It’s always sad to hear news about how photography is becoming more about quantity of shots rather than the essence of the images themselves. The passing of a photographer who contributed much to the art but has gotten less recognition than what was due is a glaring manifestation of this painful realization.
Such was the story of fashion photographer Saul Leiter. Leiter was not a popular photographer,—-not to the public sphere, that is. Most people who knew Saul Leiter were fellow photographers; the rustle and bustle of the booming fashion industry stood witness to his style and photographic work. But underneath the perceived glamour of his fashion snaps laid Leiter’s true forte – his photographs of New York’s streets and population.
Saul Leiter died just last November 26, 2013. The veteran photographer chased after photographs like it was what he ultimately needed to do. New York provided the venue and the elements for his pictures; he provided the vision and dedication to make something out of it.
Looking at Leiter’s street photographs may first feel like they’re just fleeting moments randomly caught on film. They might have been, but that’s not where Leiter’s vision comes in. It’s in his approach and framing, his delicate selection of angles and the choice of color. If the other known photographers like Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus chose to shoot in the rich and mysterious tones of black and white, Leiter opted to paint a discreet and meandering New York in a palette of colors.
His peek-a-boo style photographs of people going about their daily lives were composed as if they were paintings on canvas. The way his subjects moved were unpredictable but all the while Leiter made it look like they intended to do just that in his prints. One of his more significant styles is shooting through a glass window that covers up or frames the subject. The subtle juxtaposition of colors and light (or even the lack of it) contributed greatly to the artistic impact of the photo. Leiter covers so much only to just reveal more about his subjects.
Leiter was a photographer through and through. There was nothing more that he liked to do but take pictures. His work and life revolved around it, the work he left us says nothing less.
You can read more articles about Leiter from people who personally knew him here or from an interview here. There is also a documentary about his life and work titled In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter by Tomas Leach.