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Photographer talks King of Pop and 'Neverland Lost'

Stephon Johnson | , Amsterdam News Staff | 8/29/2012, 4:06 p.m.
(Stephon Johnson photo)

photo

Henry Leutwyler (left) and Hollis King (Stephon Johnson photo)

Originally published on March 23, 2011.

As the rest of New York celebrated St. Patrick's Day, portrait photographer Henry Leutwyler spent last Thursday night discussing his new book "Neverland Lost," a photo book of different objects from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch.

Foley Gallery, located at 548 W. 28th St., near the High Line, featured a talk with Leutwyler and his dear friend Hollis King to discuss the "Neverland Lost" exhibit at Foley, which features photos from the book and his career as a photographer.

Early in 2009, in preparation for a public auction of objects from Jackson's Neverland Ranch, Portfolio magazine sent Leutwyler to California to photograph Jackson's famous white glove and ended up spending three days with some of Jackson's artifacts and taking photos of hundreds of objects. He eventually went back on a second visit to the warehouse holding Jackson's items to complete what ended up becoming "Neverland Lost." Leutwyler provided some personal thoughts on photographing Jackson's artifacts by invoking the name of another icon of Americana.

"My mother made my father wait 10 years before they got married, so in reality, I'd be 60 instead of 50 today," said Leutwyler. "And a lot of the people that I would love to have photographed had gone [away] and Elvis was the first of them." Leutwyler has also photographed objects from Elvis' Graceland in the past. "When I photographed...some of the objects belonging to Elvis, I realized that these are actually portraits. The only way for me to photograph Elvis back then was through the objects. So objects talk back--something I only learned a few years ago."

"Objects talk and do say a lot," said Leutwyler.

Leutwyler, a native of Switzerland who has won numerous awards as a photographer, saw some time in Paris as well as New York. His photos have appeared in the New York Times magazine, Vogue, Vanity Fair and Esquire. He never thought he'd be able to make a book out of Jackson's objects, but was drawn into the King of Pop's world once he reached California.

"I thought, you know, that I'd have five minutes like we usually do it and photograph the glove, go back home, say 'thank you, very much' and give it to the magazine and move on," Leutwyler said. "And 17 hours later we went back a second day and then the next day we went for another 17 hours." For Leutwyler, the objects ended up taking a completely different feeling once Jackson passed away. But not at first.

"I didn't do anything about it. I didn't look at the pictures. I just kept doing what I've been doing," said Leutwyler. "In September I was having lunch with a friend of mine and I was showing him some of the images on my iPhone and he looked at me and said, 'And?' I said, 'What?' He said, 'So when's the book coming out?' I said, 'What book?'"

His friend insisted that he make a book based on his photos and helped him make the proper contacts to get the ball rolling. "I think the first print [of the book] is gone now," said Leutwyler.

The exhibition at the Foley Gallery runs until April 2. Copies of "Neverland Lost" are available at the gallery.