Friday, June 22, 2012

Saul Leiter.

I recently learned of an artist called Saul Leiter. He lives and works in New York, documenting the same area of Manhattan with his camera. His photographs are extraordinary - cinematic, beautifully framed and lush with texture, movement. They're tender and brief and, needless to say, I'm quite taken with them.
A documentary filmmaker, Tomas Leach, has made a film about him in which he interviews Leiter and showcases his work and various philosophies on art, work and life. Check out the trailer here (it looks like a fascinating film! Fingers crossed it gets distribution in Australia...)

What was clear to me, even just from the trailer and the piece on it on It's Nice That was Leiter's attitude to his work: he just does it, and for love of the thing itself. He goes out and waits to see what is happening on the street and photographs that. He's not self-promoting, he's not networking- he's just making his art and seems to allow it to speak for itself. I was reminded in this of another humble man with a clear individual perspective: Bill Cunningham. Theirs is a refreshing counterpoint to contemporary discourses on success in which being known (usually through committed self-promotion) and looking the part seem to be integral. There's an elegance and a humility in devoting oneself to making work and getting on with living and not being precious or smug about it. And don't you think it makes for a much more interesting person? Then again, I guess the adverse is someone like Andy Warhol, so maybe my last point about being interesting is null- what do you think?

But back to Leiter. Even though he's not ostensibly out to photograph people's attire, the incidental details of his images intrigued me. The very rim of a crisp white cuff emerging from a snuff coloured suit. The tapered toe of a child's lace-up shoe resting on a train seat. The polish and stride of a woman in hat and cat's-eye sunglasses walking, reflected in a window. There's a timeless elegance in the everyday of the past that Leiter captures so beautifully, and seemingly unintentionally.

All images by Saul Leiter

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