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Renowned jazz photographer and St. Petersburg resident, Herb Snitzer has died at 90

Black and White photo of man with glasses and beard surrounded by jazz muisc memorabilia.
Andy Brauer
Snitzer captured now-iconic images of jazz musicians as well as social justice issues in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg where he settled in 1992.

Snitzer was behind the lens of now iconic images of artists from Miles Davis to Nina Simone. In later years, his work focused on social justice issues in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg where he settled in 1992.

Herb Snitzer said he considered himself a visual historian and artist, using photography to capture and comment on the world around him.

His parents were Jewish immigrants who fled the pogroms of Ukraine and settled in Philadelphia, where the artist was born in 1932.

Snitzer moved to New York City to start his career after graduating from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1957 after a brief stint in the army.

He arrived just in time to experience the bohemian atmosphere of Greenwich Village in the late 1950's and early 60's. At the time, the neighborhood was home to a collection of poets, artists and musicians that are now considered cultural icons.

"I was right there,” he told WUSF in 2018 at an exhibit of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. “It was a time of transformation," he said. "It just was magical."

Image of a museum gallery
Cathy Carter
The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg featured a retrospective of Snitzer's work in 2018.

Because the magazine industry was the dominant medium of the era, it didn't take long for Snitzer to start making a living as a full time photographer. His work was frequently published in Life Magazine, Time and the now defunct jazz publication Metronome, where he eventually became the magazine's chief photo editor.

Snitzer traveled on a tour bus with Louis Armstorng, was close friends with Nina Simone, and once narrowly averted getting punched by Miles Davis who banned photographers during his set at the 1990 Newport Jazz Festival.

"He caught me snapping photos," Snitzer recalled. "Now, Miles had a reputation of hitting people and I thought to myself, 'he’s not gonna stop playing. He's not gonna hit me. So I just kept photographing.”

Snitzer also focused much of his work on social justice.

A photograph of a 1958 civil rights protest foreshadowed his volunteer work with the NAACP in St. Petersburg, which awarded him a lifetime achievement award in 2005.

He documented annual Gay Pride celebrations, the 2017 Women’s March, and the 1996 protests for Tyron Lewis, an 18 year old unarmed African American man killed by St. Petersburg police after a traffic stop.

Herb Snitzer, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, died on Dec 31 at the age of 90.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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