the seminal song by Nick Drake, with lyrics not relevant to the life of Saul Leiter, has a title which is one of the most wonderful way to label what is bigger than life to me.
I suppose the term for Saul Leiter is the rarer form of "a photographer's photographer." like few in the field, there is also the qualification of a photographer as a whole person, and not just a collector of scenes.
« I’ve never been overwhelmed with a desire to become famous. It’s not that I didn’t want to have my work appreciated, but for some reason — maybe it’s because my father disapproved of almost everything I did — in some secret place in my being was a desire to avoid success. My friend Henry [Wolf] once said that I had a talent for being indifferent to opportunities. He felt that I could have built more of a career, but instead I went home and drank coffee and looked out the window. »
— Saul Leiter
this could be assessed from his body of work, principally the work collected for his breakthrough book Early Color (2008). the quietness of his life, and the active evasiveness of fame. in a way, a contradiction of life is that of how well we can observe, and how loud we can be... at the same time. while he deserved immediate recognition and "fame" (whatever form that would have been) since his work in the 50s, one can only be grateful that he chose the way to live that he did.
in a lack of education about photography's many aspect, I came away impressed when discovering Paul Strand's "Wall Street" (1915) photo in the second half of the last decade — well into my photographic journey. Strand's take on photography was one rang true to the way I saw the interaction of architecture and life. soon after, Paul Strand became a photographer to discover. subsequently, it was Bill Brandt's portrait of Francis Bacon that began to inform me how to have an alternative look at the pursuit of portraits, which would have to wait a few years.
then, there was Early Color. this was not about a single image, but so many things at once that it was overwhelming. there was the form that so impressed me about Paul Strand. there was the portraiture, more in a "street photography" sense, that really came to enhance the impression of Brandt's approach. then there was the color... well, nobody had showed me a way. yes, there is Ernst Haas work, but Saul Leiter's approach to color had an awareness and sensibility unlike others. this also extends to the lesser discussed sense of composition, which is as strong as any other photographer.
in some ways, Saul Leiter, I could now describe, offers a mono no aware quality to the presentation of color: "the pathos of colored things".
the elusiveness of this talent must certainly be among the things behind the sun.
Don't be shy you learn to fly
and see the sun when the day is done
if only you see
— Nick Drake, "Things Behind The Sun"
something about Mr. Leiter's patience for life let him see... and feel.
[ link ] Nick Drake "Things Behind The Sun"
[ link ] "Appreciation | At 89, a Pioneering Photographer Finally Gets His Due" — NY Times
[ link ] "Utata's Sunday Salon — Saul Leiter" by Greg Fallis.
[ link ] "Saul Leiter's Retrospective Opens in London" — Telegraph UK
[ link ] "A Casual Conversation with Saul Leither" — Time
[ link ] obit at The Guardian by Sean O'Hagan
[ link ] obit at The New York Times
[ link ] "POSTSCRIPT: SAUL LEITER (1923-2013)" — the New Yorker
[ link ] "Photographer Saul Leiter Has Died" — British Journal of Photography
PS looking at Early Color for the first time is not to dissimilar to this scene from Amadeus