People among Us: Leo Touchet’s Collection of Photographs
Leo Touchet is an American photographer who has traveled to over fifty countries to photograph for corporate publications and national and international magazines including Life, Time, National Geographic, New York Times, Der Stern, Panorama, and Popular Photography.
Touchet’s interest in photography sprouted as a high school photographer. In the early 1960s he lived in Greenwich Village and maintained his interest by studying the archived photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Eugene Smith, Edward Steichen, and Gordon Parks in the Museum of Modern Art. In Rochester, New York, Touchet met Beaumont Newhall, then director of the George Eastman House Museum and bought a used Leica M3 from him. His meeting with Joan Liftin, a photo editor at the United Nations, was a turning point in his career. Liftin convinced him to be a full-time photographer, and then he hopped on the plane to Saigon, Vietnam for his first foreign trip as a photographer.
People Among Us is Touchet’s selection of black and white photographs taken in Asia, Europe, South and North America, and Louisiana, his home base where he has returned to live after decades of traveling as a photographer. Each photo focuses on a sense of people in a place: the skinny security guard with a walking cane in French Quarter; the women’s painful loss of hope at the news that the miners were found dead in the salt mine disaster in Calumet, Louisiana; the little Miskito girl in Honduras wearing only briefs and a cross necklace and building her primitive dollhouse; a Mexican woman’s wrinkled face in contrast to the poster of young American actress Raquel Welch; the daily life of a young vegetable vendor in Laos, boat woman in Cambodia, and fisherman in Vietnam; and Alcide “Slowdrag” Pavageau’s jazz funeral in New Orleans. My favorite photo is one showing seven barefoot Honduran kids sitting side by side on a bench against the mud wall. Their look is full of inner curiosity, quietness, and unworldliness.
One characteristic of Touceht’s photographs is that he gives attention to small objects or images which create not only the visual effect but also set up thought-provoking juxtapositions such as the walking cane or the cross necklace worn by the indigenous girl. While isolated from the outside world in these sleety and snowy days, I feel Touchet’s photo collection is so inviting as if I am one of the People Among Us.
People Among Us by Leo Touchet. Photo Circle Press, June 2018.
Reviewer bio: J. Guaner has published over forty reviews and a dozen photoessays on the Mississippi Delta.