Thu 04 Feb 2016 - 16.30

A Young Person Recommends... Saul Leiter: Retrospective


Saul Leiter was an American photographer and pioneer of colour street photography.  Born on the 3rd December 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Leiter was given his first camera age 12 by his mother and later left New York to become a painter. After meeting Richard Pousette-Dart who encouraged Leiter to pursue photography, Leiter began to take black and white photographs. It was in 1948 that Leiter began to experiment with colour, creatively pushing the boundaries in photography.

It is the current Saul Leiter exhibition at the Photographers Gallery that showcases Leiter’s highly influential work, from his stunning portraits to tonally abstract photographs and paintings. 

When I first entered the exhibition I was instantly hit by the vivid colour across the walls, a clear indication of Leiter’s work and metaphor for his career. It was an exciting prospect to be able to engage with the work first hand that I had only previously seen via computer screens and how I was able to share this experience with a range of different people.

When I first walked into the exhibition there were two choices to view his work as it is exhibited in an L shaped formation. If you follow the route to the left, you can experience first hand how his career developed, starting with his punchy black and white photographs taken with his 35 mm Leica. Turning the corner, you are unexpectedly struck by his talented and colourful artistry and it was a privilege to be able to view Leiter’s paintings first hand.

Following the room around I gained a deeper understanding of his career as it progressed from early coloured fashion photography to his photo documentary of New York City in later years.

The engaging composition and photo abstraction in Lieter’s photograph entitled ‘Taxi’ 1957, is an example of Leiter’s unique perspectives that have made him one of the great pioneers of 20th century photography. Leiter’s use of saturated colour instantly draws the viewer’s eye in to his image. The passionate red tones against the shadows create contrast and a sense of warmth to his images and have similar traits to his paintings with expressionist qualities. When we look at the photograph for the first time we are instantly drawn into the upper right of the image, the mysterious hand that appears from inside the taxi and this is further emphasised through the use of his engaging depth of field. The figure is anonymous, we cannot see their face, however we as viewers subconsciously ask ourselves questions about this figure, who they are and where they are going. It is this element to Leiter’s work that captures the viewer and draws them into the scene, placing us in this perspective, as we are one with the photograph.

I found the diversity of the exhibition enchanting and firmly believe that the exhibition showcases work by Saul Leiter for each individual to enjoy.  Although colour is an essential element to his photography, we are able to view Leiter’s punchy black and white images taken earlier in his career, contrasting his abstract paintings that are also featured in the collection. The exhibition places emphasis on how diverse Leiter was as both an artist and photographer over his career and is a fantastic opportunity for people of all ages to view a large collection of work by a highly influential photographer. This is an inspirational exhibition for those who are passionate about this field.

- Hollie Lockwood