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Neverland Lost: A Portrait of Michael Jackson

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Neverland Lost: A Portrait of Michael Jackson

Post by Admin on Wed Aug 15, 2012 8:11 pm

Neverland Lost: A Portrait of Michael Jackson

About The Book
This collection of photographs was never intended to be a book. In February of 2009, I flew to California on a magazine assignment to photograph the iconic white glove of pop star Michael Jackson. Even though I am a lifelong portrait photographer, I have always had the urge to investigate people through the simplicity of the artefacts that make up their lives. I went to Los Angeles with one vision in mind and little more than a day to capture it.

Michael Jackson’s primary home at Neverland had been vacant for several years and his belongings lay packed and stored in crates, awaiting public auction. When I arrived at the venue for the shoot, I had no idea what I’d find. What I discovered in those crates evoked in me a deep sadness. From the man who would be king, his artefacts were of the simplest design. A sequinned tube sock. A child’s trinket. The famous glove – so revealing in its dime store simplicity, so mundane in its plainness.

I completed the initial assignment in two days, yet found myself unable to leave. My assistants and I remained on location for another twenty-four hours, poring over more than a thousand items from which we had to choose our images. I returned to New York after three days, with a premonition that the task wasn’t finished.

It seems that an individual’s belongings rarely become available without some tragedy as a backdrop. Despite my exhaustive efforts to create a window into Jackson’s private world, the portrait was not complete. I knew there were other objects that had not been made available to be photographed. In April of 2009, I flew back to California. Through perseverance and good fortune, we were granted one last access.

This time, when I returned to New York, I had the pieces I needed to complete the story. Shortly thereafter, our investigation became a documentation of a life cut short. It is said that the Pharaohs built tombs to reveal their lives to future generations. Michael Jackson sacrificed his childhood to the calling of his musical gift. Neverland was the pyramid he constructed to a lost childhood. The artefacts captured in this book return us to the Neverland he lost.

Henry Leutwyler, Winter 2010, New York City.

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>>From the New York Times:

In addition to the legacy that is Michael Jackson’s discography, the King of Pop also left behind a trove of collectibles — from his bedazzled gloves and rhinestone-covered military garb to the countless tacky tchotchkes that filled his Neverland compound. Though many of the clothes and objects have been sold at auction, the museum-worthy collection has been preserved by the Swiss-born photographer Henry Leutwyler in a new book, “Neverland Lost: A Portrait of Michael Jackson” (Steidl 2010; $45). Mr. Leutwyler photographed the items prior to Mr. Jackson’s death in 2009, forgoing visual trickery and relying instead on a plain black background. Many of the images point to the otherwordly realm the star inhabited; others, such as an ordinary tube sock studded with rhinestones, bring him heartbreakingly down to earth.

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Neverland Lost featured in Times Online
The Faded Glitter of Neverland By Tim Teeman, May 29, 2011

Henry Leutwyler went to photograph one glove and instead came back with a haunting book about Michael Jackson

The idea, says Henry Leutwyler, was simply to photograph one of Michael Jackson’s glittering stage gloves. In April last year, before the singer’s death, a number of Jackson’s clothes and possessions were up for auction to raise money to clear his debts. For a magazine commission, Leutwyler went to the warehouse where they were being kept, but instead of photographing one glove, he came away with a far larger catch.

For the past few years the 48-year-old Swiss-born magazine photographer has been taking, by stealth, pictures of notorious objects, such as the gun that Mark Chapman used to kill John Lennon, and celebrities’ private possessions, including Elvis Presley’s wallet, containing a picture of the singer with his daughter, Lisa Marie, as a baby and his identity card. “I had come across the Lennon gun while working on a story about illegal gun trading, and there it was, in a New York police station, with the bullets used to kill him,” says Leutwyler. He shows me his photo of the gun used by Jack Ruby to kill Lee Harvey Oswald (accused of assassinating President Kennedy) and says that he is fiercely anti-firearms, especially after being mugged at gunpoint four years ago.

