“Still lifes make me happy, which I also consider to be portraits, but of things. Things have a soul. Things have a past, present, and future life.”
Born in Switzerland in 1961, Henry Leutwyler is a self-taught photographer with a stubborn streak and unflappable love for the medium. His grandfather and father were both printers. He decided not to follow their path, instead choosing to travel and photograph, soaking up color and culture from around the world. After being rejected by one of Switzerland’s best photography schools, he opened his own photo studio in Lausanne, photographing cheese, chocolates, and watches. He went bankrupt in a year and a half. In 1985, Henry moved to Paris, where he apprenticed with photographer Gilles Tapie and rapidly established himself as an editorial photographer. A decade later, Leutwyler moved to New York City. He has photographed the likes of Michelle Obama, Julia Roberts, Tom Wolfe, Iggy Pop, Rihanna, and Martin Scorsese, to name a few. Henry lives and works in downtown Manhattan.
Here’s a snippet from Leutwyler’s interview:
What is your work philosophy?
While I was photographing Helmut Newton in Monte Carlo, he said to me, “If you don’t have it within seven minutes, you never will,” and walked off set. I have followed his advice ever since; I do like to photograph fast. He loved his portrait. It stands, life-size, in the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin.
What do you like most about photography?
What is your favorite type of photography to shoot?
I don’t SHOOT anyone or anything. As a romantic, I do favor the term “sitting”, as used in the earlier days of photography when the subject had to sit for a photographer due to the long exposure times. Shooting is a terrible word. Somehow it erroneously sneaked into our craft and industry’s vocabulary. I love to photograph in 8×10, which has now become a luxury. I used to love to play with Polaroid film. Still lifes make me happy, which I also consider to be portraits, but of things. Things have a soul. Things have a past, present, and future life.
What is the most difficult challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career?
Fear, gut-wrenching fear, fear of the empty page, my shyness, and the constant doubts. After 40-plus years, it has become a little easier, but not much.
What are the most important ingredients you require from a client to do successful work?
To try to respect each other, to trust each other, to be willing to listen to each other, and most importantly to push it further, always.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
To still be in LOVE with the medium like on our first date.
What is the greatest satisfaction you get from your work?
To have it published in magazines, which is my first love.
What part of your work do you find most demanding?
The constraints and the commercial limitations imposed by the ‘industry’.
What professional goals do you still have for yourself?
To never stop photographing.
What advice would you give to students starting out today?
Don’t be afraid.
How do you define success?
Where do you see yourself in the future?
With a camera around my neck.
Read more of Henry Leutwyler’s interview and discover other great artists and educators in Graphis Journal #375, which you can purchase online at graphis.com.