December 26, 2009
Some of Saul Leiter's early colour work can be seen at Gallery F 5.6. I 'm surprised because I thought that William Eggleston broke the ground in terms of colour art photography. Well, that is what the art historians say.
Leiter's work is a decade pre-Eggleston and was produced at a time when colour photography inhabited the realm of magazine and advertising, and was seen as low art, vulgar or kitsch understood in Clement Greenberg's terms and photography was viewed in terms of documentation and transcription.
Saul Leiter, Untitled, New York, circa 960
Leiter's visual language is one of fragmentation, ambiguity, and contingency coupled to subtle, painterly images ithat transpose the formal pictorial language of Abstract Expressionism to the photograph and its inherent qualities such as its realism.
Saul Leiter, Phone call, 1957, Chromogenic print.
The street-scenes are half-hidden, veiled, fragmented; incorporating muted tones and simple forms whilst the surfaces are obscured with shadows and reflections creating multiple layers. Martin Harrison, editor and author of Saul Leiter Early Color, writes:
Leiter’s sensibility…placed him outside the visceral confrontations with urban anxiety associated with photographers such as Robert Frank or William Klein. Instead, for him the camera provided an alternate way of seeing, of framing events and interpreting reality. He sought out moments of quiet humanity in the Manhattan maelstrom, forging a unique urban pastoral from the most unlikely of circumstances.
Saul Leiter uses the camera as an expressionist brush. To that end he's using the very new, and very unpredictable, color film medium to 'paint' vignettes of the New York that he saw.