The first commercially available color photographic process, Autochrome, was introduced in the United States in 1907. Alfred Stieglitz and George Seeley soon began experimenting with it, but it was not until the nineteen-fifties that color photography began to come into its own as an artistic medium, in the work of Ernst Haas, Helen Levitt, and others. This was the generation of the photographer Saul Leiter, the Pittsburgh-born son of a Talmudic scholar, who photographed the streets of New York City for six decades and died this week at the age of eighty-nine.
Leiter was perhaps the most interesting of the fifties color photographers in his use of form. His bold chromaticism, off-center composition, and frequent use of vertical framing attracted attention—the work reminded people of Japanese painting and Abstract Expressionism—and he was included in “Always the Young Strangers,” an exhibition curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in 1953. But Leiter didn’t court fame, and though he continued to work, his photographs almost vanished from public view. Then they came back to light in 2006, with “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” a monograph published by Steidl. The book brought him belated recognition, gallery representation, a stream of publications, and a new generation of fans.
There is also an obituary this week at the Times: nytimes.com
Some samples of his work can be seen here: flopetersgallery.com
But it’s the New Yorker’s piece you really want to read.
Thank you, Mr. Leiter.