Regarding his appreciation of art, Saul Leiter (1923-2013) once remarked that “the cream does not always rise to the surface. The history of art is a history of great things neglected and ignored.” Three decades after withdrawing from the public eye, these words are once more being proven true as photography enthusiasts are rediscovering the brilliance of Leiter’s own pioneering works. After recent retrospective exhibitions and documentary releases such as In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter (2014), Thames & Hudson now release All About Saul Leiter, a collection exploring the artist’s entire spectrum of compositions from fashion photography to urban documentation.
Leiter has been described as a pioneer for a rare approach to colour in the 1940s, a period that valued monochrome photography for its deemed honesty and simplicity. “I liked colour even though many photographers looked down on colour or felt it was superficial or shallow”, Leiter explains, who had moved to New York from Pittsburgh at the age of 22 with aspirations of becoming a painter. As well as Leiter’s early images such as these, the publication showcases over 200 works, including covers for fashion magazines, pieces for advertising, nudes and paintings. Featured throughout the pages are a number of quotations, providing a unique insight into the mind of the artist and the accompanying pictures.
The final section of the book contains a number of short essays by founder and director of the Saul Leiter Foundation Margrit Erb; Pauline Vermare, Associate Curator at the International Center of Photography; and Motoyuki Shibita, Scholar and Translator of American literature. The texts outline Leiter’s various influences, particularly his investment with Japanese painters and composition styles, as well as tracing other art forms which may have influenced the “Leiter style”, including American poetry.
Largely overlooked by his contemporaries, Leiter somewhat longed for obscurity. His pieces turn away from monumental landmarks, critical historical moments or individuals, and instead choose to focus on revealing the beauty in the everyday. “He lived in accordance with major Zen principles”, notes Vermare, “not attaching any great significance to himself or even his art, and having no defined purpose or intent in life except for being present to the world and always highly aware of its fleeting beauty.”
All About Saul Leiter is published 12 July by Thames & Hudson. Find out more:
1.Saul Leiter Paris, 1959 © Saul Leiter Courtesy: Saul Leiter, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York. Aus der Ausstellung SAUL LEITER – RETROSPEKTIVE im Haus der Photographie in den Deichtorhallen, 3.2.2012 – 15.4.2012.
2. Saul Leiter, Taxi, ca. 1957. © Saul Leiter. Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.