HENRY LEUTWYLER DOCUMENT
With an Italian-Swiss heritage, the inquisitive and enthusiastic Leutwyler captures a rare access to some
of the worlds most important artists, designers and musicians of our time through their personal ‘artefacts’
or objects. Renowned for his own portraiture of prominent celebrities, this is Leutywler’s take on capturing
a subject in a more intimate and most importantly, unseen view of their most personal possessions or
influential objects, imperfect and unrestored.
From Charlie Chaplin’s carnation “…seen in black and white, never in colour”, to James Dean’s original wallet,
Mohammed Ali’s training glove, Richard Avedon’s A-clamp or Audrey Hepburn’s typewriter “…she was an
avid cook and typed up all her recipes. The machine is a design icon in itself Olivetti.”
Heavily inspired by Robert Capa, Irving Penn and Weegee, Leutwyler takes his investigative style and
personalises it through heavy research, ongoing conversations and serendipity.
As we walk through the gallery amongst the images, Leutwyler explains the history and background to each image.
One wall presents 5 guitars, some recognisable and some difficult to identify. Leutwyler points to Jimmy Hendrix’s
guitar, “…this one is interesting because he was a lefty, playing a right guitar, so he basically flipped the strings”.
With Bob Marley, “…there was only two guitars of Marley, one which he always played which is the Les Paul
now in the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica and this one when he was a kid, but was burnt in a fire.
His family doesn’t have it, it remains with his Rastafari friends”. To Bo Diddley “…this guitar was at Nike when
I went to visit them for a project. At some point someone said, “oh we have Bo Diddley’s guitar.” I said, “You have what!””
Document, currently on view at The Mass, Harajuku, Tokyo until April 15, 2017.
Exhibiting a selection of 45 photographs from Document, alongside the published book by Steidl.
Joanna: How did the idea for Document first begin?
Henry: I first did a book with the Presley’s, and then I photographed the gun that killed John Lennon. At that
point I knew that I was a celebrity portrait photographer, technically. Of course I do beauty advertising and
still life, but for the past 30 years all my friends had been begging me to do a portrait book, which I continuously
refused to do. To do a portrait book while the person is still alive, is self-promotion. A book should be a personal
project, that then turns into something like this. I’m not going to do what 50 other photographers have already
done, but for this concept it is the first.
For photography, everything has been done. Really. So this is a little bit of a cocktail between three people I love,
Weegee (best known for his police photography) Robert Capa, Founder of Magnum who said “If the picture’s not
good, you’re probably not close enough” and Mr. Penn. My way of photographing things is probably closest to Mr
Penn, with no comparison of course.
How did you approach the curation of objects included in the series?
I figured out that if I made a list of my childhood heroes and villains, and did research on what object, what
belonging, what thing that I would be interested in and photographing it, would then become my book of portraits.
Technically, these are portraits of people. It’s a history lesson. It’s not to be a romantic one, because history is not
actually romantic lately.
How did you access each piece?
A few objects came to me. But most of the time I travelled everywhere. From Washington, Switzerland, LA,
Paris, New York, Jamaica.
Where do you think your own curiosity comes from?
I was always curious. But I also like objects i go to the flea market, I collect. I like stuff even though I live in a
minimalist environment I still have a storage filled with stuff. At some point I also decided what is my object,
and my object is the rejection letter from photography school from 1981. Which has travelled with me forever.
But being half Italian with a very strong mum, taught me not to give up. Never give up. Never take no as an
How does the accessibility of travel now assist your global work?
A lot. Last year I spent 41 days in a plane, almost over 1000 hours.
This month alone I’m flying to Geneva, New York, Austria, Palm Springs and Paris.
What else is coming up for you this year?
Fine Arts Museum (Kunstmuseum) in Switzerland, where I’ll have 6,000 feet to exhibit my solo exhibition.
Opening on June 17th for 4 months. I don’t even know what to put in it yet!
Henry Leutwyler Document The Mass (Tokyo)