reflection of jack’s integrity: he simp;ly would not compromise his production techniques to acommodate a commercial venture. his work was too personal and too intricate to be produced in mass quantities.
but the real story here is the lasting image jack made on me: integrity, self worth, family first, values, strength of character, be your own man, genius…i could go on. jack was among the finest people i’ve ever know. i still miss him. and i’m happy he left a legacy of his work, and beautiful daughters i have not met, but whom i hope read this and further appreciate what a treasure their father was. i cannot forget him….
It was partly the power of that photo that Jack Leigh took that brought my wife and I, together with our children, to Savannah and of course we had to look for the statue at the cemetery which we didn’t know was gone by then due to its popularity. I was sad to learn shortly after we got back to Connecticut that Jack had passed away, which I found out when I went online to see who had shot such an amazing cover for the novel. What a distilled testament to his talent.
Dear Grace, and other family who visit this site…
I and several of your dad’s and mom’s friends were present at a time of crisis accompanying your delivery. Your arrival at a birthing center had complications when you aspirated fluid during your delivery that caused respiratory distress and you were taken to Memorial Hospital to deal with the problem. Your dad was part of a men’s group that met for 15 years. There were 10 members that remained fairly constant. The group met for 2 1/2 hours every other Monday night, sitting around a single candle, speaking from the silence rather the usual bull that is typical guy conversation. Your Dad was a dear friend. Gordon Varnadoe, another friend, and I visited him at Hospice.
I hope we get a chance to meet sometime.
I was also a friend of you mom, took darkroom from her in the Blue House and learned from her as well and have some of her horse images that my daughter loves, also a horse person.
Wayne Welch, Savannah, GA
Your dad was indeed a great father, he included me in on a few of the pizza events and also the annual oyster roast, re-pleat with aprons for the guest which had a B & W photo printed on them from oyster roast past.
Your dad’s art was also in his writing and capturing the moment with other people.