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In Memoriam, Saul Leiter

Added on by Jaime Permuth.

Photo by Saul Leiter


When I first came to New York, I took a paid internship at Howard Greenberg Gallery.  Among my duties were tracking down and organizing images which were being pulled for collectors or considered for upcoming exhibitions.  This meant spending hours going through the archival boxes where the prints were stored.  It was a quiet and intimate way to discover the New York School photographers, which I hadn’t known about until then.  This was my first encounter with photographers like Sid Grossman, Louis Faurer, Leon Levenstein, Ted Croner and Saul Leiter.  There were also wonderful works by William Klein, Diane Arbus and Lisette Model.

Although Leiter walked the same streets as the rest of his generation, his work seemed to operate on an altogether different register.  For one thing, his images of city life seemed more abstract, oblique and intensely private than others. For another, they were in color. Where his contemporaries brought so much of the sound and fury of the city into their photographs, looking at an image by Saul was like suddenly catching hold of an errant string of piano chords drifting out of an open window high above the street’s heavy traffic.  His work elevated the experience of living in New York City and educated me to its subtle charms and revelations.

Many years later, when I enrolled at SVA for a Masters in Digital Photography, one of my instructors Amy Stein asked us to buy a photography book we admired.  We would then share the books in class, with each student making a short presentation.  When it was Hye-Ryoung Min’s turn to present, she brought out a copy of Steidl’s Saul Leiter monograph and with great composure and eloquence she proceeded to talk about the work. My heart skipped a beat.  It was like a secret handshake in a crowded room; a moment of shared complicity.  Three years later we would be married.

The rest is history.

Saul Leiter, rest in peace.