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Henry Leutwyler Documents Iconic Possessions in His Coming Book

Photographer Henry Leutwyler uncovers the personal possessions of some of the biggest names of the past hundred years—including Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Julia Child and Charlie Chaplin—in his new book, “Document.” A show at New York’s Foley Gallery will present many of these images, along with some unpublished photographs.

BOB DYLAN’S harmonica, Andy Warhol’s paintbrush, Julia Child’s madeleine tray and Charlie Chaplin’s cane—these are just a few of the over 300 seemingly mundane items that Henry Leutwyler has sought out and photographed over the past 12 years. He envisions the images as intimate, anthropological portraits of the objects’ proprietors. “The people I was really interested in died before I could photograph them,” says Leutwyler, 54. “So I thought, Let me make a list of my heroes and some villains and research what they owned.” This month, the series of photographs is being published in Document, his fourth book with Steidl. A show opening November 3 at New York’s Foley Gallery will feature many of the same images along with several not included in the volume.

Having extensively shot portraits of sometimes vexing humans, Leutwyler enjoyed the simplicity of working with inanimate subjects. “The beautiful thing about objects is that there is no publicist, no hair and makeup and no stylist,” he says. “They show how the owner grabbed them, used them, how they aged.” Dylan’s Hohner harmonica had rusted and warped from his spit, for example, while James Dean’s wallet is marked with imprints from the key to his room at New York’s Iroquois Hotel. “There were little circles embossed in the leather,” says Leutwyler, who shot both items. “I loved figuring out what they were.”

Leutwyler says he employed “a lot of nagging and a bit of luck” to track down each item. “You find objects that no one has ever seen.” Child had given her madeleine tray to pastry chef Gale Gand, who mentioned it to Leutwyler during an advertising campaign shoot. A set of Goyard luggage that Marilyn Monroe once used to store her clothes had been reacquired by the storied French brand; Leutwyler happened to see it one day while walking past the company’s Paris shop on the rue Saint-Honoré. And he came across Elvis Presley’s glasses at the Memphis, Tennessee, warehouse containing the musician’s archives.

Of the 124 photos in the book, the image of artist Donald Judd’s AmEx AXP 1.13 % cards is one that Leutwyler relates to personally: “We all start with the green one, and we all hope that at some time we will get a black one.”

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