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Farewell to a 'Garden' Photographer


As we come to a year's close, we'd like to remember those we lost in 2007. There was Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti, television legend Merv Griffin, former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, Evel Knievel, Tammy Faye Baker, and recently musician Ike Turner.

But you also lose places and things over the course of the year. I got word that a gallery of Jack Leigh, a photographer I profiled when I was a reporter for CBS "Sunday Morning," well, that it closed just last week.

He was once a struggling local artist, and later in life was tapped to take the cover photo of what will become a widely popular best-selling book and also do a films, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

I bet you know the image. It's an eerie grave marker called The Bird Girl who resembles a Southern gothic interpretation of the scales of justice. So here in the remembrance of Jack and his gallery. It's the bit of that story from CBS "Sunday Morning" from '97.

Mr. JACK LEIGH (Artist): That have been filming here and coming here with my family all my life. But the irony was I'd never seen The Bird Girl, not in all of those years.

STEWART: Really?

Mr. LEIGH: She's been here since 19 - like '30s.

STEWART: She is The Bird Girl, and the subject of Jack Leigh's most famous photograph. A picture at least 2 million people have seen. The 2 million people who bought the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

Mr. LEIGH: In preparation to come out here and find an image. You know, I had read the book.

STEWART: Did you like the book?

Mr. LEIGH: I was - I didn't know what to think of the book because as a Savannaian, I knew everybody in the book, just about.

STEWART: The book is what they call it in Savannah. It's a non-fiction tale that tells some of the city's secret. When it was time to capture the essence of Savannah in a single image for the cover, the publishing house turned to hometown photographer, Jack Leigh.

He chose to set up his camera in Bonaventure Cemetery. You see, that's where part of the book story of voodoo and southern manners unfolds.

A lot of people are frightened of cemeteries. Were you ever spooked being out here?

Mr. LEIGH: Well I don't know what I was getting into when I went and got the keys to let myself in. But that's - in a photographer that's exactly what I wanted to have happened. It was the kind of eeriness that I knew. We're producing image that would be appropriate for the cover of this book.

STEWART: Jack's work doesn't end when the shutter clicks. Much of his artistry happens in the dark. And when it comes to The Bird Girl, he has a ritual. He always prints her picture to the music of Wagner.

Mr. LEIGH: What you're crafting is the light as it affects the surface of the paper. I mean, it almost looks as if you're conducting music, but what you're doing is you're conducting light.

STEWART: Jack Leigh's gallery is closed when Jack passed away a few years ago. But his work live on, online at jackleigh.com from gallery is close when Jack passed away a few years ago. But his work will live on, online at jackleigh.com.

And big thanks for CBS "Sunday Morning" for providing the audio for that story.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: Hey, thanks for listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

That's it for us, for '07 row seven. We want to be the first to wish you a very happy new year. And while you're sitting, sipping a bubbly and belting out "Auld Lang Syne," maybe most of our staff will be sleeping because the news never stops, and we'll be back here tomorrow here tomorrow morning.

Our show is directed by Jac Ganz(ph). It's edited by Trisha McKinneym, produced by Matt Martin: We're always available online at npr.org/Bryantpartk.

This is it for THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News for 2007. See you in 2008 y'all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.