I vaguely remember watching the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” some years back and not enjoying it very much. But I also remember seeing the book that inspired the movie and appreciating its cover photograph. I haven’t given it much thought since, until I was in Savannah, Georgia again this week. I was looking for something new to do and bought a ticket to the Telfair Museums. The $20 ticket provides access to the Telfair Academy, the Jepson Center, and the Owens-Thomas House. It was in the Jepson Center, a small contemporary art gallery, that the original “Bird Girl” statue was standing.
She’s been cleaned up and is situated in a brightly lit room, so it takes a little imagination to get her back to the image in Jack Leigh’s now famous photo.
I stop by Bonaventure Cemetery each time I visit Savannah because I strangely enjoy photographing in old cemeteries. But I never knew the story behind the Bird Girl photo until this week. Jack Leigh was a native to Georgia and photographed many subjects around Savannah. He published a few books and made his living as a photographer. In 1993, he was commissioned to create a book cover for Random House and made his most famous image. Much of the mystique of the scene was created during several hours in the darkroom, dodging and burning the background. Once the book was published, inevitably it became a mediocre movie, but it was the story around the photo that I found much more interesting. When Warner Brothers was making the film, they paid to have a replica of the Bird Girl created ( Bird Girl Statue) and took it back to Bonaventure Cemetery. There they proceeded to shoot images to be used in the movie and on promotional materials. Well, you can guess the next part – there was a lawsuit. Jack Leigh sued based on copyright and trademark infringement and I was initially surprised to discover he lost the case. Lawsuit Summary – Jack Leigh vs Warner Brothers (2000) But after reviewing the details of the complaint and looking at the movie images, I learned it wasn’t so black and white (pun not intended).
Despite that setback, Leigh opened and ran a gallery in Savannah over the next few years. Sadly, he died in 2004 from colon cancer – he was only 56. Fittingly, Leigh was buried in Bonaventure Cemetery though his gallery later closed in 2007. But at least in Savannah, his legacy and his classic image won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Some personal cemetery images can be found in this gallery page- joevogan.com – “Cemeteries”