Richard Conde's portrait of Queens jazz lion Jimmy Heath.
By Norm Harris

Richard Conde, South Ozone Park resident and rising star in the world of photography, is exhibiting 22 large-scale black and white archival portraits of some of the most celebrated jazz musicians that have over the years graced the stage of the world-famous Birdland Jazz club in Manhattan.

The images are part of “Stage: Jazz Greats at Birdland,” which runs through April 16 at the New York Center of Photography and the Moving Image in Manhattan.

Conde, 50, originally from the Bronx, has spent most of his adult life as a resident of Queens and was formerly a member of New York’s Finest in the borough’s 104th Precinct. He said it was during those days as a police officer, almost 15 years ago, that he began to develop an interest in photography, primarily as an autograph-seeker of some of the famous musicians gracing the stages of New York’s Blue Note jazz club, Lincoln Center and other similar venues.

Later, as an art student earning his BFA in 1982 and his MFA in 1992 at the School of Visual Arts, his interest in the art of photography grew as he continued to collect signatures of some of the famous jazz artists that he met and continued to document on film.

Conde proudly admits that as student in training as an SVA fine art major, he “never took a lesson in photography in [his] life.” While developing his vision as a visual artist, he said he was “inspired by the great painters Rembrandt and Caravaggio,” and to that end describes his work as “making the invisible visible, so as to bring out of darkness the true meaning of the moment and what it is to be human.”

Even without formal training behind the lens, Conde creates beautiful, compelling images that speak volumes about his natural eye for capturing an irreplaceable moment in time and perhaps the subliminal influence of his formal training as an artist in the modern sense of the term. The influence of his beloved European masters can be seen in the expansive, expressive shadows that characterize his portraits in the “Stage” collection.

Today, Conde is an accomplished fine artist with an eclectic portfolio of images, including depictions of dance and theater, and whose creativity has recently been featured in National Geographic for his sensitive portraits of gorillas in the Bronx Zoo.

When he’s not involved with an assignment for the Jazz Museum of Harlem or another photo gig in a jazz club at night, Conde said he really looks forward to and thrives in his other important role. Proudly he said he is first of all “a stay-at-home dad” for his two children while his wife is at work during the day.

He joked that he was “living the Al Bundy lifestyle, ” but said being there for his children and taking care of their needs when Mom is not around brings him a great deal of joy, especially as he watches them grow and learn about what he does. For instance, they recently joined him for an adventurous trip to the Bronx Zoo, the site of much of his notable work.

“Stage” is Conde’s latest triumph as an evolving master of the photographic image. Conde’s mesmerizing profile of iconic Queens saxophonist and bandleader Jimmy “Little Bird” Heath on tenor sax from a past performance at Birdland is the centerpiece of his contribution to the exhibit. These beautiful pieces of visual jazz comprise “The Black and White Series,” which includes images of iconic jazz masters like saxophonist Joe Lovano, vocalist Freddy Cole, trumpeter Freddy Hubbard and pianist Hank Jones from the stage of Birdland. Conde’s photos share the exhibit space with fellow Birdland photographer Ryan Paternite’s “The Color Series.”

Conde humbly expressed his appreciation for learning that his work, “though considered in the mainstream, has been mentioned in the press alongside references to two of the past century’s most revered old-school masters of the jazz image, Francis Wolfe and Herman Leonard.”

Critic A.D. Coleman, in the show’s catalogue, described Conde and Paternite as “mainstream photographers responding to and celebrating mainstream jazz musicians, practitioners of two creative media that in our day have achieved a definite plateau of cultural recognition.”

This show is not to be missed by anyone who can appreciate a world-class photographic homage to some of the best musicians both past and present to have ever graced the stage of Birdland.

If You Go

Stage: Jazz Greats at Birdland

When: Through April 16, Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

Where: New York Center of Photography and the Moving Image, 580 Eighth Ave., Manhattan

Contact: 212.354.3825 or info@nycpmi.org

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