Showing posts tagged photography

Be back soon

I get worried about you—both for the way you feel and for the way you are depressed. I am not depressed; I can’t believe you should be. The Place [the gallery called An American Place] and all that it is is a wonderful thing; you have made a tremendous and enduring contribution to life. Long after you are gone the impact of the Place and of you will continue to grow and expand all over the world.

I will be back soon, I hope. Things are moving fast for me now. Hope I can manage them.”

Ansel Adams, from a letter (April 15, 1945) to Alfred Stieglitz, in Ansel Adams: Letters 1916–1984

(Photograph: “In Glacier National Park” by Ansel Adams. Thank you, National Archives.)

Saul Leiter (1923–2013)
“I’m a person who likes to postpone things. I see no reason for being in a rush. When you consider many of the things that people treat very seriously, you realize that they don’t deserve to be treated that seriously. And many of the things that people worry about are not really worth worrying about. If I didn’t do anything more than my little book, wouldn’t that have been enough?”
— from In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter, directed by Tomas Leach
(Photograph by Birgit Kleber. Thank you, Ms. Kleber and Lens Culture.)

Saul Leiter (1923–2013)

“I’m a person who likes to postpone things. I see no reason for being in a rush. When you consider many of the things that people treat very seriously, you realize that they don’t deserve to be treated that seriously. And many of the things that people worry about are not really worth worrying about. If I didn’t do anything more than my little book, wouldn’t that have been enough?”

— from In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter, directed by Tomas Leach

(Photograph by Birgit Kleber. Thank you, Ms. Kleber and Lens Culture.)

Teju Cole on Saul Leiter: “Stillness, tenderness, and grace”

… the overriding emotion in [Leiter’s] 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.”

— from “Postscript: Saul Leiter (1923-2013)” by Teju Cole (The New Yorker)

Silhouettes, reflection, blur

“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.”

— from “Postscript: Saul Leiter (1923-2013)” by Teju Cole (The New Yorker)

(Photograph: Canopy, 1958, by Saul Leiter. Thank you, New Yorker.)

“I go out with my camera and I take pictures because I enjoy catching certain moments. Of course, I don’t know that I’m going to get what I’m going to get. It takes time.”

Saul Leiter, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter

Love comes and goes
Just how daring Leiter’s vision was can be measured in two early colour photographs. The first, made in 1950, is simply called T, and features the capital letter outlined boldly amid a wash of grey that is a steamed windowpane, through which is visible a pink shape that may just be the umbrella of a passing person. It could almost be an abstract painting. In a later photograph, Walk With Soames (1958), neon street lights and washes of colour stand out against a dark, looming building and the familiar outline of a traffic light against a light grey sky. A human figure is glimpsed in a blurred silhouette, but it is the shapes and colours that intrigue. Leiter was a singularly gifted photographer because he never stopped looking at life with a painter’s eye for composition and abstraction.
The Soames of that title was his longtime friend, muse and lover, Soames Bantry, a model turned painter. She died in 2002. “Love comes and goes,” he wrote in a short elegy to her. “Friendship is sometimes better, but not always … Our lives were intertwined … We stumbled through life together.” They lived in the same building on separate floors and both experienced financial hardship.
— from the “Saul Leiter obituary” by Sean O’Hagan (The Guardian)
(Photograph: Walk with Soames, 1958, by Saul Leiter. Thank you, Aric Attas and Howard Greenberg Gallery.)

Love comes and goes

Just how daring Leiter’s vision was can be measured in two early colour photographs. The first, made in 1950, is simply called T, and features the capital letter outlined boldly amid a wash of grey that is a steamed windowpane, through which is visible a pink shape that may just be the umbrella of a passing person. It could almost be an abstract painting. In a later photograph, Walk With Soames (1958), neon street lights and washes of colour stand out against a dark, looming building and the familiar outline of a traffic light against a light grey sky. A human figure is glimpsed in a blurred silhouette, but it is the shapes and colours that intrigue. Leiter was a singularly gifted photographer because he never stopped looking at life with a painter’s eye for composition and abstraction.

The Soames of that title was his longtime friend, muse and lover, Soames Bantry, a model turned painter. She died in 2002. “Love comes and goes,” he wrote in a short elegy to her. “Friendship is sometimes better, but not always … Our lives were intertwined … We stumbled through life together.” They lived in the same building on separate floors and both experienced financial hardship.

— from the “Saul Leiter obituary” by Sean O’Hagan (The Guardian)

(Photograph: Walk with Soames, 1958, by Saul Leiter. Thank you, Aric Attas and Howard Greenberg Gallery.)

“I like it when one is not certain what one sees. 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

“It’s too much … why do people want more, more, more? More shows, more books? I embrace my unimportance.”

Saul Leiter, from “Saul Leiter: Remembered” by Adam Harrison Levy (Design Observer)

(Image: Early Color, Photographs by Saul Leiter [Steidl / Howard Greenberg Gallery, Gottingen, 2011]. Cover photograph: Through Boards, 1957. Thank you, Photo-Eye.)

“There is something so poignant about Saul Leiter’s work that looking at it can feel like taking a dart to the heart. Drenched in luxuriant, saturated colors, the images instantly transport the viewer into the photographer’s shoes: peeping from beneath an awning to a snow-swept street, or through a befogged cafe window, weeping with condensation, to a man taking pause on a wintry sidewalk. Intimate and empathetic, Mr. Leiter’s photographs relay what all New Yorkers know about their roaring, daunting home: that life in the city is filled with stolen glimpses and fleeting, quietly personal and often gorgeous moments.”

