United States of America 1923 – 2013
Creation Notes: printed c.1980
Materials & Technique: photographs, direct positive colour photograph
Saul Leiter is the son of a rabbi and distinguished Talmudic scholar. He began studies at Cleveland Theological College but left to pursue a career as a painter in New York. He worked with the Abstract Expressionist painter, Richard Pousette-Dart, whose experiments with photography encouraged Leiter to explore its potential. He began to take photographs on the streets of New York around 1947, most notable perhaps being his extensive body of 35mm colour work. His images are characterised by a stillness and unusual, often quite abstract, compositional choices. There is a strong influence of the Japanese print aesthetic in their unusual cropping and subdued palette. There are also echoes of other great photographers of the street, such as Atget, as well as the art photographers of the turn of the century.
Of Leiter's work curator Jane Livingston has written: 'What for other photographers seemed like a range of color that was unacceptably muted, or diluted, to Leiter suggested a palette fraught with possibility. Selecting small, half-hidden, scenes on the street – or desultory moments glimpsed in his private environment – Leiter has forged a body of images whose distinctively subtle aura qualifies them as a landmark contribution to the still photography of the era. They are lyrical without being sentimental and psychologically penetrating without being theatrical'.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra