Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Art History 101: Saul Leiter
When I first discovered the photography of American artist Saul Leiter my first thought was, "What took me so long?" The fact that Leiter is considerably lesser-known that his contemporaries (think Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko) is what makes him a perfect candidate for our latest I Make Picture series, Art History 101. As someone who studied the subject in college, I fervently explore the history of visual art and am frequently distressed about the general lack of exposure the public has to so many talented artists. Too often the ones who get the most recognition are those who had the most salacious and temultuous personal lives (and sometimes rightfully so, as insanity and brilliance are often divided by a fine line) and work itself gets overshadowed in favor of personae in pop culture. As my gift to you, Art History 101 will give an introduction to artists you might otherwise be unfamiliar with by was of a brief biography, highlights, and of course, lots of pictures. At the very least it could give you something much cooler to discuss at parties than politics. :)
Saul Leiter's major contribution to the world of art was his role as a pioneer of color photography. In New York City during the mid-20th century, the art world was dominated by Abstract Expressionist painting. With his innovative eye, the Pittsburgh-born artist translated similar abstractions onto film, creating photos of city life with breathtakingly modern and deceptively stylized compositions.
What is so admirable about Leiter's work is that, just as the Abstract Expressionists pushed the boundaries and limitations of the physicality of paint on a canvas, he toyed with the idea of photography as a medium which was used most traditionally as a means to capture reality. Instead, Leiter manipulated (long before the invention of computer-aided manipulation tools) images to relay mood over pure naturalism. While his work with color was most notable, even his black and white works feature a brilliant eye for abstraction in creating photographs often considered quite painterly.