IN NO GREAT HURRY:13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter
Posted on November 29th, 2013
For many people, New York City past is a study in black and white. It is the world of Erwitt and Klein or Winogrand, of Weegee and Arbus, of film noir. As history, black and white seems to encompass the city: gritty, dirty, and real. Black and white is so ingrained in peoples’ minds, that this is the true New York. This is the exciting place they have dreamed of visiting or living in.
But for Saul Leiter, New York was an abstract painting in bright, vivid, color. He began using color in the 1950s, a time when it seemed as if the world was first coming into color. Leiter was able to see that New York existed on many levels, with many layers, and that the less than sharp energy is what truly moved the city. His New York was an abstract canvas, an atmosphere.
“In No Great Hurry,” shown at the DOC NYC festival, is where we meet a charming, self-depreciating and sometimes grumpy Leiter who isn’t interested in how others see him. In fact, he treasures his anonymity, because it allows him to work without pressures. That he died only days after the documentary was shown, is an irony that only adds to his legend.
“I am not carried away by the greatness of Mr. Leiter,” he said in the film. “I have not spent my life feeling important.”
But to look at his wonderful work is to be blown away by the importance of it in the way it shows us the world as the blurry, sometimes gorgeous yet indistinct place it really is. We want things to be black and white because we delude ourselves into thinking that it gives us clarity, and makes decisions easy. It allows us to stick with a point of view. But through the work of Saul Leiter we can see that, “a state of pleasant confusion can be satisfying.”
“The real world has more to do with what is hidden,” he said. Leiter’s work has more to do with that, then in creating a world that everyone can agree upon. He was never as famous as his contemporaries, and looking at his work you cannot understand why that is so. But Leiter didn’t care about being famous. He just wanted to create the work he wanted to create, be it in early morning paintings, or when out and about in his East Village neighborhood.
“A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person,” Leiter says in the documentary. “My photographs are meant to tickle your left ear.” He was a singular talent. And his lack of ego shows the soul of the true artist.
“I was hoping to be forgotten,” said Leiter. That, luckily for us, will never happen.