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27 November 2013
Just as he was about to get famous, Saul Leiter passed away. It just wasn't in his nature.
We mentioned only a week ago the release of the film In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter.
Fame was not a skirt he chased. It might have been, he once said, because his father disapproved of almost everything he did. To punish the father? Or to keep sacred from ridicule what the son most enjoyed?
What he most enjoyed, as he described it, was a cup of coffee and a window to look through.
He was important, though, before fame ever knocked on his door.
The history of art, he said, is the history of color.
Leiter came to the art as a painter, encouraged by his friends the abstract expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart and the photographer W. Eugene Smith.
His black and white work led to Edward Steichen's exhibition of 23 of his "surrealist" prints in Always the Younger Stranger at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1953.
By then, though, he had already begun shooting in color. The history of art, he said, is the history of color. Even the cave paintings had color, he pointed out. He never bought the notion that black and white was purer than color photography, which was still many years from being considered a collectible medium.
His color is a painter's palette of rich, saturated hues that often need no recognizable form to excuse it. In fact, the figure in the image that radiates color is often obscured, perhaps by some pane of glass, itself obscured by condensation or rain.
You can see for yourself among these links to the man and his work on the Web:
- Saul Leiter: 1950-60s color and black-and-white at LensCulture
- Tony Cenicola's reflections of Seeing Beauty With Saul Leiter at the New York Times
- Beauty in the Everyday by Cara Buckley at the New York Times
- Phil Bicker's A Casual Conversation with Saul Leiter at Time's LightBox
His companion of many years, the artist Soames Bantry, would despair when he would sell a painting of Vuillard or Bonnard he had once acquired inexpensively because he needed money to pay the bills.
But he felt that sort of beauty is only meant to be with you a little while. Then it deserves to move on.
We were fortunate to have Leiter among us a little while. And perhaps even more to have not a blank space on the wall that cries out to be filled, but the persistent after-image of his work, which will linger as long as we have eyes to look.