utorak, 3. prosinca 2013.

Saul Leiter (1923-2013) photographer and painter

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- everyday-i-show.livejournal.com/96667.html#
The first commercially available color photographic process, Autochrome, was introduced in the United States in 1907. Alfred Stieglitz and George Seeley soon began experimenting with it, but it was not until the nineteen-fifties that color photography began to come into its own as an artistic medium, in the work of Ernst Haas, Helen Levitt, and others. This was the generation of the photographer Saul Leiter, the Pittsburgh-born son of a Talmudic scholar, who photographed the streets of New York City for six decades and died this week at the age of eighty-nine.
Leiter was perhaps the most interesting of the fifties color photographers in his use of form. His bold chromaticism, off-center composition, and frequent use of vertical framing attracted attention—the work reminded people of Japanese painting and Abstract Expressionism—and he was included in “Always the Young Strangers,” an exhibition curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in 1953. But Leiter didn’t court fame, and though he continued to work, his photographs almost vanished from public view. Then they came back to light in 2006, with “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” a monograph published by Steidl. The book brought him belated recognition, gallery representation, a stream of publications, and a new generation of fans.
Color is in the mainstream of photographic practice now. It is essential to the inspired street work of Gueorgui Pinkhassov and Joel Meyerowitz, the large-format portraits of Rineke Dijkstra, the architectural views of Candida Höfer, the personal journalism of Nan Goldin, and the stately landscapes of Andreas Gursky. But for a long time, it was considered superficial and suspect. Henri Cartier-Bresson was firmly against it on the grounds that it interfered with formal priorities. John Szarkowski, the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, dismissed most color photography before he began championing William Eggleston’s in the nineteen-seventies. This was the milieu—which, if not hostile, was not exactly encouraging—out of which Saul Leiter created a series of breathtaking, almost miraculous, photographs. He shot Kodachrome slides, and many of them were not printed until decades after they were exposed.
One of the most effective gestures in Leiter’s work is to have great fields of undifferentiated dark or light, an overhanging canopy, say, or a snow drift, interrupted by gashes of color. He returned again and again to a small constellation of subjects: mirrors and glass, shadows and silhouettes, reflection, blur, fog, rain, snow, doors, buses, cars, fedoras. He was a virtuoso of shallow depth of field: certain sections of some of the photographs look as if they have been applied with a quick brush. It will come as no surprise to a viewer of his work that Leiter was also a painter, that his heroes were Degas, Vuillard, and Bonnard, and that he knew the work of Rothko and de Kooning well. There are points of contact between his work and that of photographers like Louis Faurer and Robert Frank, the so-called New York School; but Leiter was an original. He loved beauty. To make a living, he photographed fashion spreads for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and the levity of his commercial work seeped into his personal work.
But the overriding emotion in his work is a stillness, tenderness, and grace that is at odds with the mad rush of New York street life. “In No Great Hurry,” the understated film made about Leiter last year by the filmmaker Tomas Leach, contains an exchange that gets to the core of Leiter’s practice. Late in the film, Leiter said, “There are the things that are out in the open and then there are the things that are hidden, and life has more to do, the real world has more to do with what is hidden, maybe. You think?” I loved this confirmation of Leiter’s loyalty to concealed realities, but loved even more his doubt, his interrogation of the hard-won insight. Leach, the filmmaker, replied off-camera, “That could be true.” Leiter then asked him, “You think it’s true?” “It could be,” Leach said. “It could be very true,” Leiter said, still not committing fully. “We like to pretend that what is public is what the real world is all about.”
Leiter’s best photographs lack all pretense, and are full of a productive doubt. When I heard the news of Leiter’s death, I asked Leach what the experience of working on the film—over a period of three years—had been like. “He was funny, intelligent, and insightful,” Leach wrote to me. “He was full of curiosity and mischief.” The Magnum photographer Alex Webb, who is celebrated for the sophistication of his color work, said Leiter had “an uncanny ability to pull complex situations out of everyday life, images that echo the abstraction of painting and yet, simultaneously, clearly depict the world.”
Undoubtedly, the charm of some of Leiter’s pictures lies in the fact that they depict fifties places, fifties cars, and fifties people (we rarely dress so well today), and that the analog reds and greens are more moving, somehow, than what our own digital cameras or streetscapes can offer up. But pictures such as “Through Boards” (1957), “Canopy” (1958), and “Walking With Soames” (1958) would be winners in any era. They are high points of lyric photography which, once seen, become—like all the best pictures and poems and paintings—a permanent part of our lives.
I asked the photographer Rebecca Norris Webb, whose own work is similarly concentrated and subtle, about Leiter. She praised his quietness, singling out the images taken through a window or some sort of glass: “some a delightful puzzle of reflections, and others softly aglow in the muted light of a storm, one of the few natural forces capable of slowing us New Yorkers down long enough to send us into a kind of reverie.”
The content of Saul Leiter’s photographs arrives on a sort of delay: it takes a moment after the first glance to know what the picture is about. You don’t so much see the image as let it dissolve into your consciousness, like a tablet in a glass of water. One of the difficulties of photography is that it is much better at being explicit than at being reticent. Precisely how the hypnotic and dreamlike feeling is achieved in Leiter’s work is a mystery, even to their creator. As he said in “In No Great Hurry,” laughing, “If I’d only known which ones would be very good and liked, I wouldn’t have had to do all the thousands of others.”
- Teju Cole




