Saul Leiter – The Photographers Gallery

This exhibition offers a look at a collection of Saul Leiter’s black & white and colour images that captured the everyday life of individuals on the streets of New York post WW2.

Inspired by an exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1947, Leiter bought his first camera, a 35mm Leica. With no previous training he hit the streets and began taking black & white images using the strong contrasts of light and shadow with an asymmetrical composition.


In 1948 he began using 35mm Kodachrome colour slide film. To save money he would by film that was passed the sell-by-date. The film would produce a delicate effect with muted colours which gave the images a more painterly quality.

Leiter’s use of colour is simplistic within his compositions. He focuses on bold colours and does not overwhelm the images with other distracting colours. I particularly like the use of the bold advertising boards of that era which often complimented the tones within the images.

I liken the image below to one of the figures in a Lowry painting. Lowry used white both to create contrast for industrial scenes and to isolate his figures. Perhaps Leiter used snow to isolate his subjects?

His style has similarities to Ted Corner, Leon Levinstein, Louis Faurer and later, Robert Frank and William Klein. These photographers all portrayed the turbulences and uncertainty felt by many after the war.

By the end of the exhibition. I noticed there were reoccurring elements within his images. People wearing hats or holding umbrellas. The use of windows as compositional frames or to capture reflections. The effect of snow which adds a dynamic twist and captures the viewers eye.