ROCHESTER, NY The archive of photographer Louis Ouzer now has a permanent home at the Eastman School of Music.
With the help of anonymous friends, Eastman has acquired the noted Rochester photographer’s life work thousands of black-and-white images made over the past seven decades of music legends and long-ago students, of local landmarks and landscapes, of historic events and everyday activities. The Eastman School’s Sibley Music Library will house the Ouzer collection.
“I’m fortunate,” said Ouzer, 86. “My work will be safe.” Eastman officials feel fortunate as well. “Lou’s photographs are not only historically important,” said Eastman Director James Undercofler, “they’re unbelievably artistic.”
Hundreds of the world’s most famous musicians as well as countless luminaries in other fields have passed in front of Ouzer’s lens. Composer Igor Stravinsky, jazz legend Duke Ellington, pianist Glenn Gould, violinists Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern, contralto Marian Anderson, soprano Joan Sutherland, entertainer Jack Benny, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, photographer Ansel Adams, and president Richard Nixon are just a few of the celebrities Ouzer has captured on film.
Music, photography and Eastman became intertwining themes in Ouzer’s life when he was growing up on Merrimac Street in Rochester. A neighbor, Joseph Schiff, played viola in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and had a photography business on the side. Ouzer took music lessons from Schiff and also began accompanying him on photo assignments at Eastman. As a teen-ager, Ouzer became Schiff’s assistant.
After three years in the Army during World War II, Ouzer continued working with Schiff until Schiff’s death in 1947. Since the 1950s, Ouzer and his wife, Helen, have operated an independent photography business, always within a stone’s throw of Eastman. Although he was hired regularly for free-lance assignments, Ouzer never took a job as staff photographer.
Ouzer remains a regular and welcome presence at the School. “Lou is as much a member of the Eastman community as anyone here,” said Undercofler.
Ouzer also enjoys the status of Eastman’s oldest student. At age 75, he began piano lessons a lifelong dream and started composing. He continues his studies through Eastman’s Community Education Division. Eastman faculty members have performed his works on several occasions, and his piece Trio is on the program for a March 21 concert in Kilbourn Hall featuring oboist Richard Killmer and the Ying Quartet.
The transfer of the photo collection doesn’t signify an intent to retire. Ouzer’s studio is open for business and he remains in demand. He and Helen will be involved in the transfer and cataloging of the photo collection. A fall exhibit also is being planned by the School.
“I’m always busy,” Ouzer said, “and I’m constantly learning. It keeps me alive.”
Note: Photos of Ouzer and samples from the collection are available. Interviews also can be arranged.