Matt Leifheit: Creativity 2020

June 22, 2020

By Gabrielle Colangelo

In response to our invitation to describe the work he is currently pursuing, photographer and filmmaker Matt Leifheit walks us through his daily pursuit of creativity in isolation: an exploration of how the impulses to gather, arrange, and connect grow out of observing remnants of the past.

Matt describes the aesthetic tension of his collection of pottery shards, saying, “the other thing I’ve been struggling with, with the shards, is that they’re better to see in person, and particularly when you take them right out of the water, just like a photograph in the darkroom—it’s always better when it’s wet. The objects themselves are better than any of the photographs I’ve made.”

FIND & FOLLOW Matt Leifheit online, at his website,  Instagram @mattelife, and Twitter @matte_mag.

READ Matte Magazine, a journal of emerging photography which Matt edits and publishes. Many editions of Matte are also available in Orbis and in Beinecke Collections.

EXPLORE more of Matt’s work while a student in the School of Art, on his website, in YUAG collections, and in Orbis

EXPLORE more of Matt’s Fire Island work, including the exhibit he mentioned in this video, Fire Island NightEspecially check out this photo, which spotlights some of the shards he discovered on the trash beach.  


Matt reflects on a research fellowship he carried out at the Beinecke in 2016 when he was a student in the School of Art. He was particularly interested in a collection of photographs by PaJaMa. PaJaMa was a queer collaborative trio composed of Paul Cadmus, Jared French, and Margaret French, that made photographs on Fire Island and Provincetown in the 1930s and 1940s. Some PaJaMa materials are also available in the Digital Library, like these drawings, and this folder of eighteen contact prints, labeled Fire Island, Sept. 194[?]. 

The Beinecke’s pottery collection is frequently spotlighted in the Thanksgiving Showcase (2017, 2018, 2019), a celebration of the manuscripts, printed material, objects, and ephemera related to eating and drinking. Highlights include: 

-       Pottery plates from the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas papers, 1837-1961

o   YCAL MSS 76, Box 164; Pottery plates.  2 plates Gertrude Stein had made for Carl Van Vechten at the local pottery near Bilignin where she lived. Each: 9 inches diameter. One inscribed “Rose is a rose is a rose is a” and “for Carlo” One inscribed “for Carlo” with branch and flower motif. 

-       The tyrants foe, the peoples friend.

o   Art Storage 939; 1 blue, transfer-printed earthenware plate decorated with the text of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and other statements of equality. An antislavery plate, possibly from Staffordshire, England, commemorating Elijah P. Lovejoy, an Alton, Illinois newspaper editor who was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837.

-       Diamond and heart-shaped plates from the Sara and Gerald Murphy papers

o   YCAL MSS 468, Box 84; Diamond and heart-shaped plates, made in Haiti. 

A wide variety of pottery and shards can be found in other Yale Collections, at the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Center for British Art, and Peabody Museum. 

- Gabrielle Colangelo, Y’21

Yale Collection of American Literature Student Research Assistant