John Foster | Accidental Mysteries

Leon Lewandowski

From Chicago, another forgotten street photographer is rediscovered. In 2008, collector Ron Slattery (one of the three original buyers/discoverers of the well-known Vivian Maier cache of photographs) was approached by an antiques dealer who had a large archive of photos for sale. Slattery purchased them sight unseen, loading box after box into his vehicle. 

While driving back to his warehouse, Slattery received a call from the dealer. “You’d better take a look at what you bought. …  the work looks amazing.”

Slattery pulled over to the side of the road and started digging through the boxes. Holding up a medium format negative, he was stunned to see an image of photographer Aaron Siskind (1903–1991) sitting at his desk holding a camera. He knew instantly he had something special. There are literally thousands of negatives, prints, and slides. From the few photographs I’ve seen so far, the work speaks for itself. 

There was a name on some of the boxes: Leon Lewandowski. A little research revealed that Leon Lewandowski (1932–2005) had studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago and graduated with a Masters degree in photography in 1955. It appears that Lewandowski studied under the photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. According to Slattery, most of the work is black-and-white street photography and covers the photographer’s output over a six-year period looking to the streets of Chicago for inspiration. Callahan and Siskind oversaw a fertile time in Chicago art history, where they and their students were creating groundbreaking work. Many of Lewandowski’s peers at ID were quite successful in their photographic fine art careers, including Ray Metzker, Richard Nickel, Kenneth Josephson, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Joseph Sterling, and Charles Swedlund.

After graduation from the Institute of Design, Lewandowski placed his street photography into storage and opened a commercial photography studio. He ran a successful business until passing away in 2005. It was in 2008 that Slattery purchased the work of Lewandowski and soon after began working with the photographer's family to help promote the work. Slattery and the family believe that the time has come for Leon’s “coming out” party. Slattery and the family have plans for a website and exhibitions.

This is the first major appearance of Lewandowski's work since the Slattery discovery.


All images © copyright Leon Lewandowski

Posted in: Accidental Mysteries, Photography

Jobs | May 26