Mosaic Images Documents Work of Iconic Photographer Francis Wolff

Mosaic Images Comprehensively
Documents the Work of Iconic
Photographer Francis Wolff

                                                                                     Grant Green; Photo Credit: Francis Wolff
Mosaic Images, a division of Mosaic Records is now the online home to the comprehensive and prolific Francis Wolff archive, boasting over 2,400 black and white and 320 color images. The instantly recognizable time-honored images are now available for licensing in publications, album and book packaging, documentaries and films and more. Mosaic Images offers a curated gallery of 90 images available for sale as fine art prints in three different sizes. Additionally, the site features the Mosaic Jazz Gazette (the company’s weekly newsletter happenings), the Mosaic Records history, and a link to a number of video features on Blue Note’s graphics and Wolff’s photography.
Born in Berlin in 1907, Francis Wolff’s passion for jazz and photography began as a teen and were fine-tuned at home over time. His whole life changed in October 1939 though, when he escaped Nazi Germany, riding on the last boat bound for New York. Landing in unfamiliar territory, Wolff took a day job working in a photo studio and at night, he would work in the studio on Blue Note Record albums with his childhood friend Alfred Lion. His passion for jazz ran as deep as his love of photography, and soon he was completely immersed in the record company.
By the end of World War II, Wolff and Lion were able to make a living working solely for Blue Note. However, in that era, the 78 single records came in plain brown sleeves. Still, Wolff utilized his skills in photography and brought his camera to each Blue Note session, taking candid shots of the proceedings while Lion produced the sessions. He captured wonderful, evocative moments, perfectly framed and lit. By the mid ‘50s, Wolff’s photography suddenly had a use, albeit a functionary one. In the hands of designer Reid Miles, Wolff’s heavily cropped and tinted images would become an integral part of Blue Note’s album covers.
What could not have been divined from those covers was that Francis Wolff, while running a record company 16 hours a day, had evolved into a master photographer. Wolff was building an archive of great photographic value and a visual documentation of jazz history unmatched at any other record company. His work has been likened to that of the great portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh, but where Karsh had an afternoon and an obedient subject to get a shot, Wolff had an instant with a preoccupied musician. His eye and his technique nailed it, usually in the first shot, not unlike the way great jazz soloists can nail a masterpiece on the first take.
Wolff’s candid session portraits have been the subject of six books, beginning with The Blue Note Years – The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff (Rizzoli, 1995), which documented the classic years in Blue Note’s musical history from 1955-1967, and illustrated the seriousness with which these great artists approached their recordings. The latest volume is Jazz Images (Elemental Music, 2019), and captures artists at work. The majesty and power of the music and the personality of the musicians come alive through Francis Wolff’s loving and caring eye. These pages sing with the music that he heard when he shot these photographs.
It is with great pleasure and pride that Mosaic Images present the work of Francis Wolff with all of the attention and depth that it deserves.


                                                           L – R: Hank Mobley // Clifford Brown at Miles Davis session // Lee Morgan
                                                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Francis Wolff
– An Unexpected Turn of Events –
A note from Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records, co-founder

In the early ‘90s, Charlie Lourie and I, just a decade into Mosaic Records, found ourselves taking on a new and surprising enterprise with the acquisition of Francis Wolff’s photography. We flew out to Ruth Lion’s home in San Diego, bought two steamer trunks and filled them with disintegrating manila envelopes that housed Francis’s negatives and contact sheets. Jazz photography had been a passion of both Charlie’s and mine. And now, we found ourselves in the thick of it and created Mosaic Images to deal with it as best we could, given that Mosaic Records demanded so much of our time.

My wife Lisa, herself an artist, photographer, and master printer, set about devising a database and a system to preserve this neglected archive. It took two years of weekday nights to sort out and protect this amazing, new find. Charlie, Oscar Schneider, Fred Seibert, and I would spend weekends pouring over the vast amount of unseen photographic gems, figuring out exactly what to do with this largely unpublished archive. What we found was not only thorough documentation of sessions for Blue Note Records, one of the most important labels in modern jazz, we also discovered that Francis Wolff was a master photographer by any measure. His ability to light, frame and capture a shot was astonishing. He was a master of perfectly composed candid portraits.

In 1995, we published our first book of Wolff photos The Blue Note Years – The Jazz Photography Of Francis Wolff (Rizzoli International Publications), had our first exhibit at Chartwell Books in New York, and began selling silver gelatin prints through the Mosaic Records website. Never-before-seen session photos began to grace Mosaic booklets and dozens of Blue Note albums. More books, more exhibitions and even a few poster runs would follow over the next 20 years.

Charlie died on December 31, 2000, and suddenly the likelihood of giving this amazing treasure trove its due became even more unlikely. But in 2018, Lisa and I committed ourselves to unveiling this collection in a fitting way on its own website. A year in the making, it’s here at last.

Click here to read “Traipsing Through History,” Michael’s narrative about rare discoveries, favorite images and Francis’s working methodology.


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