»Leiter is a rare artist, one whose vision is so encompassing, so refined, so in touch with a certain lyrical undertone, that his best photographs occasionally seem literally to transcend the medium.«
Jane Livingston

House of Photography at Deichtorhallen will from February 3 to April 15, 2012 be highlighting the oeuvre of 88-year-old photographer and painter Saul Leiter in the world’s first major retrospective. The exhibition covers more than 400 works and brings together in marvelous combination his early black-and-white and color photographs, fashion images, painted- over nude photographs, paintings and his sketchbooks, which have never gone on public view before. Then final chapter in the exhibition is dedicated to Saul Leiter’s most recent photographic works, which he continues to take on the streets in his neighborhood in New York’s East Village.
Saul Leiter was born in 1923 in Pittsburgh and it was not until a few years ago that his work received due recognition for its pioneering role in the emergence of color photography. As early as 1946, and thus well before the representatives of »New Color Photography« in the 1970s (such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore) he was one of the first to use color photography, despite it being despised by artists of the day, for his free artistic shots. »The older photo-aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white and the dating in photo history of the artistic use of color photography to the early 1970s need to be critically revisited. With Saul Leiter’s oeuvre, the history of photography essentially has to be rewritten,« comments curator Ingo Taubhorn.
Saul Leiter has always seen himself as both painter and photograph. In his painting and in his photographs he tends clearly to abstraction and a surface feel. Often there are large, deep black surfaces caused by shadows that take up as much as three quarters of the photographs. These are images that do not present passers-by as individuals, but as blurred color impulses, behind panes of glass or wedges between house walls and traffic signs. He espouses a fluid transition between the abstract and the figurative in his paintings and photographs. Saul Leiter’s street photography, and in this genre his work is quite without precedent, is actually painting that has become photography, as Rolf Nobel writes in the book accompanying the exhibition.


Saul Leiter discovered his passion for art at an early date and started painting as a teenager at the end of the 1940s. His family did not support him in his artistic endeavors as his father, a renowned Talmudic rabbi and scholar, always hoped his son Saul would one day follow him in the family tradition and become a rabbi. Leiter was self-taught, but by no means uneducated. He read and learned a lot about art, such that his knowledge and understanding constantly grew. In this way, he could be certain that his own thought and artistic efforts were duly related to the historical context, as Carrie Springer, curator at the Whitney Museum in New York, points out in the catalog.
In 1946, shortly after he had moved to New York, Leiter got to know Richard Poussette-Dart, who introduced him to photography, a medium that Leiter found very much to his liking and which he quickly made his own. Leiter soon resolved to make use of photography not only as a means of making art but as a way of earning a living. He started taking fashion photographs and thanks to his good eye, his playful sense of humor, and his pronounced sense of elegance, swiftly emerged as an extraordinary fashion photographer.
In the 1950s, LIFE magazine brought out the first photospreads of Saul Leiter’s first black-and-white images. For example, he took part in the exhibition on »Always the young strangers« (1953) curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art. From 1958 to 1967, Leiter worked for Harper’s Bazaar. All in all he was to spend some 20 years photographing for both the classic magazines and more recent ones, such as Esquire and Harper’s: Show, Elle, British Vogue, Queen and Nova.
Saul Leiter was born in 1923 in Pittsburgh and has lived since 1946 in New York. For over 40 years, until her death in 2002New York artist Soames Bantry was his partner. During the preparations for the Hamburg exhibition, Saul Leiter once remarked that he wished that Soames Bantry has received the same attention from the art world as he is now receiving. This spawned the idea of an homage to Soames Bantry, an exhibition in the exhibition at House of Photography that Saul Leiter has himself curated – with over 20 paintings: For Soames with Love Saul.
In his photographs, the genres of street life, portraiture, still lifes, fashion and architectural photography meld. He comes across his themes, such as shop windows, passers-by, cars, signs and (a recurrent motif) umbrellas, in the direct vicinity of his apartment in New York, where he has now lived for almost 60 years. The lack of clear detail, the blurring of movement and the reduction in depth of field, the compensation for or deliberate avoidance of the necessary light as well as the alienation caused by photographing through windows and by reflections all blend to create a language of color fueled by a semi-real, semi-abstract urban space. These are the works of an as good as undiscovered modern master of color photography of the 1940s and 1950s.
»I always assumed that I would simply be forgotten and disappear from view,« says Saul Leiter. The Hamburg exhibition and the major monograph by Kehrer Verlag seek to prevent this happening.

