Me and Saul Leiter

I had never come across the late American photographer Saul Leiter until recently, just ahead of the current retrospective of his work at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. It’s unusual for me – I consider myself quite literate when it comes to artists and photographers and have separate degrees in both history of art and photography. Yet he was not part of the canon, nor did he come up in my independent reading.  Indeed the exhibition hand-out says “despite his prolific career, Saul Leiter (1923-2013) did not receive due recognition for his pioneering role in the emergence of colour photography until later in his life”.  Last year a link on a friend’s Facebook page alerted me to his work and I felt an immediate connection and sense of identification with his images.

So it was exciting and a bit bizarre to find that although consciously I was unaware of his work I have found myself photographing very similar things with what I believe is a similar eye – sometimes uncannily so – to this Rabbi’s son in 1950s New York City!

Here are a few of my images taken In New York in the last couple of years that have unconsciously emulated  Saul Leiter’s work.

Saul Leiter often used the motif of condensation as a way of lending his work atmosphere, ambiguity and painterly layering. Here’s one of mine, looking into the window at Hummingbird Cafe. You can just make out the figure of the waitress on the left, The lace curtain on the right also contributes to the texture and layering of the image.


At the Photographers’ Gallery one of the first images in the exhibition is of a green traffic light peeping out through an otherwise monochrome blur of snow. The coincidence freaked me out a bit – mine is through steam and fog – but maybe if I search for art house images of New York green traffic lights on google and flickr  I will find thousands of other versions from like-minded photographers …



Reflection and shadows are other elements predominant in his work. The obscured figure in the image below is viewed through glass which is also layered with snow and ice:


Saul Leiter was a street photographer in the sense that he captured what was around him; the mise-en-scene of his images include use of found text and advertising along with fragments of people passing by.  Here’s another one I took last year that combines these elements:

masculinity nyc

He also has images where script and windows combine, for example writing on steamy or dirty windows. In my image below I’ve combined an abstract form with an obscured architectural view, graffiti and emoticon for a contemporary  New York cityscape.


Finally here’s an image I took near Centre Point a few years ago that has painterly humans canopied by their umbrellas in Leiter fashion!


The Saul Leiter retrospective is on at The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramilles Street, until 3 April 2016

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.