Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, 1994


The above photo is the testament that an iconic image can come from all walks of life — crime, tourism, architecture, exploration. For Jack Leigh, his iconic moment came in 1994 when he was commissioned by Random House for the cover of John Berendt’s non-fiction novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The book was about the repercussions that the murder of a local male prostitute and its subsequent trial that ensued. The titular “the garden of good and evil,” referred to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. Bredent suggested to Leigh to go to the cemetary for a suitable subject. There he found a sculpture on the Trosdal family plot at the end of his second day of searching. It was on the grave of Lucy Boyd Trosdal, and originally designed both as art and as a birdseed holder. Leigh made a quick shot before dusk set in and spent ten hours in the darkroom editing the photo, giving it a moonlit feel and accentuating the halo around the statue’s head.

The cover image was an immediate hit, and Berendt called it “one of the strongest book covers I’ve ever seen.” Berendt’s debut work became a New York Times bestseller for over 200 weeks following its debut. The photograph itself was considered a major factor in the success of the novel. Soon people began flocking to the cemetery to see the sculpture. The Trosdal family finally removed the sculpture, now known as the Bird Girl statue, and later loaned to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah for public display.

When Warner Bros. produced a film adaptation four years later, Leigh sued them for copyright infringement over their recreations of the Bird Girl replica in the cemetery, which were similar to his original cover photograph. They eventually settled it out of court. When Jack Leigh died in 2004, he was fittingly buried in Bonaventure Cemetery.

 

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