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Leon Morris

Born in Darwin, Australia in 1957, Leon Morris is a multi-award winning photojournalist who has spent over 30 years exploring his passion for the roots of contemporary music. 15 years after walking away from one of the most promising photography careers in the United Kingdom, Leon has decided to bring his collection of music images into the public eye.

In the early 1980s Leon spent time in San Francisco, where he gained invaluable experience working as a journalist, photographer and designer for local magazines. He joined a local photography collective, helping Leon develop from an aspiring professional to an emerging artist and craftsman. San Francisco was also the city where Leon began to systematically document live music, photographing whoever was playing in town from Frank Zappa to Grace Jones, and John Prine to New Order.

From 1982 to 1994, Leon worked in London, quickly building up a high profile photography career that saw him regularly published in prestigious publications from the Guardian, Independent and Observer newspapers, to a range of magazines and journals including the The Face, Vanity Fair, New Statesman, Architects Journal and Creative Review. He was a house photographer for Time Out magazine for a number of years, regularly visiting New York to photograph Time Out’s New York guide -which was also an opportunity to document the city’s lively jazz scene. In 1989 he photographed Oliver Lake playing saxophone in the back of a checker cab on the Brooklyn Promenade, for the cover of a New York issue. In the music world, Leon was a regular contributor to NME, The Wire, Melody Maker, Smash Hits and Q Magazine. His work appeared in books, magazines and CDs all over the world through the agency of the London-based Redferns music picture library. In the latter part of this period in London, Leon built a high-end commercial career with clients such as British Gas, Royal Bank of Scotland and London Electricity. He was an editorial and commercial photographer by day and a music photographer by night, regularly visiting the major and minor performance venues throughout the city.

Leon’s work became widely published and exhibited throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, and recognition for his talent began to surface. In 1987 Leon won the Kodak UK Fine Art Photography Award. In 1988 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 1989, the Victoria and Albert Museum appointed Leon as their first photographer-in-residence, an honor that was covered by the British Journal of Photography and Daily Telegraph, among others. Other awards include first prize in the Greater London Council and London Docklands photography competitions in 1983 and 1991 respectively, and the “Highly Commended” title for two years in a row in the Edinburgh Photography Competition. BBC Television’s cutting edge arts program, the Late Show, profiled Leon in 1989 as one of Britain’s leading young exponents of photojournalism; and specialist photography magazines including the British Journal of Photography, Image, Kodak Professional, Fotopractica (Italy) and La Fotografia (Barcelona) ran lengthy profiles and portfolios of his award-winning photojournalism from the streets and communities of West and East London. Later on in 1998, Leon was a featured “Image Maker” in the Guardian weekend magazine.

In 1994, increasingly disillusioned with commercial photography – specifically the distance this kind of work had taken him from his original philosophy of committed photojournalism – Leon 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 commercial, documentary and fine art photography, restricting himself to only documenting the musicians he revered. It was at the very start of this hiatus that Leon first traveled 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. This festival had an immediate impact on Leon-and sparked what would become a lifelong zeal for live jazz and blues, and the legendary musicians who make up the genre. Good Weekend gave Leon his first opportunity to write a narrative that corresponds to his photos, with the 6-page spread “The Cradle of Jazz Rocks On” in 1994, and 5-page spread, “Rebirth of the Blues” in 1996. Since then, Leon 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.

Selections of Leon’s work have been chosen to represent timely events; June 2004 saw the tragic death of Ray Charles, and The Economist chose one of Leon’s photos as the iconic obituary image. The Guardian also regularly uses Leon’s images to illustrate feature stories and pay tribute to artists in obituaries for musicians as varied as Nico, Kenny Baker and Eddie Harris. When FELA! opened on Broadway in 2009, the New York Times featured one of Leon’s performance shots of Fela Kuti from 1990 in an article.

For the last five years, Leon has been thinking through how the personal journey he has taken in photography and music might come together and be represented. In the fall of 2009 Leon set aside three months in New York to edit 30 years of music photography and pull together his thoughts on the music, the musicians and the role of the photographer in documenting this world. Fittingly, he has called this project ‘Homage’, and is now in the process of working on a coffee table book and touring fine art gallery exhibition.



1985- Notting Hill Carnival- Preston, London

1985- Westminster City Hall, London

1986- Tricycle Gallery, London

1986- North Kensington Library, London

1986- Festival International de la Photographie- Maison des Artistes, Liege, Belgium

1986- Reading Art Gallery and Museum

1986- Roots Community Centre, Oxford

1986- Central Library, Kensington & Chelsea, London

1986- F-Stop Photography Gallery, Bath

1986- Notting Hill Carnival- Preston, London

1987- Oxford Photography

1988- Afro-Caribbean Project- Wolfsburg, West Germany

1988- Association of Photographers Gallery, London

1989- Victoria & Albert Museum, London- Photographer in Residence

1993- Malcolm Duke Gallery, Barcelona

1993 East, West and Never the Twain Shall Meet- at the Dash Gallery, part of the East London Festival


1983- GLC Photography Competition-Royal Festival Hall, London

1988- Recontres Internationale de la Photographie, Kodak European Award, Europe Tour