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Remembering Marcus Leatherdale Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

5 May 2022

Canadian photographer Marcus Leatherdale died by suicide at his bungalow in Mcluskieganj, India, on April 22. He was 69.

He had recently lost his partner Jorge Serio and suffered a stroke. He had also recently lost his mother. On his Facebook page, he posted, "Everybody has gone through something that has changed them in a way that they could never go back to the person they once were."

Born in Montreal, he attended the San Francisco Art Institute and, after moving to New York in 1978, the School of Visual Arts. He had already traveled through India and Afghanistan in a van before sharing a New York City loft with Claudia Summers, whom he would marry.

They were friends who found it convenient to marry but Leatherdale's romantic interest was Robert Mapplethorpe. Summers herself was a dominatrix working under the name Mistress Juliette from the studio.

'Marcus photographed the best of who we were, these idealized versions.'

Leatherdale contributed veiled portraits of his friends to Details magazine, which covered Manhattan's galleries, clubs and boutiques, in a regular column called Hidden Identities.

Among his subjects were Joey Arias portrayed as a Japanese snow princess, Keith Haring as a rakish Santa Claus, Robin Byrd wearing only cowboy boots and a thong and Sydney Biddle Barrows, the Mayflower Madam, in a ball gown.

"His photographs were a celebration of why we moved to New York City in the first place," Summers said, "which was to be in the midst of that kind of creativity and boundary pushing in terms of gender and sexuality. Not that we thought of it that way or spoke in those terms. Marcus photographed the best of who we were, these idealized versions."

He went on to work as an assistant curator to Sam Wagstaff while shooting the club scene for the fashionable media: Interview, Details, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair. He was later featured in Artforum, Art News, and Art in America.

Unlike Mapplethorpe, Leatherdale was not driven to be a star. "We were artistic comrades, at first, until I got recognition," he recalled. "But in all fairness, NYC is a place where everyone is very career-oriented. I too was very ambitious, but not competitive."

Holland Cotter compared their work in a 1992 review:

Both take the nude figure as a central image; both show a penchant for theatrically posed and lighted studio setups. Whereas Mapplethorpe went for a combination of shock and slickness, however, Leatherdale's recent work displays an interest in carefully staged tableaux with a symbolic content.

Leatherdale returned to India in 1990 to make portraits of Hindu holy men, temple beggars, fishermen and pilgrims in the same style he had developed in New York City. "I want to preserve the tradition of these proud people as best I can, somewhat like Edward Curtis did with the American Indians," he said in a 2016 interview.

Bulu Imam recalled how Letherdale would use two rolls of 12-exposure Kodak 120 film but only keep 12 shots while destroying the other 12. He would sell framed 25x35-inch prints at a high price to make his living.

Leatherdale's work was on display in over 60 photographic exhibitions held in over a dozen countries. He was exhibited in New York, London, Australia, Spain and Sri Lanka, among others.

Summers and Leatherdale divorced in 2018. He is survived by a brother, Robert. His adopted Hindu son Kailash Yadav performed the last rights at Harmu Muktidham before his body was cremated.

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