Saul Leiter is one of the pioneers in colour photography. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 3rd December 1923, Saul Leiter was an American photographer and painter.
He is well known for his street photography mostly of New York City and Paris. Leiters’ work often captures strong colours of Abstract Expressionism offered by the city. His photographs generally have shallow depth of field and his subjects are framed very strategically. These subjects are never shown in a direct or clean way but through reflections in mirrors and glass, in shadows and silhouettes. Giving only a glimpse into the daily lives of people, peeking between two buses intersecting, taxi standing still waiting for its passenger to come by, photographs clouded by rain, snow, fog, doors. Saul Leiters’ photographs disclose a story whilst keeping the mystery alive. His subjects, they become one as with the surroundings much like a painting, as if that is exactly how it has to be but our naked eyes refused to see, except for his. His work is like a surreal painting where you see but don’t see it all and it plays with perception. As to if the taxi standing still is waiting for the man in straw hat to cross the road to be seated in its passenger seat or maybe not. And if the taxi is waiting for the red light to turn green or is there just an unexpected traffic.
Saul Leiter was a remarkable citygazer with remarkable control over his talents. he shot limited subjects in limited geographical area with majority of his works being shot in short distance of just a few blocks. Windows and mirrors, solitary bystanders and umbrella among white snow, blinking lights and shadows falling, all are reoccurring subjects in his compositions. Leiter once told in an exhibition press conference held in Paris that he often purchased inexpensive colour film that was past its expiration date thus the unusual colour hues his photos have. Leiter said he brought them because he liked to be surprised as to how the colours would come out to be different every time. Purple umbrella shot in Paris in the year 1950s shows his ability to compose the world into a surreal painting. Shallow depth of field makes the red car and the bus in the background look like blobs of colour and along with bokeh light they flawlessly compliment the colour of the umbrella, there’s not much in the picture yet there’s so much that all words put together can’t proclaim. Woman waiting, another one of the beautiful works by leiter was shot in Paris in 1959. Here the subject ie the woman, like how Leiter pleases to show, is shown through the window sill. Leiter is known for his off cantered compositions but here the woman is placed in the centre of the frame with its foreground blurred. Leiter was a strategic genius when it came to composing which is clearly evident in this work of his.
Leiter would show his subjects through glass, haze, ways we come across daily but never acknowledge. His work brings back memories, feels nostalgic and maybe that’s what made his work renowned, because he found beauty in its simplest form while on his walk few blocks away from his house just strolling through streets and never failed to capture it. Leiter was using colour as far back as in 1948 that is three decades before eggleston’s fabled show at MoMA, which is referred to as the pioneering attempt to use colour as a serious practice within the medium. Leiter shot the streets of New York City and Paris for his pleasure then his work came out during the 90’s and later was published as a book in 2006, which then forced a revaluation of the history of colour photography. Saul Leiter was a genius with perfect vision in his mind. For New York’s streets changed with time and Leiter’s vision became its only constant.