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MASTERS OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY – Saul Leiter

Written and researched by Carlo Traina

Saul Leiter(Pittsburg 3.12.1923 – 26.11.2013)

“Sam Leiter had, an uncanny ability to pull complex situations out of everydaylife,  images  that  echo  the  abstraction  of  painting  and  yet,  simultaneously,clearly depict the world.”

(Magnum Photographer Alex Webb)

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Although introduced in the US since 1907, color photography has begun to takeshape as an artistic expression only in the fifties, with photographers such asErnst Haas, Helen Levitt, and others. In this generation stands Saul Leiter, whoimmortalized the streets of New York for more than half a century: from thefifties, in fact, until his death in November of 2013.

saul leiter-christmas-1950s Saul  Leiter  was  born  in  Pittsburg,  Pennsylvania,  December  3,  1923.  At  23,having left his studies to become a rabbi, Saul became interested in painting,especially the Impressionist, but soon moved his passion  to  photography. Hebegan shooting in black and white with a 35mm Leica, but in 1948 he moved tocolor, and  he started with other contemporary photographers such as RobertFrank and Diane Arbus, the”New York School of photography”.

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saul-leiter-06 His consecration takes place in 1957, when at the MoMa in New York, duringthe conference "Experimental Photography in Color", is officially recognized asa "Color" author..Influenced by painting, Leiter tries to bring  to photography  the chromaticismand the strong colors of Abstract Expressionism, blurring the subjects throughthe windows wet  with  rain,  framing them with  very accurate  compositionalchoices,  using every color that the city offers. The visual language is that offragmentation, but color intensity is always the most characteristic feature ofhis photos. None of his contemporaries (with the only partial exception of HelenLevitt) has pioneered the use of color as Leiter.

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spreadSmall01Leiter has worked for more than 20 years as a fashion photographer, but itsbest production is undoubtedly the one about "Street Photography", with  hisphotos taken especially in New York.The  image  of  the  Big  Apple  that  Leiter  shows  is  almost  never  "direct" or"clean":  it is  seen  through  reflections,  mirrors  and  glass,  shadows  andsilhouettes, it offers glimpses of everyday life, peeking between two buses thatintersect, from a taxi speeding, clouded by rain, snow, fog, doors.Virtuoso ofthe depth of field,  he  blurs sections of photos in a way that make them lookstrokes of color.For  him,  the  camera  is not a  tool  for  shooting  reality faithfully,  but  analternative way to see it, reinterpret it. Although his subjects are taken up inthe vortex of Manhattan, he is able to represent  a  peaceful humanity . Thepredominant emotion in his work is the silence, the tenderness, and the gracethat is in contrast to the mad rush of life on the streets of New York.

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Bashful photographer ,  Leiter  was discovered  late  by the general  public.  In2005 he opened the first  exhibition consisting of  his  color  photos  from theHoward Greenberg Gallery of Manhattan and in 2006  the book  “Saul Leiter:Early  Color”  was  printed.  Recently  the  director  Tomas  Leach  shot  thedocumentary “In No Great Hurry ” that shows and tells how Leiter thinks by themeans of a long interview and his photos.

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