At 16, David Julian Leonard appeared in The Final Chapter: Walking Tall, a feature film about Buford Pusser, the West Tennessee sheriff famous for driving the State Line Mob out of McNairy County. Leonard played a reckless teen who boosts a car and, with the help of his two best friends, leads the neighboring county's sheriff on a high-speed chase "through the weeds, through the woods, and through the ditches." It might not have been the most auspicious way to launch a film career, but it was a start. Leonard would go on to work as a grip and lighting technician for notable directors like Milos Forman and Francis Ford Coppola. He directed the documentary film Why Elvis?, co-directed Big Star Live in Memphis, and served as cinematographer on several projects with Memphis writer and filmmaker Robert Gordon. But for all of the skills Leonard has developed over a lifetime working in the movies, he does his best work with a still camera.
On Friday, May 27th, Leonard is hosting a signing of his aptly named new book Tender Is the Light, a collection of 66 visually arresting photographs.
As a friend and sometimes protege of renowned photographer William Eggleston, Leonard's developed an eye for extraordinary color and the ability to find exotic beauty in the most mundane locations. His reds are red as revenge; his yellows pop off the page. Leonard takes viewers behind church pulpits and into foggy neighborhoods. His camera turns baby dresses into clouds and introduces viewers to circus performers and children doing the things they do best.
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Tender Is the Light is a handsome collection produced and distributed by German publisher Kehrer Verlag. It's bound in drab linen that changes color like a sharkskin suit. A picture of three little girls at a pink princess party may not be the most arresting image in the collection, but it prepares viewers for the artist's playful mix of irony and drama. What lies within might easily be described as a slow-speed joyride all around the world.