Best of 2018: Saul Leiter’s Intimate Portraits of His Muses, 1940s—60s
We continue to look at the best posts on Juxtapoz.com from 2018, and one that the readers picked was Saul Leiter's beautiful photography show, In My Room, at Howard Greenberg Gallery this past summer. The works covered the mid-1940s through the early 1960s, and offer intimate and quite sensual looks at Leiter's muses and NY life in the mid-century.
This article was originally published on May 26, 2018:
Deeply personal and contemplative, many of the images in Saul Leiter: In My Room at Howard Greenberg Gallery share tender moments underscored by the subjects’ trust in the photographer. The exhibition, which includes work from the mid-1940s through the early 1960s, will be the subject of an upcoming book, also titled In My Room, to be published by Steidl/Howard Greenberg Library. Many of the 35 photographs in the exhibition are on public view for the first time.
Fed by thrilling recent discoveries from Saul Leiter’s archive, the exhibition reveals the world of the artist and the women in his life through his studies of the female figure. Often illuminated by the lush natural light of Leiter’s studio in New York City’s East Village, these black-and-white images uncover the mutual and empathetic collaboration between the artist and his subjects.
In the 1970s, Leiter planned to make a book of his nudes, but never realized the project in his lifetime. The exhibition and upcoming book offer a first-time look at this body of work, which Leiter began on his arrival in New York in 1946 and continued throughout the next two decades. Leiter, who was also a painter, incorporates abstract elements into these photographs and often shows the influence of his favorite artists, including Bonnard, Vuillard, and Matisse.
The prolific Leiter, who painted and took pictures fervently up to his death, worked in relative obscurity well into his eighties. Leiter preferred solitude in life, and resisted any type of explanation or analysis of his work. With In My Room, he ushers viewers into his private world while retaining his strong sense of mystery.
Leiter made an enormous and unique contribution to photography with a highly prolific period in New York City in the 1940s and ’50s. His abstracted forms and radically innovative compositions have a painterly quality that stands out among the work of his New York School contemporaries.
About Saul Leiter
Saul Leiter (1923-2013) was born in Pittsburgh, the son of a rabbi who was a distinguished Talmudic scholar. In 1946, he moved to New York City to pursue his painting. Shortly after his arrival in New York he met the Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart, who was experimenting with photography. Leiter’s friendship with Pousette-Dart, and soon after with W. Eugene Smith, and the photography exhibitions he saw in New York, particularly Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Museum of Modern Art in 1947, inspired his growing interest in photography.
Edward Steichen included Leiter’s black-and-white photographs in the exhibition Always the Young Strangers at the Museum of Modern Art in 1953. In the late 1950s the art director Henry Wolf published Leiter’s color fashion work in Esquire and later in Harper’s Bazaar. Leiter continued to work as a fashion photographer for the next 20 years and was published in Show, Elle, British Vogue, Queen, and Nova.
In the early 1980s Leiter was faced with financial difficulties that forced the closure of his Fifth Avenue commercial studio. For the next two decades he lived and worked almost in obscurity. In 2006, with the help of writer/curator Martin Harrison and Howard Greenberg Gallery, the groundbreaking monograph Saul Leiter: Early Color was published by Steidl in Germany. The “little” book became an overnight sensation with worldwide distribution and firmly established Leiter as an early pioneer in the history of color photography. In 2006, the Milwaukee Museum of Art held the first U.S. museum show of Leiter’s photographs.
Leiter’s work has been prominently featured in solo museum and gallery shows in the U.S. and Europe. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Victoria and Albert Museum; the National Gallery of Australia; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Milwaukee Art Museum; and the Yale University Art Gallery, among others.