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Saul Leiter: colour photography « Previous | |Next »
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.

LeiterSUntitledNY.jpg 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.

LeiterS phonecall.jpg 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.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:51 PM | | Comments (4)


Thank you for that entry, and the wonderful video on altfotonet. Leiter is one of my favourite american photographers, along with Roy DeCarava. His photos seem to be made up of equal parts melancholy and happiness, like he is mourning for a passing moment of beauty... a real poet with the camera.

I didn't even know him or his work until I stumbled across him this morning. A real eye opener. I thought that it was only Aaron Siskind who was an abstract expressionist photographer.

Gary, I have been a fan of Leiter for years, although finding lots of work in one place is difficult. The youtube video was wonderful, thank you so much.

I wish I'd known about Leiter's work earlier --it would have solved a lot of problems I've been having re the dialectic of realism, form and colour.

This guy is really about form as colour--a photo as colour shapes of form. That's pretty dam sophisticated.