In a break from my own black and white photography, I am looking forward to seeing a retrospective exhibition of the work by Saul Leiter (1923 to 2013) at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. It starts this coming Friday, January 22nd, and runs until April 3rd, so there is plenty of time to plan a visit.
Nowadays everyone likes to think they are a street photographer, as everyone takes photographs on the street, so by definition they are a street photographer. That might be true to an extent, but simply taking photographs on the street doesn’t mean they make great photographs. Far from it in fact.
Saul Leiter was a marvellous photographer but widespread fame really only emerged in the 1980’s. Born in Pittsburgh in 1923 he moved to New York to be an artist, but in the 1940’s he started taking black and white photographs of his surroundings. For me and for many others he has left a legacy of some wonderful work. Although my passion is for mono, I particularly enjoy his colour photographs. Some of his most famous photos were shot in the 1950’s and 60’s. Rarely can the faces be seen, much is left to the viewers imagination, but the compositions and the use of shapes and colours are superb. There is both a painterly and almost semi abstract quality to his work.
I rather like this quote by the photographer himself.
“When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion.” Saul Leiter
In the year before Saul Leiter passed away, Tomas Leach made a film documentary called – ‘In No Great Hurry’ – 13 lessons in life with Saul Leiter. It was filmed as Saul Leiter drank coffee and tried to sort through a lifetime of photographs piled high in his New York Apartment. For those who are interested there is a short trailer below. I have yet to watch the film but I will definitely do so before visiting the exhibition.
I’m no street photographer, nor do I take many colour photographs, but if like me you can appreciate and be inspired by the work of a great photographer or artist, then I would suggest you try and find the time to visit The Photographers’ Gallery. Saul Leiter was in no great hurry, but I for one can’t wait to visit this exhibition.