Saul Leiter 'Photographs & Works on Paper'
September 9th - December 4th, 2011
Opening Thursday September 8th from 6 - 9 pm
Fifty One Fine Art Photography is proud to present a new and our third solo show of Saul
Leiter (b.1923) with unpublished photographs and for the first time in Belgium a selection of his works
on paper. The influence of his paintings on his photographs is made apparent when the two are
presented side by side. His gouaches, rarely exhibited, mostly explore an abstract language made of
large color areas in unsaturated tonalities. To enhance the link between his paintings and
photographs we published only figurative gouaches with pastel-evaporating colors. Similar
compositions can be found in his early color photographic practice as well, although they are slightly
altered due to the medium’s nature.
As a youngster Saul Leiter was attracted to all kinds of art: French painting (Matisse,
Bonnard, Picasso, Manet) and Peruvian tapestry to Japanese and Tantric arts. He began his career
as a painter. From early on, he devoted himself to abstraction for which he has a special love. His
gouaches hesitate between landscape and abstraction. His abstract language reminds an observer of
Paul Gauguin, the Pont-Aven’s French Symbolist School and the Parisian Nabis. He demonstrates a
perfect command of composition, color choices and drawing skills. He makes his presence aware by
allowing the spectator to feel the energy of the brush.
In 1948 he discovered photography thanks to a meeting with the abstract expressionist
Richard Pousette-Dart. Very quickly, he combined his pictorial and photographic practices. Which is
why he was eventually associated with the New York school’s photographers. Soon after his
encounter, photography became his livelihood, He has produced numerous fashion photographs
since 1953, but he distanced himself from Street Photography. Often associated with Robert Frank
and William Klein, he differs from them in his early use of color (dating from 1948) and his more
reflective approach, rather than one of direct confrontation. Leiter’s photographs are now included in
major collections such as those of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Art Institute of Chicago,
the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the National Gallery of Australia, the Whitney Museum of
American Art, the Yale University Art Gallery and many other public and private collections. The
recent interest in his work should not obscure the fact that for forty years he has remained almost
unknown, despite the fact that Edward Steichen presented his work at the MoMA in 1953 in an
exhibition titled “Always the Young Stranger”.
His photographs are now introduced in some major collections such as the one of the
Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Victoria and Albert Museum in
London, the National Gallery of Australia, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Yale University
Art Gallery and many other public and private collections. This recent interest in his work should not
obscure the fact that for forty years the photographer has remained almost unknown, despite the fact
that Edward Steichen exhibited him at the MoMA in 1953 in the show Always the Young Stranger.
The cause of this neglect is undoubtedly the lack of self-promotion from the artist, but some missed
opportunities must be added: whether a letter remained unopened during thirty years and hidden
inside a book, or the fact that the Photo League closed its doors in 1951 just before the photographer
had a chance to exhibit his work alongside with Robert Frank.
The cause of this neglect is undoubtedly the lack of self-promotion by the artist, but some
missed opportunities must be added: whether a letter remained unopened during thirty years and
hidden inside a book, or the fact that the Photo League closed its doors in 1951 just before the
photographer was scheduled to exhibit his work alongside that of Robert Frank. By practicing
painting in tandem with photography throughout his career Saul Leiter altered photography by his
exquisite vision. First, he gives up the centered perspective. He compresses the spatial dynamic and
puts a priori insignificant elements in the foreground that almost obstruct the sight: canopies,
shutters, deep shadows, etc. An insignificant object becomes the central focus. Another
characteristic of his style is the use of reflections. For example, he captures the reflections of a wall’s
surface and of some bystanders in a window all-together in one composition. This unexpected
marriage reveals an unexpected image. In this way, a simple detail becomes a powerful visual effect.
It is the same with his use of fog, snow or rain. Through the tangle of levels, Leiter creates a new
visual rhythm. He is a true director of the revitalization of the formal beauty. Furthermore, he uses a
muted color palette. His unsaturated tonalities are indicative Johannes Vermeer’s influence. One of
his first paintings was also a copy of this painter. Obtaining these pastel-evaporating colors is made
possible by the use of obsolete color film.
The talent of Saul Leiter is that he “composes” in photography in the same way he composes
his gouaches. Although he claims to practice always freely in his photography, it is obvious that there
is a conscious or unconscious influence of painting on his photographs. Saul Leiter lives in New York
where he continues to photograph and paint. His fame continues to grow. Additional books and
museum exhibitions are scheduled in the near future.
A unique selection of works on paper by Saul Leiter, comprising artist’s gouaches and
photographs, will be presented at Fifty One Fine Art Photography from Sept 9th to October 29th.
On the occasion of Saul Leiter’s show in Antwerp, the gallery will publish a catalog.