No Project, Only Pictures
Brian Dillon

Phone Call (1957).
 ‘I always assumed I would simply be forgotten and disappear from view,’ Saul Leiter said late in life, at a time when the colour photographs he had taken half a century earlier were hardly ever off the pages of magazines, and countless online slideshows celebrated his ‘lost’ views of mid-century New York. Leiter, who died on 26 November (a week short of his 90th birthday), spent his last decade genially playing up to his new status as rediscovered colour pioneer. The mythology was forgivable but a little misleading: in his thirties, Leiter was taken up by Edward Steichen, who showed his black-and-white work at MoMA in 1953, and until the early 1980s he was a fashion photographer for magazines like Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar. Leiter’s early colour work, however, had vanished to all but connoisseurs, and when these pictures reappeared – spectral and smeary, with most of their action going on at the edges – they seemed to say something about the near-invisibility of their maker. One of his best photographs is a multi-planed view inside a train carriage on the El; a single foot is propped on an empty wicker seat.

Foot on El
Leiter has been retrospectively associated with the New York School. He wasn’t included earlier in part because, unlike Robert Frank and William Klein, or later his friend Diane Arbus, he had no legendary book to bruit his style or his project. (According to Leiter, the problem was that there had not been a project, only pictures.) You can half imagine how such a book might have looked, and fitted the times: monochrome shots of children in Halloween masks, tired bus passengers and incongruous nuns recall the work of Frank, Klein and Cartier-Bresson. But already, in the late 1940s, Leiter had begun to shunt his human subjects to the corners, or smother them in black. He specialised in over-the-shoulder glimpses: a young boy in a yarmulke, dwarfed by the backs of two adults, or a woman at a party reduced to the polka dots of her dress, shining in the dark. His obscuring tendencies continued in the colour work. Leiter used cheap film that gave his images a muted quality, and the slowness of the stock made it harder to capture the momentary dramas of the street that Klein or Cartier-Bresson could freeze in fast black and white. Technical constraints cannot, however, quite explain what Leiter did with colour and composition. Time and again in the 1950s he depicts New York under snow, with just a red umbrella or a pair of temporary stop lights to punctuate the dirty white. He used the whitewashed windows of defunct stores to silhouette the odd scurrying figure, little more than a smudge of overcoat, shopping bags or another umbrella – always umbrellas. He was a connoisseur of the effects of condensation.
Red Umbrella

 At times, Leiter’s taste for glass and mirrors can make for the most flummoxing compositions; there are at least two taxis in Taxi (1956), framed by a liquor-store window, but such is the complex stagger of surfaces that it’s impossible to say just where – street or store – the bald guy with a fat cigar in the middle of the photograph is actually standing. Leiter moved to New York from Pittsburgh in 1946, fleeing his father (a stern rabbi), set on becoming a painter. His tastes in painting leaned more towards Bonnard and Vuillard, but he seems to have learned something from the monumentality of Abstract Expressionism. In Straw Hat (1955), an oddly antique character daintily crosses the street; but he’s really no more than an orienting point for a study of blue boards above and asphalt below.
Man with Straw Hat
Through Boards (1957) is like one of Rothko’s Black on Maroon paintings bisected by a white car and window shoppers.
Through Boards
At his most extreme, Leiter fills the upper four-fifths of a photograph with a black canopy, below which twenty tiny New Yorkers are trudging through the snow, and a single red tail-light provides the only colour. Through slitted eyes, the city swells to the span of Cinemascope.  -www.lrb.co.uk/

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