Black & White: Historic celebrity photos come alive in new exhibition

For the first time ever, Leigh Wiener’s black and white photography will be exhibited in San Diego County.

During an illustrious career, Wiener, who died in 1993, captured the images of American presidents, movie stars, sports celebrities and musicians of the 1950s and 1960s. His iconic photographs of Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Willie Mays are among the 33 prints in “Icons of the 50’s and 60’s: The Historic Black & White Photography of Leigh Wiener,” which will be on display at Ordover Gallery from Jan. 13 to April 12. Another 20 digital images will be shown in the gallery’s Lightroom display.

Wiener’s son, Devik Wiener, will be on hand to discuss his father’s work at the Jan. 17 opening reception.

“He loved the challenge of photographing people,” Devik said. “His idea of a portrait was not necessarily a duplication of an image, but that it should be a revelation where you should learn something about the person.”

According to Devik, photographing famous people can be challenging. But his father loved the psychology of photographing people because he understood the insecurities and fears that people experience in front of a camera. So he worked with them to release those fears, enabling him to capture his idea of a portrait.

“When my father was photographing J. Paul Getty, he turned to my father and said ‘I’ve had my photograph taken before and I think you’re taking far too many photographs of me,’ so my father asked him if he only puts one or two holes in the ground when he drills for oil, and Getty said, ‘continue, continue.’ ”

Frank Sinatra was not receptive to being photographed by Wiener. However, after Sinatra allowed Wiener to film him at a distance in a theater, Sinatra was so impressed by the resulting image of him that he said, “If you can do this from so far away, what can you do up close?”

Devik said that of all the people his father photographed, he most enjoyed the two weeks spent with John F. Kennedy during his campaign for the presidency.

Wiener grew up in New York City where a family friend taught him about photography, and by age 15, he had sold his first photograph. Later, he was a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times before becoming a freelance photographer for Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. Wiener’s work is in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. It has also been featured in numerous museum and gallery shows, and, in 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exhibited 100 pieces of his work.

Wiener’s exhibit marks a departure from the Ordover Gallery’s previous emphasis on nature and wildlife photography and signals a broadening of genres shown there.

“It’s very different from what we have been showing,” said Annaliese Cassarino, the gallery manager. “But the owner, Abe Ordover, was very much taken by the power and the beauty of Wiener’s images.”

According to Cassarino, Wiener was a master of chiaroscuro, the interplay of light and shadow.

“He really utilizes the highlights and the shadows to either shroud an image of a person in mystery and highlight the form of their face or add power to the presentation of the person,” she said. “It’s a style of photography that we don’t see today.”

View more of Wiener’s work at


Opening Reception

  • ‘Icons of the 50’s and 60’s: The Historic Black White Photography of Leigh Wiener’
  • 5 to 8 p.m. Jan. 17
  • The Ordover Gallery
  • 410 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach