Prolific St. Pete photographer Herb Snitzer passes away

Prolific St. Pete photographer Herb Snitzer passes away

Herb Snitzer posing on camera with Nina Simone
Photos courtesy Herb Snitzer Photography

Herb Snitzer, a St. Pete resident and a true legend in the world of photography and photojournalism, has died at the age of 90, as reported by St. Pete Catalyst. In remembrance of a man who was both a towering figure in his field and kind soul on the streets of St. Pete, we are republishing a Q&A we did with him back in 2016, written by one of our publishers, Brian Bailey. Snitzer can be seen above both behind the camera, and in front of it with Nina Simone, one of his many subjects.

Featured artist of The Burg: Herb Snitzer

Google Louis Armstrong images and the shot below is one of the first you’ll see. This unusual image of the great trumpet player, which shows “Pops” in a rare, somber mood, is by one of the ‘Burg’s more storied artists, photographer Herb Snitzer. Herb, who keeps a studio in the Salt Creek Artworks building, has photographed icons from Dizzie Gillespie to President Obama, to a swastika-tattooed punk wearing an Anne Frank “Got Jews” t-shirt.

Herb has published several books, his latest, Glorious Days and Nights, a memoir of his days as a photographer in New York, documenting the jazz greats in the 50’s and 60’s.

Louis Armstrong looking at the camera
Louis Armstrong. Photo credit: Herb Snitzer

How old were you when you got your first camera? What was it, and what did you shoot with it?

My first camera was a “Kodak Box Camera,” circa 1948, and I photographed family. I was 15 years old. By the time I was 20, I was in the US Army and I was photographing all kinds of military subject matter. No work exists from this period.

You seem to work mostly in black and white. Are you drawn to color? 

My basic interest is black and white, but I have an extensive color archive, both personal and commercial images (magazine assignments) My color archive goes back to the early 1960s. Lots of my color work is in St. Petersburg & Pinellas County: The Gulf Coast Jewel on Tampa Bay published by The St. Pete Chamber of Commerce.  Basically I prefer black and white; the images are more inviting. 

What’s your favorite photograph?

I have no favorite photograph. I like the archives of Werner Bischoff, Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith and of course my friend, and mentor, Aaron Siskind.

Who was your most interesting subject?

Again, no favorite subject – have met and photographed: John Cage, Tennessee Williams, Nina Simone, Bette Davis, President Obama, Otto Klemperer, Norman Mailer, the list is long, especially in the jazz world.

Miles Davis caught on camera
Miles Davis. Photo credit: Herb Snitzer
Tennessee Williams smiling for the camera
Tennessee Williams. Photo credit: Herb Snitzer

When prompted, Herb shared the story of his iconic photograph of an aging Bette Davis. He’d felt some trepidation, having been told to tread lightly as Ms. Davis did not like to share the fact that she was aging with the world. So he approached her as a human being, instead of a major movie star. “I asked her about her son. I said she must miss being away from him. She admitted that she missed him very much. From that moment, she became a mother [rather than a movie star], and I could take any picture I wanted.”

What inspires you to grab your camera, today? 

I am a photo-journalist with a background in painting, and I always try and combine the two. I am telling stories and reflecting about the cultures within which I have lived and live. I have been involved with social and racial justice and many of my images reflect this commitment to civil rights. 

What do you think of the state of the Arts in St Petersburg?

I have lived in St. Pete for 20 years now and the Arts have had an uphill battle but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think the movers and shakers are beginning to appreciate what artists accomplish and I am confident there will be more and more serious collectors. It is one thing to support “The Arts,” it is another matter to support artists.  

What do you love most about St. Pete?

I love the total atmosphere of this small city. The convenience of getting around. From my house in Lakewood Estates to downtown St. Pete is all of 15 minutes. And of course The Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete is one of the city’s great treasures.

More of Herb’s work can be seen at his website here.

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