Saul Leiter

Book Review The Unseen Saul Leiter

© Saul Leiter

“I don’t have a philosophy. I have a camera.” –  Saul Leiter

─── by Josh Bright, December 13, 2022
  • Thames & Hudson presents a groundbreaking collection of previously unseen images from visionary New York City photographer, Saul Leiter.

    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc,

    Now widely recognized as one of the most important practitioners of the post-war period, Leiter was an early pioneer of color, renowned for the stunning painting-like images captured on the streets of his home city during the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

    However, despite a relatively successful career as a commercial photographer, working on assignments for renowned fashion publications such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, it wasn’t until the latter stages of his life that his personal work would begin to gain the recognition it deserved, thanks to several exhibitions at Howard Greenberg Gallery from the late 1990s, and the 2006 monograph Early Color.

    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc, taxis
    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc, couple on bench

    This relative anonymity suited Leiter, a naturally self-effacing character with a unique sense of humor (captured beautifully by British director Tomas Leach in the 2013 feature documentary, In No Great Hurry – 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter).

    I look into the camera and take pictures. My photographs are the tiniest part of what I see that could be photographed. They are fragments of endless possibilities.”

    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc,

    Sadly, Leiter passed away just days after the film’s release in 2013, leaving behind a collection of over 40,000 color slides, most of which had never been seen.

    Carefully curated by Leiter’s close friend Margit Erb, alongside her husband Michael Parillo, codirectors of the Saul Leiter Foundation, seventy-six of these images are published here for the first time. The accompanying text explains both how the photographer built his archive and the ongoing process of cataloging and restoring it.

    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc,
    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc,

    Up until now, the majority of Leiter’s images that exist within the public realm are those published in the landmark monograph, Early Color, which all but introduced his extraordinary talent to photography enthusiasts some sixteen years ago.

    Though he also photographed in black and white throughout his career, it is for these revelatory, chromatic images, captured almost exclusively on the streets surrounding his Manhattan home, for which he is best known.

    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc,

    The Unseen Saul Leiter continues in a similar vein, exploring his profound relationship with color, further demonstrating his innate ability to transform fragments of quotidian life into deeply compelling imagery.

    His compositions at times, verge on the abstract, owing to his employment of unique techniques and perspectives, such as photographing through windows, their surfaces filtered by rain, steam, or faint reflections, and utilizing shadows, unusual angles, and frequently, a telephoto lens, to achieve compression, in contrast to the wide-angle style commonly used by street photographers.

    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc,
    Saul Leiter street photography color, nyc, bus

    “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?”
    – Saul Leiter

    Truly fascinating, accentuated by the accompanying text, as well as the images of his somewhat chaotic studio and apartment, it is a book that further cements his place as one of the most creative and innovative photographers of his generation.

    An innovator, who refused to subscribe to the popular conception that color was suited only to commercial photography, and a man whose vision, artistry, and somewhat eccentric outlook, remain profoundly inspiring today.


    The Unseen Saul Leiter by Margit Erb and Michael Parillo is published by Thames & Hudson

    All images © 2022 Saul Leiter Foundation