Interview with Saul Leiter
By David Gibson

Saul Leiter

DG: The Art Historian, Max Kozloff describes your work as ‘more soulful than many’ other photographers. Do you think this particular word is more appropriate than say just street photographer? What label if any would you apply to your photography?

Saul Leiter: I don’t apply labels to my photographs. I’d much rather have Max Kozloff do that. He’s much better at understanding and describing what I do. He once said that I’m not really a photographer I just use photography for my own purpose. I’m not sure what he meant but I like the sound of it.

DG: Your ‘early color’ is very distinctive in look – it is ‘old color’ like the work of Helen Levitt yet you seem very comfortable using digital cameras which normally have a different ‘now look.’ Are you ever concerned about the way color has changed?

Saul Leiter: I like using digital cameras. They make photography sometimes too easy. At different times things are different. The history of photography is a history of changes. If one has a sense of color it manages to survive the changes. That’s it.

 

Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter

DG: You have a vast body of work yet you are mostly known for a core set of images. Are there still rich seams to be mined in your old work which have unseen gems?

Saul Leiter: Yes, Margit and I found recently a group of things which are to be shown by Roger Szmulewicz in Antwerp. I believe they are rather nice and can hold up and do not need to apologize. It is sometimes true actually of many photographers who don’t know what they did and then one discovers good things. The history of photography keeps changing as one learns more about hidden and unknown things.

DG: How aware are you of contemporary photographers, are there any young / youngish photographers that impress you?

Saul Leiter: I think a lot of good things are being done now. The photography world is not coming to an end. Sometimes the New York Times reproduces beautiful photographs probably done by digital cameras. I am constantly running into good things done by young people.

DG: Do you consider recognition as a somewhat random occurrence or do you think that true creativity will eventually be given the respect it deserves?

Saul Leiter: The cream does not always rise to the surface. The history of art is a history of great things neglected and ignored and bad and mediocre things being admired. As someone once said “life is unfair.” In the 19th Century someone was very lucky. He or she acquired a Vermeer for $ 12. There are always changes and revisions of the appreciation of art, artists, and photography and writers and on and on. The late art of Picasso is no good but then a revision takes place and then it becomes very good as the art records indicate. Things come and go.

 

Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter

DG: Are there any particular photographers that you consider undervalued or neglected?

Saul Leiter: I think I am not an art critic. There are endless examples of work that are unknown that become known and appreciated. I am afraid this is the case for many. I am 89 and I know what I’m talking about – sometimes.

DG: You knew Eugene Smith quite well, who arguably had a heavy intense approach to his work. Your approach seems very light, even carefree in comparison. Would you agree with this?

Saul Leiter: I think Eugene is one of the great photographers in the history of photography. His way of telling a story in photography was unique. He was committed to using photography to make things better for others. Because of what he did in the story of the mid-wife a hospital was created. I am a different kind of photographer. Others will have to judge its value. Is it too light? Is it concerned with beauty? I understand it is admired by some people but not by everyone.

[David Gibson, 2013 / iN-PUBLiC]

Cities in Dust
Jan 23 – Jul 31, 2020
This exhibition is comprised of photos, paintings, and sculptures by 15 artists of Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel who share...
+
Rhythms and Vibrations
June 4 – July 24, 2020
From the start of abstract art there was a split between two lines: one structured and economical, often proscribing...
+
Vivian Maier: Works in Color
Jun 1 - Sep 13, 2020
Deepening the understanding of Maier’s oeuvre and her keenness to record, these works capture the street life of Chicago...
+
A Matter of Black Lives
ARTPIL / Prescription .114
Following the murder of George Floyd by police officers, demonstrations across the U.S. and beyond ignite against racism and...
+
We Are One
A Global Film Festival
This festival is born out of the idea that the film community can come together in times of crises,...
+
#WhileBlack
Race relations in America
We are continuing to see the succession of incidents of discrimination and brutality against the black population. Today we...
+
ARTPIL / Prescription .113
Dunning, Kruger & Co.
Confinement has been wearisome with severe economic consequences. The world is now looking to reopening with varying levels of...
+
Frank Walter: A Retrospective
May 16 – Nov 15, 2020
There is no typical Frank Walter. His abstract works are systematic, the individuality of his figurative painting is captivating,...
+
Cities in Dust
Jan 23 – Jul 31, 2020
This exhibition is comprised of photos, paintings, and sculptures by 15 artists of Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel who share...
+
Rhythms and Vibrations
June 4 – July 24, 2020
From the start of abstract art there was a split between two lines: one structured and economical, often proscribing...
+
Vivian Maier: Works in Color
Jun 1 - Sep 13, 2020
Deepening the understanding of Maier’s oeuvre and her keenness to record, these works capture the street life of Chicago...
+
A Matter of Black Lives
ARTPIL / Prescription .114
Following the murder of George Floyd by police officers, demonstrations across the U.S. and beyond ignite against racism and...
+
We Are One
A Global Film Festival
This festival is born out of the idea that the film community can come together in times of crises,...
+
#WhileBlack
Race relations in America
We are continuing to see the succession of incidents of discrimination and brutality against the black population. Today we...
+
ARTPIL / Prescription .113
Dunning, Kruger & Co.
Confinement has been wearisome with severe economic consequences. The world is now looking to reopening with varying levels of...
+
Frank Walter: A Retrospective
May 16 – Nov 15, 2020
There is no typical Frank Walter. His abstract works are systematic, the individuality of his figurative painting is captivating,...
+