Saul Leiter moved to New York City in 1946 and began taking photographs. They appear simple. People and objects often in everday settings. Often framed by the blur of movement or out of focus signs. Landmarks and neon lights are glimpsed but rarely do they take centre stage. Now, three years after his death, The Photographers’ Gallery has a floor dedicated to his work with a focus on his colour photography.
In using colour for ‘documentary’ photography Leiter was a man out of time, ahead of the movements that would come later. This exhibition has a balance of black and white and colour work but it’s clear that he landmark pieces are those shot in the distinctive colours of film from the time. It’s not just the nostalgic quality. Leiter had an eye for finding the poetic, the worthwhile, in moments in which nothing was actually happening. These aren’t shots crying out for meaning beyond “look at this image” and what builds up is a portrait of people collectively going about their business. The kind of people we are surrounded by and so don’t notice. Leiter makes us notice.
These days it’s £3 to get in to The Photographers’ Gallery. Even if this were the only exhibition beyond the paywall it would represent insanely good value for money. As it is there are two others that are also worth catching. A definite win from The Photographers’ Gallery.