Imitate: A New Colourful World

By Catarina Wilk

A fashionable woman is looking out of a window. You can see her vaguely smiling. You move on.
By looking through a steamy window you can see a man standing on a snowy pedestrian way. 
He is looking at something. What is it? You try to figure it out, but you cannot make out what he holds in his hands…

When looking at Saul Leiter’s photographs, you become a close observer of those passing moments in daily life. By inspecting his work, you feel as if you almost become part of his photographs. To be precise, reality and art work seem to melt together due to Leiter’s outstanding attention to details, the interaction of light and shadows as well as the way he plays with distinctness and clarity by consciously putting objects in focus and out-of-focus in his photographs.

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Carol Brown, Harper’s Bazaar (ca. 1958). © Saul Leiter. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

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Snow, 1960. © Saul Leiter. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

With a background in art history readings and paintings, Saul Leiter is seen as an early pioneer of the so-called New American Colour Photography that flourished in the 1970s.
Speaking of this, two names that all of us instantly connect with colour photography are definitely William Eggleston and Stephen Shore who both played a major role regarding colour photography’s development in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, back in 1946, when black-and-white photography was the main leading trend, Leiter already made use of colour photography for his artistic work although it was highly despised at that time. Apparently, that did not stop Saul Leiter’s creativity.
To finally pay tribute to Leiter’s impressive career and beautiful photographs, the Photographers’ Gallery presents Saul Leiter: Retrospective, an exhibition examining the work of the pioneering American photographer Saul Leiter. “It features more than 100 works, including early black- and-white and colour photographs, sketchbooks and ephemera and is Leiter’s first major show in a public gallery in the UK.“

In his photographs itself, Leiter depicts and imitates street life, still life, portraiture and architecture.
“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)

One thing is certain, after visiting Saul Leiter: Retrospective, you will see the world with different eyes. More colourful…

The exhibition runs from 22 January 2016 to 3 April 2016 at the Photographers’ Gallery in London.