Australian-born Leon Morris is a multi-award winning photo-journalist who has spent over 30 years exploring his passion for the roots of contemporary music.
From 1982 to 1994, he worked in London, building a high profile photography career that saw him regularly published in prestigious publications from the Guardian and the Observer to Time Out and Face magazines. In the latter part of this period he built a high end commercial career with blue chip clients such as British Gas, Royal Bank of Scotland and London Electricity.
In 1983 and 1991 he won first prize in the Greater London Council and London Docklands photography competitions.
In 1987 he won the Kodak UK Fine Art Photography Award.
In 1989 he was named the Kodak UK Young Photographer of the Year and was announced runner-up for the Kodak European Young Photographer of the Year.
In 1992 he was appointed the Victoria and Albert Museum’s first photographer-in-residence.
During this period his work was widely published and exhibited throughout the United Kingdom and Europe and BBC Television profiled him as one of Britain’s leading young exponents of photojournalism.
In 1994, increasingly disillusioned with commercial photography, he returned to north Australia to work with Indigenous Australians in event production and public policy.
In effect, he took a 15 year break from the world of fine art photography, although during this period he continued to return to New Orleans each year and his photographic archive was represented by leading London libraries, the Hulton Collection (photojournalism) and Redferns (music). Both these libraries have recently been purchased by, and are now recognized as separate collections within, Getty Images, which describes itself as “the leading provider of digital media worldwide”.
In 2016, Homage New Orleans was awarded a gold medal for Performance Arts in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards.
LEON MORRIS AND MUSIC
Leon Morris has been photographing musicians since he first picked up a camera in 1978 and was a regular contributor to music magazines such as the New Musical Express in the 1980s.
In 1994 he first travelled to New Orleans to photograph and write a feature story for the Good Weekend magazine (published with the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age) on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He returns to New Orleans each year and the festival producers have, over the years, used many of his images to promote the world famous festival.
He is a passionate advocate for the power and joy of music and culture. He was there when what we now know as world music began; he documented the era of pirate radio before dance music went mainstream; he has researched and photographed the roots of blues music in the Mississippi Delta; and he has followed the trials and tribulations of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.
He provides a unique insight into the music business that combines the voices of a committed music fan, an industry insider and a photojournalist.
If there is one key motivation for this “Homage” project, it is to share the joy and pleasure, and the occasional transcendent moment, that 30 years of privileged access to so many wonderful musicians and artists has afforded.
Music is a universal language. There is no people or culture anywhere on this planet that does not embrace music in one way or another, whether for recreation, pleasure, contemplation, solace, spiritual enlightenment, story-telling, inspiration, or movement and dance.
Despite this universality, however, the musicians responsible for creating and developing this rich tapestry of our collective cultural heritage are by and large not afforded equal or due recognition. Indeed, many of the forms of music that I have come to love, and for which I am happy to evangelise, are essentially niche genres with very limited audiences.
The irony is that the huge and lucrative audiences associated with mainstream recognition would not exist without these niche genres, because they provide the foundations on which the development of all popular western music as we know it today has been built.
Arthneice Jones, a blues musician from Clarksdale, Mississippi – the home of Delta blues – told me back in 1986 that “the blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n roll.” Or, in the words of Robert Gordon, a writer and filmmaker on Memphis music, rock’n’roll is simply “the failed attempt of white people with a country background trying to play the blues”.
There is something inherently accessible about rock and pop – it owes its ubiquity and danceability to the backbeat – first used in a hit record by New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer, in the 1949 Fats Domino hit, “The Fat Man”. This was a rhythm that the world could dance to; and you didn’t need to be able to swing to play it.
Eddie Bo, a New Orleans funk and rhythm ‘n blues original who died in early 2009, chose his musical career path in the 1950s because he recognised that people wanted to be entertained. He didn’t think people could possibly understand all the intricacies and nuances of jazz music, but they could recognise a backbeat.
Wynton Marsalis, also from New Orleans, chose to preserve, develop and explore the traditions and lexicon of jazz, understanding that the backbeat has its place, but at the cost of restricting the conversation that other rhythms and musical forms make possible.
My journey of discovery into the hidden parallel universe of music history that formed the roots for the rock and music that I grew up on as a young man began in London in the early 1980s when the roots of groove dance and world music were being sewn. Ultimately this journey has settled on New Orleans, with side visits to New York and the Mississippi delta.
