Immediately to the left upon entering the Henry Leutwyler: Document exhibition at Foley Gallery, a “document” that is not a photograph awaits visitors: a framed letter to Leutwyler written in French. Accompanying text translates the note, a rejection letter from the Department of Photography at the School of Applied Arts in Switzerland dated April 28th, 1981. The note reveals an amusing bit of irony, as the sender's last words are, “Please accept our best wishes for your professional future.”
Henry Leutwyler, Michelangelo Antonioni’s director’s chair – Photo by Anders Jones
Needless to say, Leutwyler went on to cultivate a stellar career as a self-taught celebrity portrait photographer. His work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and many other top publications. An extension of that work is on view in the exhibition Document, which features still life photographs of well-used objects owned by world-renown celebrities. The images are part of a 12-year project that includes artifacts from the lives of Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Ghandi, Jimmy Hendrix, and many others.
Henry Leutwyler, America boxer Muhammad Ali’s Adidas “special” boxing shoe, size 13 US – Photo by Anders Jones
Several of the items are shot using bright direct light that creates a harsh shadow, adding a bit of photographic interest to the work, and somehow imbuing the objects with life. Taken against a white backdrop, the left boxing shoe of Muhammad Ali, made by Adidas from white kangaroo leather with red stripes, reveals a dark scuff close to the toe area. The slightly wrinkled leather on the side of the boot, once molded to Ali’s foot, reminds viewers of the elegance of his footwork and his famous words, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Henry Leutwyler, Audrey Hepburn’s Valentine portable typewriter (designed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King) – Photo by Anders Jones
An antique Valentine portable typewriter owned by Audrey Hepburn is an exquisite artifact to behold. Its design and perfect shade of red coloring, offset by black keys with a vivid font used for the letters of the alphabet on each key, feels extremely desirable. From the image, it looks like the keyboard slides inside and a slim attached red cover can be pulled over the top, a feature that would be an enviable retro object today. Hepburn loved to cook and used the typewriter to type up her recipes.
Henry Leutwyler, Marilyn Monroe’s stack of Goyard traveling trunks at Universal Studios – Photo by Anders Jones
A stack of Marilyn Monroe’s white leather suitcases brings to mind the days when air travel was glamorous and reserved for the privileged few. Even though the Hollywood legend is not in the frame, her iconic beauty and style reverberate through the five pieces of luggage, two of which are numbered, #2 and #7. The finely detailed craftsmanship of the luggage is evident, with the circular piece laid on top of the remaining ones labeled, “M. Monroe, Universal Studios,” a clear indication that Ms. Monroe was not the one carrying the heavy load.
Henry Leutwyler, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Gandhi, and Jean Michel Basquiat sunglasses (from top left, clockwise) – Photo By Anders Jones
A plethora of curiosities awaits viewers at this exhibition. The shoe that was probably used by Michael Jackson in many of his Moonwalk dances, the eyeglasses of Elvis Presley, the sunglasses of John Lennon and Jean Michel Basquiat, one of Ghandi’s sandals, and the guitars of Bob Marley and Prince, all provide a delightful, nostalgic viewing experience.
Henry Leutwyler: Document is on view at Foley Gallery through January 8, 2017.