Jan 18 2010

“leonard is aware of look. is look aware of leonard?”

Published by at 11:55 am under news,process,teaching,technique,visual concepts

George Leonard is better know for coining and popularizing the term “human potential movement”, but if he never wrote the title sentence, much of the movement may not have existed. The story behind the sentence also contains some of the best job seeking advice I’ve ever heard. I asked him to tell the story, but today I read of his death on January 6th and now the honor falls to me.

Back in 1952, Leonard was a flight instructor and editor of an Air Force magazine looking to move into the civilian publishing world when he wrote his first version of the tease – “Leonard is aware of Life. Is Life aware of Leonard?” Not as well remembered as the slightly more popular Life magazine, Look was a similar photo based magazine with a circulation over 3 million. The cadence of the Life line sounded as good with the replacement of Look and he sent that note off as well.

The letter worked, and Leonard went on to cover the Civil Rights movement in the South, and was one of the first journalists to predict the social changes coming from the ’60s student movement in California.

I first met him in 1976 at the University of Redlands in California. I had just finished my undergraduate eduction as an exchange student at the experimental Johnston College that shared the Redlands campus. Leonard was visiting and leading an aikido workshop at a progressive education conference. The experiential session featured the life lessons that could be learned from the practice of that martial art form.

Leonard also covered education at Look, and wrote the classic book Education & Ecstasy in 1968. The book was a call to reform the education system. I was a fan of his book and wanted to meet Leonard and talked my way into the conference by offering up photos of the session.

esalen leonard is aware of look. is look aware of leonard?

Cypress trees shrouded in fog at Esalen Institute while attending a ITP workshop in 1991 led by Leonard

I also knew of his history as a photo editor at Look and asked for his advice on breaking into the magazine business. He agreed to meet, looked at my photos and told me the story of how he created his break.

Like many, when Leonard planned his move he drew up his list of the his top ten publications. But instead of the normal method of starting at the top, he decided that he would begin with a visit to his lowest choice. Reader’s Digest was on the bottom and that’s where he experienced his interview stage-fright and discovered that he was asking for too much money.

After making his rounds to his other choices, he made a point of staying in touch with his prospects. He would send copies of his Air Force publication and some reminder notes. On the day that his “Leonard is aware of Look.” promo arrived, there was a decision to add an additional photo editor. The editor in charge of hiring saw the note and asked his assistant, “what do you know about this Leonard character?” Out of the file drawer came a two inch folder of correspondences and Leonard was offered the job.

Look became aware of Leonard, and we all became aware of the human potential movement because his writing and later immersion in the field.

He went on to, write a dozen books, become an aikido masterPresident Emeritus of Esalen Institute and created the Integral Transformation Practice and Leonard Energy Training.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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