Unboxing ‘All about Saul Leiter’

All about Saul Leiter is a catalogue, published alongside the “Photographer Saul Leiter: A Retrospective” exhibition that’s currently on view at the Itami City Museum of Art (through May 20, 2018, and headed to S Factory in Seoul after). It’s a reasonably thorough exploration of Leiter’s fashion, street, and nude photography, as well as his painting, and makes an excellent introduction to Leiter’s work, if you don’t have the Early Color and Early Black and White books.

If you do have those books, though, you’re a bit better off, I think, as some of the best works are split across the gutter in the catalogue, and while the pictures benefit from being larger, I detest images spread across the gutter. It totally ruins the picture, I think. Photographs are, by their very nature, two-dimensional objects. The gutter makes them 3-D, they recede and emerge, they bend, warp, stretch, and the middle is always obscured.

This is less a sin in lay-flat books, and small zines, where the picture can be made flat again and all you have to contend with is (maybe) a crease down the middle. But in a thick book like this, or a “perfect bound” book, the gutter is a devil.

Anyway. Two things stand out, for me, in All about Saul Leiter. First, it includes examples of his paintings, gauche and watercolor on cardboard or Japanese paper or photographs recovered from his archive. The paingints are interesting, with evidence of Klee, Diebenkorn, and Bonnard throughout. And second, peppered throughout the book are little quotes from interviews and essays.

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. (73, from “A short interview with Saul Leiter” by David Gibson on ASX.)

A photographer’s gift to the viewer is sometimes beauty in the overlooked ordinary. (104, from a press release for Retrospektive at Deichtorhallen, 2012.)

I always assumed I would just slip into oblivion. (186, ibid.)

For those, alone, I would recommend this book, though at nearly $50 (from various US sources), it’s maybe a bit steep.

Unrated.

I got mine through the Charcoal Book Club, and you can order one direct from Seigensha Art Publishing for less than $40, and that’s probably worth it, especially if you don’t have Early Color and Early Black and White.

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