Out of the Shadows: Marcus Leatherdale: Photographs New York City 1980-1992
Exhibition: Throckmorton Fine Art, through January 25, 2020.
It’s terribly difficult to photograph a famous person and then actually produce an image that shows the person. They’re on; they know they’re being photographed. They want to preserve their persona and make whomever happens to see the pic see the persona, and not the person. It’s not personal. It’s business.
One of my favorite examples of photographing a famous person while managing to show the real human being is Richard Avedon’s shot of Ronald Reagan, in Portraits of Power. Gone is the amiability that Reagan sought to project to hide his extremism and his rank ambitions for America. In Avedon’s portrait, the face is malevolent.
In Out of the Shadows, Marcus Leatherdale has performed the same trick with some of the more famous and not-so-famous people of downtown New York in the 1980s, that storied and ever-more-distant time that everyone wishes they had lived through, even those who did live through it, a time when a little more humanity and imperfection was permitted. The bodies are less chiseled, less sculpted, less artificial, than in 2019. Biceps look attainable from some dedication at the gym, rather than only open to those who can afford celebrity trainers, celebrity nutritionists, and skilled PhotoShop technicians.
Debbie Harry appears with face averted downwards, wearing a tight translucent highly impractical dress which shows wider-than-anorexic curves.
Divine appears relaxed, reclining on a futon in a shockingly ordinary room, nary a pink flamingo in sight. A flower pot with what appears to be tulips before blooming sits to the left. Her expression is unimpressed, and does not seek to impress. She just loves being dressed.
Claudia Summers looks directly at the camera with quiet determination and hard seductiveness. Summers is clothed with beautiful impracticality by Issey Miyake. Her expression tells us that the whip in her hand is not a mere prop.
Andy Warhol hides his face in his hands. To the left stands a bust of what appears to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps it’s a sly allusion to the photographer. This photograph was taken less than two years before Warhol’s untimely passing. Warhol hides his oh-so-famous face, but you can still tell it’s him at a glance. There was no escape.
And then there’s Madonna. We see her seated in a meditation pose, hands in the classic jnana mudra position. She’s barefoot, wearing a well-put together ensemble of thrift store denim, with carefully curated rips. The arms are healthy, not the super defined cut look we’ve come to know. The bare midriff shows a bellybutton with some flesh around it.
The eyes stand out. They burn with fierce ambition and drill into the viewer. None of this “close-your-eyes-and-picture-a-peaceful-beach-at-sunset” meditation for Madonna! She’s meditating not for inner peace, but for outward success. Take a long look. Now tell me, aren’t you happy Madonna put her ambition to the ends she did rather those of Ronald Reagan?
Credits: All photographs copyright Marcus Leatherdale. Courtesy of ACC ART BOOKS.