Leo Touchet's At the Races and Children Among Us are two collections of black and white photographs that capture a sense of historical presence in different places in the world.
At is a selection of thirty-five snapshots of people at the horse races in Saratoga Springs, New York, and New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana as well as in two foreign cities, Paris and Vancouver. Touchet started photographing at a horse races in Paris. Because he never photographed the horse races before, Touchet smartly turned his lens on the people going to or at the race, as reminisced in the introduction, "While in Paris on October 8, 1972, a fellow photojournalist invited me to join him at the Paris Longchamp Racecourse, the birthplace of legendary flat races. The big race that day was the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe race then considered to be the greatest horse race in the world. I had never photographed at a race track, nor had any prior kno_wledge of horse racing other than attending local race tracks and placing two dollar bets on unknown horses. Fortunately that day, I brought my camera bag along and attempted to photograph the horses in the earlier races. Not having the proper equipment to photograph the actual races, I took out my Leica M3 and began photographing the people in the grandstands and in the owner's circle."
Touchet's photographs captured people's joy, sadness, posture, and dressing style. The horse race in Paris was like a formal party-going event because people wore formals as if they went to a ceremony. So Touchet chose to photograph people wearing formals: those walking to the race (page 5), an old couple strolling arm in arm (page 6), and two men standing together reading race news. One interesting photograph on formal wear is on page 16: an old woman with an elaborate bouffant hairdo, a brooch, sunglasses, and leather gloves talking to her husband wearing a suit with a pocket handkerchief and with a fedora on his left hand and an overcoat on the left arm. Touchet says, "When photographing people on the streets, I always had to avoid being noticed before taking a photograph. At the race tracks the fans were so involved with the races that they seldom realized they were being photographed. I could stand directly in front of them and photograph continuously during each race." The cover photograph is an eye-catching one which shows his experience of standing in front of the fans to snap shots of them holding binoculars.
Both collections focus on people, but they present different feelings. The major theme of At the Races is the joy or entertainment of people at different horse races, while Children Among Us provides more complicated emotions about children in different places in the world. Touchet's passion for photography led him to many countries. To him, photographing was to capture an eternal moment that makes a viewer see, feel, and think. This eternal moment, therefore, depended on his patient observation as well as his mastery use of light, an important element in black and white photography. It required him to see the moments and places in black and white. If he saw the people and places in color, the moments he captured in black and white photographs would not reflect the very essence of reality since color with the absence of light for effective visual contrast could be distractive.
Touchet's effective use of light in Children Among Us directs the viewer's attention to what he wanted to express in black and white. For example, the cover photograph draws attention immediately to the eyes of a Miskito Indian girl standing in a shabby hut. Her eyes seem to have the power to arrest immediate attention, and the light in her eyes carries an unforgettable effect-behind her shyness and her simplicity of living is her curiosity about a new thing (camera) and a stranger (photographer).
In fact, light in some photographs of Children Among Us shows a striking contrast between children's eyes and the surroundings: the two boys in Bourbon Street in New Orleans looking up curiously at something with the taller one lifting his left hand to point at what they were seeing and the younger one playing a small trumpet (page 4); the eyes of a Miskito Indian boy looking attentively in the classroom while another boy sitting beside him looking down at what was written (page 14); the big innocent eyes of the brother and sister at school (page 16); seven barefoot kids sitting on a long plain bench gazing in wonder at picture-taking (page 21); and the little Vietnamese girl balancing on her head a tray of bite-sized, peeled sugarcane pieces and casting a calm look at the photographer.
Different from At the Races, which presents celebrations at horse races, Children Among Us presents thirty photographs which capture the moments of children in their young life. Some are happy at play; some suffer from poverty or burns (the burned child lying in the burn ward in Vietnam on page 33); some make a living by selling vegetables in the market in Laos (page 24), or carrying water to field workers in Iran (page 25). They are children among us and deserve attention and care from adults. Their eyes reflect what can't be seen in the eyes of adults. That must be what drew Touchet to capture those vivid visual moments.