“I don’t have a philosophy. I have a camera.” – Saul Leiter
I admire artists who pursue their passions with singular purpose. For sixty years, the American photographer, Saul Leiter quietly took color photographs of street life in his Manhattan neighborhood. These were not glitzy images; they were of people on the bus, in the subway, or waiting at traffic lights, braving rain and snow, or daydreaming in a stalled vehicle. But Leiter knew how to make the mundane beautiful. In dreamy images evocative of abstract paintings (Leiter was also a painter), he took pictures of mid-century New York street life that captured the impression of a place—people, rain, snow, fog, concrete, and lamplight—daubed, like brushstrokes, shadows against blurred orange lights, dark silhouettes just identifiable against the blue and red of passing cars. His was an art devoted to relentless attention to fleeting moments. “Seeing is a neglected enterprise,” Leiter once said.
For much of his life, the world ignored his achievements. By the time he was “discovered” in 2006 with the publication of a book, Early Colour, he was 82. Not that he craved for attention. In Tomas Leach’s thoughtful documentary, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons with Saul Leiter, he emerges as a reluctant object of attention. “What makes them think I’m any good?” he asks. By then, the photography world suddenly took notice of Leiter, praising him as the quiet genius who was ahead of his time. From then on, exhibitions after exhibitions of his works were presented in hallowed galleries, where visitors gazed at his photos in hushed tones. Such is the way of the world. For Leiter, though, simply looking at the world was enough.
Selected Works of Saul Leiter
Upon his death in 2013, Saul Leiter left behind a collection of more than 40,000 colour slides, only a fraction of which had seen the light of day. A new book showcases the images from that extraordinary photographic treasure trove. It has been meticulously curated by Margit Erb and Michael Parillo of the Saul Leiter Foundation, with the images saved in different ‘source boxes’ by Leiter while he was alive. The Unseen Saul Leiter is co-published by Thames and Hudson and DAP.