Saul Leiter: Assemblages

The photographs are often considered important moments, but in reality they are, according to Saul Leiter, tiny fragments of an unfinished world. Such is his world, little fragments of images juxtaposed and conjoined, accumulating and forming vast ever-expanding fields.
This ambidextrous painter and photographer knew no bounds. If, in the silence of his studio, his movement inscribed imperceptible small rhythmic abbreviations on paper, like a daily exercise, his gaze penetrated the tumult of the city, challenging what attracts the eye and scrutinizing what is not seen.
He has photographed what hinders, hides, encloses, and thus reveals new depths of reality. New York, the paradigm of modernity, that city with an incessant rhythm, was for almost sixty years the place of his aesthetic discoveries and of his optical inventions.
Dense black, of varying intensity, shimmers on the surface. An explosion of color pierces him: bright, strident, hyper saturated. Further on, a point transforms into a line which in turn becomes a mass, a mass that expands, then pours over the whole image and envelops its small stories. Only the essential remains.
Everything is a matter of balance, accuracy and humility in the works of this man, who nonetheless gave great importance to imperfection. This exhibition presented for the first time in Arles brings together a selection of photographs and paintings, most of them unpublished, and invites us to discover a work in which languages collide, speak to each other, tell us about the vision of one of the artists -most fascinating photographers of the 20th century. If we only give them just a little more attention, these voices also tell us that the images are fragments containing puzzles, and that they travel through time and persist, intact, despite any darkness that may prevail in the world. The curator of exhibition is Anna Morin.

A portrait of Saul Leiter

About the Author

Saul Leiter (1923-2013), born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a highly regarded artist celebrated for his contributions to early color photography. Despite being encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Rabbi, Leiter decided to pursue his passion for art and moved to New York City at the age of 23. There, he formed friendships with influential artists like Richard Pousette-Dart and W. Eugene Smith, which further fueled his interest in photography.
Leiter’s talent and affinity for the medium were evident in his early black and white photographs, displaying a remarkable connection to the art form. In the 1950s, he ventured into color photography, crafting a vast and notable body of work during a time when the medium was still in its infancy. His unique use of subdued colors with a painterly quality set him apart from his contemporaries.
The Artist’s Club hosted Leiter’s first exhibition of color photography, attracting attention from Abstract Expressionist painters. Notably, his black and white photographs were featured in the influential 1953 exhibition “Always the Young Stranger” at the Museum of Modern Art, curated by Edward Steichen. Steichen also included Leiter’s color images in the 1957 MoMA conference on experimental photography.
Although Leiter’s color fashion work was published in renowned magazines like Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar in the late 1950s, his noncommercial endeavors remained relatively unknown for several decades. It was only in the 1990s, with exhibitions at Howard Greenberg Gallery and the publication of his monograph “Early Color” by Steidl in 2006, that Leiter’s work gained widespread recognition as a pioneer in early color photography. Subsequent monographs and international exhibitions further showcased the depth and breadth of his photographic and painting skills.
Leiter’s artistic achievements earned him a place in esteemed collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and many others. In 2012, filmmaker Tomas Leach created the award-winning documentary “In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter,” providing insight into the artist’s life and work.
Throughout his life, Saul Leiter remained dedicated to his artistic pursuits, continuing to paint and photograph until his passing, leaving behind a profound artistic legacy.


Saul Leiter Assemblages
JULY 3 – SEPTEMBER 24, 2023
Palace of the Archevêché
Les Rencontres de la Photographie 2023 – Arles – France


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