Door 18: Saul Leiter

Selfportrait, 1952

Advent normally is one of the busiest times of the year, where everyone is stressed. This year already taught us a great deal about slowing down, but an even bigger lesson can be learned from the American photographer Saul Leiter.

Don't Walk, 1952

He was born in 1923 in Pittsburgh into an orthodox Jewish family. At the age of 12 his mother gave him his first camera. Following his father's footsteps he set out to become a Rabbi and studied theology in Cleveland. During this time his talent as an artist showed and exhibited locally, so his will to become an artist grew and he left the seminar at the age of 23 and moved to New York.

Taxi, 1957. Photography: Saul Leiter Foundation

There he met the Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart, who together with the photographer W. Eugene Smith encouraged Leiter to pursue photography. From the beginning he was part of loose group of photographers later known as the New York School of Photography.

Snow, 1960

He was a respected photographer his time working for magazines like Show, Elle, British Vogue, Queen or Nova. As black and white photography was mainly in demand, he was also in the exhibition Always the Young Stranger at the Museum of Modern Art in 1953. Despite his initial reputation, he preferred to be under the radar, photographing around his block, where he lived for nearly 60 years. It was only in the last ten years of his life that his work got appreciated.

What made him stand out is, that he started taking color photography already in 1946 way before the New Color Photography of the 1970s, like William Eggleston or Stephen Shore, made color photography respectable. His use of out-of-date Kodachrome film gave his photos that characteristic faded tones. As he approached photography like paining his eye for composition and abstraction is undeniable, often with recurring themes and motifs like reflections, doors, windows, rain, snow or umbrellas.