He groups together the gun pictures to show me. “I like this — order and chaos,” he says, tidying the arrangement, and then repeats the phrase when we sift through his book, Neverland Lost: A Portrait of Michael Jackson, a startling, artsy coffee-table book that has been designed by his wife, Ruba Abu-Nimah. Inside are about 60 pictures of Jackson’s clothes and possessions, including shoes with the entertainer’s name on them, shirts (stained brown), a strange pair of angel wings, a throne, a sports shirt, an MTV award, a performance shirt sewn into stage underwear, cherubs, Wizard of Oz toys, and — “you see, order and chaos!” — a double-page spread of glittery Jackson stage gloves. Neverland was the California ranch Jackson lived on, a Peter-Pannish shrine to childhood, where Jackson was accused (and cleared) of abusing children; Leutwyler has photographed a model sign welcoming visitors, with a boy sitting on a crescent moon.

The auction at Julien’s, the memorabilia specialist, in Los Angeles never took place and the clothes and possessions were returned to Jackson. After his death they were placed with his estate. The project seems far from Leutwyler’s usual beat of glamorous fashion spreads and celebrities (including Michelle Obama, Julia Roberts, Dizzy Gillespie and Martin Scorsese) for glossy magazines such as Vogue, Esquire and The New York Times. He is bearded, has dancing eyes and is both mischievous and passionate.

“Why did I do this? It’s our popular culture. The objects are open to interpretation, but now they have a sadness. This was a man who died far too early. My dad died at 57 and I am still emotional about it today. I wonder what [Jackson] thought, putting this up for sale, broke after the trial,” says Leutwyler. “He’d had it all, now he was losing it all over again — including Neverland. Thank God it hadn’t happened to me. I couldn’t have handled it.” (Colony Capital bought Jackson’s $24.5 million Neverland mortgage before he died and he shared ownership of the property with Sycamore Valley Ranch LLC, a Colony subsidiary; Jackson’s estate is now paying off the debt.) Leutwyler had 48 hours to photograph them, though he did return for a second visit. Starkly photographed in transit, the artefacts — such as the black shirt with the “Michael” name tag in gold on the book’s cover — may glitter, but they already feel discarded and cold.

That wasn’t Leutwyler’s intention. “The Pharaohs were supposed to have built tombs to reveal their lives to future generations,” he says. “Michael Jackson sacrificed his childhood to singing and stardom. Neverland, later in his life, was the pyramid he constructed to that lost childhood. These are the artefacts of that lost childhood. We will never see the like of Michael Jackson today.” Sure, but aren’t they also intrusive, I ask. Leutwyler looks shocked. “I don’t think so. They are not meant to be.” Well, I say, in one way it’s quite a tabloid exercise — and nothing wrong with that — photographing a celebrity’s belongings. “I did not want to intrude,” Leutwyler replies. “This was meant as a record of an entertainer. I’ve danced to Michael Jackson, I have Michael Jackson on vinyl. Just as you need to separate Church and state, you need to do the same with him. I don’t judge people. He was an amazing entertainer. I have no opinion on the child abuse charges. You can tell Michael had a short childhood, if any at all.”

Leutwyler says that he photographed everything up close. “Frank Capa said that if the picture wasn’t good then the photographer probably wasn’t close enough. Art Kane [another famous photographer] said that a good picture is a result of research and investigation. For me, this project was a mix of archaeology and research.”

Jackson’s estate isn’t happy about the sudden exposure of the objects, professing ignorance of Leutwyler’s project until the book’s publication and “it is actively looking into” the matter; with a view to taking what action, if any, is presently unclear.

For Leutwyler, the sparkling brilliance of the objects “speaks more than a portrait — it shows the child in Michael, the 50-year-old kid he really was, his joy, his playfulness. If you were photographing Madonna’s clothes, they’d be dry-cleaned, sealed, probably in a temperature-controlled environment, immaculate. I think it’s fascinating some of these clothes are soiled.”

When Leutwyler showed the photographer Robert Polidori his spoils, Polidori gasped over the shoes with “Michael” written on the sole. “You must do something with this,” he told Leutwyler and called the art-book publisher Gerhard Steidl immediately. What does Leutwyler think will happen to the objects? “I think some will pop up at auctions, in museums, some will be stolen or be seen in travelling exhibitions. It’s pop art. My fascination is rooted in us living in a society where everything feels known about public figures — through magazines or the internet — but these show something more personal. They also show us why we loved them.”

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Michael Jackson transcended our imaginations and continues to uplift our souls and spirits through his tremendously meaningful life well lived.
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