Famed Photographer Tony Leonard Dies
Tony Leonard, a legendary equine photographer who chronicled the golden age of Thoroughbred racing, died July 14 at Homestead Nursing Home in Lexington. He was 89.
Born Leonard Anthony Bergantino on Aug. 8, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Leonard served in the Army during World War II and became a professional entertainer after the war, performing first in nightclubs across the country and eventually on Broadway. He took up the stage name of Tony Leonard at the suggestion of Bob Hope's manager and came to Kentucky in 1961 with his wife Adelle to perform at the old La Flame nightclub on Winchester Road.
Leonard spent 50 years taking pictures of racing's greatest stars and developed an outstanding reputation. His photos graced many magazine covers; his style one that many protégés sought to master.
"Tony set the standard that all equine photographers strive to achieve," photographer Matt Goins remarked. "Knowing and working around him was one of the great pleasures of my life."
Leonard was also known for developing the conformation shot, now widely used within the industry.
"My goal in taking a conformation pose is to present each stallion exactly alike," he said of his groundbreaking concept. "That way, breeders could see exactly what they were looking for physically-strong shoulder, correct legs, hind quarters, pastern length, a compact or lengthy body-qualities that would match well with their mare."
Among the many prominent farm owners he met early on were Brownell Combs of Spendthrift Farm and Preston and Anita Madden of Hamburg Place.
In 2009, Leonard and his wife were made wards of the state due to deteriorating medical and financial conditions. In May 2010 the photographer and his wife, along with relatives, won a court battle to end the state's control of Leonard's collection of negatives of his photos of great Thoroughbreds. The couple moved to Homestead Nursing Center last summer after Adelle had a medical setback that resulted in her being moved from an assisted living environment; Leonard told the Lexington Herald-Leader he wanted to stay with her.
The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. (EDT) July 21, at Milward Funeral Home, 1509 Trent Boulevard in Lexington, with burial in Lexington Cemetery, Visitation at the funeral home will be 3-8 p.m. July 20, and 9-10 a.m. July 21. In lieu of flowers, gifts in memoriam may be made to Old Friends Equine Rescue of Georgetown, Ky., or to Woodford Humane Society of Versailles, Ky.
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