Cara Buckley, “Beauty in the Everyday” (The New York Times)

The energy of his brushwork is palpable

The reasons for Leiter’s lack of recognition are complicated. It was partly due to his unwillingness to promote himself. Characteristically, he tells a story by way of explanation. While looking through a book recently, he came across a letter stuck between its pages. The letter, written in the mid 1950s, is from Betty Parsons, whose gallery famously helped launch the careers of many of the Abstract Expressionists, including Jackson Pollock. It’s an invitation to show work in her gallery. He never responded. Why? “I probably had to frame my paintings and I didn’t have the money.”

He admits to deeper reasons. Leiter is the son of an Orthodox Rabbi who was venerated for his Talmudic commentaries by a select group of scholars: “My father was a towering figure.” He had high expectations for his son. Leiter spent his early years in rigorous daily study both religious and secular; by the age of twelve he was reading Turgenev, Proust and Dostoevsky. But the religious side of his education did not hold. Instead, he was drawn to books about art, which he studied in the well-stocked Pittsburg University Library. He delighted in Peruvian tapestry, Tantric art and Japanese calligraphy. He devoured books about the western canon as well, fully absorbing Kandinsky’s explorations of abstraction as well as the work of Picasso, Matisse and Bonnard.

Inspired by his reading Leiter, with minimal encouragement or schooling, taught himself to paint. These early abstract works, dating from the mid to late 1940s, show a remarkably confident use of line, color and composition. The energy of his brushwork is palpable. When John Cage and Merce Cunningham saw a show of these early paintings when visiting the Outlines Gallery in Pittsburg in 1945, they bought one.

Leiter was still living with his parents at the time. His father did not approve. When a notice appeared in the local Jewish paper announcing a second art exhibition, his father actually wept with shame. Although he had been groomed since childhood to continue his family’s rabbinical tradition, he soon abandoned his theological studies. He boarded a bus at midnight and escaped to New York.

from “Saul Leiter: Remembered” by Adam Harrison Levy (Design Observer)

(Painting: Untitled, 1960, by Saul Leiter. Thank you, Knoedler & Company, Howard Greenberg Gallery, and Design Observer.)

“There are certain people who like to be in the swing of things, but I think I’ve been out of the loop a lot of the time. [… ] I’m not like those photographers who went up to the top of the mountain and hung over and took a picture that everyone said was impossible and then went home and printed it and sold 4,000 copies of it and then went on and on with one great achievement after another.

Max Kozloff said to me one day, ‘You’re not really a photographer. You do photography, but you do it for your own purposes—your purposes are not the same as others’. I’m not quite sure what he meant, but I like that. I like the way he put it.”

Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter: “Things come and go”

[Do you consider recognition as a somewhat random occurrence or do you think that true creativity will eventually be given the respect it deserves?]

The cream does not always rise to the surface. The history of art is a history of great things neglected and ignored and bad and mediocre things being admired. As someone once said “life is unfair.” In the 19th century someone was very lucky. He or she acquired a Vermeer for $12. There are always changes and revisions of the appreciation of art, artists, and photography and writers and on and on. The late art of Picasso is no good, but then a revision takes place and then it becomes very good as the art records indicate. Things come and go.

— from the interview by David Gibson (In-Public)

Avoiding the limelight
Saul Leiter was immensely talented, revered, and spent much of his life successfully avoiding the limelight. When he died last year, obituarists made much of his pioneer forays into colour, at a time when the practice was considered both vulgar and commercial. But Leiter was never interested in following the crowd. He was a painter before he became a photographer, and his only wish was to record the instances when colours and shapes moved into fleeting geometry. He didn’t give two hoots whether he did so with a brush, a roll of black and white or a roll of colour film.
This focus on colour, though richly deserved, has been at the expense of his black-and-white work, which demonstrates the same, awe-inducing, visual dexterity. A new two-volume survey seeks to redress the balance by showing the kinds of images he was making while his fellow shutterbugs were hot on the heels of a more incisive and inherently descriptive slice of life.
— caption for slideshow: “Saul Leiter: Early Black and White Photographs” (The Telegraph)
(Photograph: East Brooklyn, c. 1953, by Saul Leiter. Thank you, Howard Greenberg Gallery.)

Avoiding the limelight

Saul Leiter was immensely talented, revered, and spent much of his life successfully avoiding the limelight. When he died last year, obituarists made much of his pioneer forays into colour, at a time when the practice was considered both vulgar and commercial. But Leiter was never interested in following the crowd. He was a painter before he became a photographer, and his only wish was to record the instances when colours and shapes moved into fleeting geometry. He didn’t give two hoots whether he did so with a brush, a roll of black and white or a roll of colour film.

This focus on colour, though richly deserved, has been at the expense of his black-and-white work, which demonstrates the same, awe-inducing, visual dexterity. A new two-volume survey seeks to redress the balance by showing the kinds of images he was making while his fellow shutterbugs were hot on the heels of a more incisive and inherently descriptive slice of life.

— caption for slideshow: “Saul Leiter: Early Black and White Photographs” (The Telegraph)

(Photograph: East Brooklyn, c. 1953, by Saul Leiter. Thank you, Howard Greenberg Gallery.)

“I have a deep-seated distrust and even contempt for people who are driven by ambition to conquer the world … those who cannot control themselves and produce vast amounts of crap that no one cares about. I find it unattractive. I like the Zen artists: they’d do some work, and then they’d stop for a while.”

Saul Leiter

“A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person.”

Saul Leiter