Nina Leen fascination with the world veiwed through a camera lens extends to both the human and animal kingdom. Born in Russia, Leen grew up in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, where she achieved acclaim as an animal photographer. Upon first arriving in the United States in 1939, her reporter's eye led to a series of wryly amusing works on the habits and rituals of her newly adopted homeland. Her series on, "A Teenager Monopolizes the Telephone," or her descriptions and images of "The American Male," are timeless evocations of symbols of modern American society.
In 1945, Leen joined LIFE, producing over 40 covers and countless spreads for the magazine; her subjects included everyone from aspiring actresses like Joan Caulfield (many feel that Leen's portrait helped launch the movie star's career), kings and queens of Europe (many of whom appeared in rarely-seen informal poses). Whether chronicling socialites, Paris fashion models or European royalty, Leen had the gift of extreme patience. She was relaxed around her subjects; in turn, they were put at ease, virtually forgetting her presence as she captured the perfect shot.
Along with her portraits of American life (one particularly ageless photograph, "Meeting Daddy on the 6:26" shows a mother and two children eagerly waiting on the train platform, as the sun sets on this time-honored ritual of suburban life), Leen's photographs of animals captivated and fascinated Life's readers. She won the hearts of America with the ongoing series on her adopted pet "Lucky," an abandoned puppy discovered by LIFE staffers Leonard McCombe and Ray Mackland and given to Leen.
Among Leen's most fascinating animal photographs were her masterful series on bats, published in a book, The World of Bats, with text by Alvin Novick, in 1970. For this work, Leen, long-fascinated with the species she grew to call "My flying kittens" lead Leen through fetid jungles and dank caves, crouching for hours in utter darkness to achieve never-before seen images of even the rarest species. Leen's images for the book were called "absolutely incredible" and "breathtaking" in a review by the New York Times.
Leen's unique ability to see the minute details of the natural world in fresh, unexpected ways is epitomized in a 1970 photograph in which skate egg-cases, a common sight on East Coast beaches, seem to be dancing uproariously amidst the waves. Leen found the cases on the Long Island Shore and, fascinated with their shape, added little heads made of putty as she positioned them upright. They were then superimposed against another image of the sea. The final result is arresting, exuberant, joyous--hallmarks of all of Nina Leen's images.
GALLERY M is pleased to exclusively represent Nina Leen in the Rocky Mountain Region.