the enduring influence of ​saul leiter

From Todd Haynes' new film Carol to a generation of street and fashion photographers, Saul Leiter's work continues to inspire.

by Stuart Brumfitt
21 January 2016, 10:40pm

Harlem, 1960

If you were seduced by the colour saturation and beautifully framed shots of Oscar-nominated Carol, then you don't just have director Todd Haynes to thank, but also American photographer Saul Leiter. An exhibition at Somerset House has already displayed Leiter's images alongside stills from the film to demonstrate Haynes's references to Leiter, but a new exhibition, which opens at the Photographers' Gallery today, will look not only at his beautifully composed pictures, but also show sketchbooks, ephemera and a small selection of his painted work. Haynes has talked openly about the Leiter's influence on him, and celebrated him by saying, "It has become de rigueur to refer to his work now, but very few people really bring the intersection of art and photography into such a clear and vivid language as Saul Leiter."

Taxi, ca. 1957

Leiter didn't gain fame until later in his life, but his Kodachrome images - often obscured by passing cars, steamy windows and snow and rainfall - have since become some of the defining shots of New York City from the 50s and 60s. As well as photographers Ruth Orkin, Helen Levitt, Esther Bubley and Vivian Maier, Leiter was one of the key influences on Haynes for the lush lesbian love story, which featured Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. "He's known for shooting through windows, for using reflection," Haynes explained. "His work is impressionistic: these exquisite frames, and then that blown colour palette, muted overall with flashes of colour. I'm so proud that people look at this and think: wow, that's the film. It means that we got it."

Saul Leiter: Retrospective is at The Photographers' Gallery from 22 January - 3 April 2016

Snow, 1960

Carol Brown, Harper's Bazaar, ca. 1958

Postmen, 1952

Daughter of Milton Abery, 1950

Straw Hat, ca. 1955

Through Boards, ca. 1957

Foot on El, 1954

Soames Bantry, Nova, 1960


Text Stuart Brumfitt
Photography Saul Leiter. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York 

Todd Haynes
the photographers’ gallery
saul leiter