It has taken me many years to learn to listen to the language of music, particularly jazz. This journey can be extraordinarily fulfilling. Jazz is probably the only medium I know where the audience can genuinely and actively participate in the show, just by listening. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it is scintillating and thrilling like no other artistic experience I have known. For a non-musician like me, those rare but precious moments when the interplay between musicians and audience is so intense and so real that the audience genuinely becomes a co-conspirator and co-contributor are exhilarating and sustaining.
When I first embarked on the project of editing and writing this ‘Homage” project, I anticipated the process would involve changes and modifications as it unfolded. My working title “Homage” has, throughout this process, continued to resonate – it sums up what I really want to say about the musicians who have given me so much pleasure, enjoyment and cultural enrichment over the years.
LOOK FOR 'HOMAGE', THE BOOK, LAUNCH DATE: APRIL/MAY 2016.
QUOTES ABOUT LEON AND HIS WORK
"He captures the history of jazz and blues with his amazing photographs. And now photographer Leon Morris is paying homage to the mid-south with his new fine art exhibition. The pictures are absolutely beautiful."
- Good Morning Memphis , Fox 13 TV, April 2011
"A thrilling experience ... the series is visually and literarily poetic."
- Commercial Appeal, Memphis, May 2011
"A beautiful gift to the city"
- Inside the Arts, WWNO New Orleans Public Radio
“A pleasure to behold. A delight to look at and read; the writing is fantastic”
- ABC Radio National
“A fantastic look at the music and culture … what a fantastic book, its amazing”
- Off the Record, 3RRR
“Extraordinary, I’ve never seen anything like it; the photos are so vivid"
- Off the Record, 3RRR
“Leon Morris's photos laser into the essence of his subjects with rare passion and sensitivity.”
- Lee Jeske, Jazz Critic
"Leon Morris refreshes our views of the most exciting music of the 21st and late 20th century in Homage, concentrating on the colors and energies of soulful artists who will not come this way again"
- Howard Mandel, Jazz Critic
"His collection of photographs featuring many of the greatest jazz artists of our time is a must see."
- Newport Arts Scene Magazine August 2010
“…this fine photographic journey captures, in the most revealing of ways, some of the most influential figures of jazz, soul, and blues.”
- Smooth Jazz News, September 2010
“Homage,” reveals the passion of musicians in the process of creating their art.
- Memphis Daily News April 2011
“a committed photographer who deserves a wider audience. Photo galleries please note.”
- The Guardian, “Image Makers”
“reinventing the form we used to call documentary.”
- BBC Late Show
“Morris has built a major body of work and ... won several awards.”
- British Journal of Photography
“The sheer warmth and genuineness of these pictures is rooted in the fact that Morris himself is engaged in a creative subculture, linked by art and music.”
- Image Magazine
“Leon Morris believes in the humanitarian aim of informing the viewer through his work. Personal work is the stock in trade of any documentary photographer and Morris’s is deeply personal ...his pictures win awards and are warmly received in exhibition elsewhere in Europe.”
- Chris Dickie, Editor, British Journal of Photography
“Morris has presented us with rich and vibrant images of a real breathing, living geographic community. It is clear from his work during this period that there is a mutual respect flowing from him to the subjects of his photographs, and that the respect flows equally the other way.”
- Kolton Lee, Writer/Film Maker
2015 - 'Homage New Orleans' : The Healing Centre, New Orleans LA
2015 - 'Homage New Orleans' : Gallery #9, Melbourne, Australia
2011 - 'Homage' : The Joysmith Gallery, Memphis TN
2010 - 'Homage' : Exposed Gallery, Carmel CA
2010 - 'Homage' : Art on the Wharf Gallery, Newport RI (US Debut)
2010 - 'Homage' : Gallery Two Six, Darwin, Australia
1993- Malcolm Duke Gallery, Barcelona
1993- East, West and Never the Twain Shall Meet at the Dash Gallery as part of the East London Festival
1989- Victoria & Albert Museum, London- Photographer in Residence
1988- Association of Photographers Gallery, London
1988- Afro-Caribbean Project- Wolfsburg, West Germany
1987- Oxford Photography
1986- Tricycle Gallery, London
1986- Roots Community Centre, Oxford
1986- Reading Art Gallery and Museum
1986- Notting Hill Carnival- Proston, London
1986- North Kensington Library, London
1986- Festival International de la Photographie- Maison des Artistes, Liege, Belgium
1986- F-Stop Photography Gallery, Bath
1986- Central Library, Kensington & Chelsea, London
1985- Westminster City Hall, London
1985- Notting Hill Carnival- Proston, London
SELECTED GROUP SHOWS:
1988- Recontres Internationale de la Photographie, Kodak European Award, Europe Tour
1983- GLC Photography Competition, Royal Festival Hall, London