Nowadays, when we think of photography, we think of colour photography, which has firmly become the mainstream. In the '50s, though, barely anyone was using colour technology. It was seen as crass; a cheapening threat to formalism.
French photographer and king of monochrome Henri Cartier-Bresson jettisoned the medium in 1952, fearing that 'this complex new element may tend to prejudice the achievement of life and movement' of photography. American street photographer Robert Frank said 'the colours of photography are black and white'. This resistance to colour and its possibilities lasted right up to the 1970s. One man, though, was walking the streets of '50s New York, capturing moments of city life in full colour. What a delight these pictures have turned out to be.
Leiter was born in Pennsylvania, in 1923, to an Orthodox Jewish family. Instead of becoming the rabbi his family had imagined, the young artist ran to New York, to pursue painting and photography. He took fashion photographs to put bread on the table, but took to the streets in his spare time, photographing people, cars, windows, umbrellas, hats, coats, dogs, or whatever else he encountered. Sometimes, just shapes: as a painter, Leiter was drawn to a lyrical abstraction; to suggestion over precision. His gauzy, quiet photographs are at odds with the mania of the city he loved. "I like it when one is not certain what one sees," he said of his own work. "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."
(Also, on a rather more pedestrian note, his pictures provide a wonderful window onto the fashions and faces of '50s NYC.)
We love it.
|What||Saul Leiter, Photographers Gallery|
|Where||The Photographers' Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London, W1F 7LW | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Oxford Circus (underground)|
22 Jan 16 – 03 Apr 16, Opening times: Mon - Sat, 10:00 - 18:00, Thu, 10:00 - 20:00, Sun 11:00 - 18:00
|Price||£Free until noon (Mon - Sun) and then £3 / £2.5 concessions|
|Website||Click here to book|