was an American photographer and painter whose early work in the 1940s and 1950s was an important contribution to what came to be recognized as the New York school of photography.
Saul Leiter was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a well-known Talmud scholar and Saul studied to become a rabbi. His mother gave him his first camera at age 12. At age 23, he left theology school and moved to New York City to become an artist. He had developed an early interest in painting and was fortunate to meet the Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart
Pousette-Dart and W. Eugene Smith
encouraged Leiter to pursue photography and he was soon taking black and white pictures with a 35 mm Leica, which he acquired for a few Eugene Smith prints. In 1948, he started taking color photographs. He began associating with other contemporary photographers such as Robert Frank
and Diane Arbus
and helped form what Jane Livingston
has termed the New York School of photographers during the 1940s and 1950s.
Leiter worked as a fashion photographer for the next 20 years and was published in Show
, British Vogue
, and Nova
. In the late 1950s the art director Henry Wolf
published Leiter’s color fashion work in Esquire
and later in Harper's Bazaar
included Leiter’s black and white photographs in the exhibition Always the Young Stranger
at the Museum of Modern Art
in 1953. Leiter’s work is featured prominently in Jane Livingston’s book The New York School (1992) and in Martin Harrison’s Appearances: Fashion Photography since 1945
(1991). In 2008, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
in Paris mounted Leiter's first museum exhibition in Europe with an accompanying catalog.
Leiter is the subject of a 2012 feature-length documentary In No Great Hurry - 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter
, directed and produced by Tomas Leach
. Leiter is a featured subject, among others, in the documentary film Tracing Outlines
(2015) by 2nd State Productions.
, editor and author of Early Color
(2006), 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."
Leiter died on 26 November 2013 in New York City.
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
Leiter’s first exhibition of color photography was held in the 1950s at the Artist's Club, a meeting place for many of the Abstract Expressionist painters of that time. Edward Steichen
included twenty-three of Leiter's black and white photographs in the seminal 1953 exhibition Always the Young Stranger
at the Museum of Modern Art
; he also included twenty of Leiter’s color images in the 1957 MoMA conference Experimental Photography in Color
. In the late 1950s, the art director Henry Wolf
published Leiter's color fashion work in Esquire and later in Harper's Bazaar. However, over the next four decades, Leiter’s noncommercial work remained virtually unknown to the wider art world. He continued to work as a fashion photographer through the 1970s, contributing to such publications as in Show, Elle, British Vogue, Queen, and Nova.
Leiter is now held to be a pioneer of early color photography, and is noted as one of the outstanding figures in post-war photography. After several exhibitions at Howard Greenberg Gallery throughout the 1990s, Leiter’s work experienced a surge of popularity after a monograph, Early Color
, was published by Steidl in 2006. Early Color was followed by a series of monographs and international exhibitions highlighting the depth and scope of his work in photography and painting, beginning with In Living Color
(2006), his first major retrospective at the Milwaukee Museum of Art
. Leiter was the subject of several solo shows thereafter, including the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
, Paris; the Jewish Historical Museum
, Amsterdam; Musée de l’Elysée
, Lausanne; and Diechtorhallen
Source: Howard Greenberg Gallery
Some photographers think that by taking pictures of human misery, they are addressing a serious problem. I do not think that misery is more profound than happiness.
-- Saul Leiter