By Suzanne Révy, Associate Editor
“Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone – and finding that that’s ok with them.” ~Alain de Botton
Our desire to connect with others is a powerful human need, opening the doors to our most emotionally satisfying relationships. In revealing our idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses to others, we deepen the bonds of intimacy with those closest to us… our lovers, our parents and children, our dearest friends. Expressing the need for intimacy in photographs is challenging, but two recently published books, “Saul Leiter, In My Room” and Richard Renaldi’s “I Want Your Love” delve visually into each artist’s closest relationships and their strikingly different pursuits for love and connection. Leiter takes an introspective and interior view of the female figure, while Renaldi leads us on a more extroverted journey from youth to adulthood, yet each succeeds in expressing a transcendent sense of serenity and joy through achingly passionate photographs.
Dressing, undressing, kicking off a shoe, sitting in bed with a newspaper strewn on the floor, all offer glimpses of figures in a room filled with subtle northern light and the clues to the affections shared between a photographer, Saul Leiter (1923-2013), and the women who were his friends and lovers. Leiter made these pictures over a twenty-year period, from early 1950’s to the early 1970’s. Primarily known for his color street pictures of Manhattan, Leiter chose to make these personal images in black and white so he could process and print them in his own darkroom rather than at a professional lab. He kept the pictures private, clearly intended only for himself and the women he photographed. In one, we can see several images tacked to the wall above the bed where a woman sleeps. There is a playful and knowing quality to the interactions between the artist and his muses; they possess an agency transmitted through their bodily ease and obvious comfort within Leiter’s studio spaces.
Leiter employs many of the same visual tricks from his street work: views through doors or mirrors create atmospheric and abstract compositions of gesture and light. There is a quiet erotic charge to some the images, a few depict the women pleasuring themselves and in several, his models are clearly flirting with the camera, with Leiter, and by extension with us. Others offer peaceful moments of repose, as in one where a shoulder is revealed through a torn shirt or another where a figure’s knees are held up to her chin as she drags on a cigarette. Perhaps it reflects the era, but the intimacies in these pictures are broached in hushed tones in contrast to more exhibitionist tendencies of contemporary generations.
Richard Renaldi (b. 1968) came of age in the late 70’s and early ’80’s, and his book, “I Want Your Love” opens with several snapshots of him during his childhood, including a poignant portrait of Renaldi in a bathtub. Both books explore adult themes of personal relationships and sensuality, but Renaldi shares written vignettes that offer a broader autobiographical context of his search for self as he grew up in Chicago. He shares a childhood humiliation, reveals the unhappy nature of his parent’s marriage and his early erotic longings for men amid his early photographs. There are several self-portraits and scenes of home, including people lying prone on a bed or a cigarette butt on a desk with it’s precarious tip of ash ready to topple over, mixed with his images of streets and busses of Chicago. These blunt juxtapositions signify Renaldi’s youthful walk on the wild side.
Mirroring our teenaged years, Renaldi’s pictures vacillate between chaotic and calm. He contrasts abstractions of light with muted palettes, black and white with color. He opens up… he let’s us in on thoughts and feelings toward his friends, his lovers, his parents, his HIV status, even a brief encounter with Joe Strummer and the Clash. A strikingly fit and handsome man, Renaldi features myriad self-portraits, some of them raunchily erotic, others tender, and still others with partners, but we see the rhythm of the book change slightly halfway through, moderating just as Renaldi settles into a stable and long-term relationship. The pictures become more sophisticated and his sense of languid and lush afternoon light infuses several images with a sensual, inviting ambiance.
That same intimate comfort permeates Leiter’s imagery, but the crux of the difference between Leiter’s delicious secrecy and Renaldi’s brash exhibitionism is revealed in a confession near the end of “I Want Your Love”: “I have wanted, sometimes quite fiercely, to make myself an object… to erase that sense of invisibility I felt as a gay kid”. Renaldi’s desperate longing creates a powerful sense of vulnerability, mortality and fragility that informs the emotional tenor of his roller-coaster visual memoir. Viewed alongside Leiter’s sublimely self-confident images from another era, we see the desire for intimacy remains timelessly, deeply human.
“Saul Leiter, In My Room”
with an essay by Carole Nagger
and an afterword by Robert Benton
Published by Steidl, 2017
“I Want Your Love”
by Richard Renaldi
Published by Super Labo, 2018
Available through Charles Lane Press