Saul Leiter retrospective: “If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty.”

Single author exhibition of his works: paintings, sketchbooks and photographs: both b/w and colour.

I went on my own: up to the sixth floor with a broken ankle on my crutches because the lift was not working – the engineer was on his way!

Venue: The Photographers’ gallery, London.

Date: Sunday, 24th January, 2016.

Curators: Brigitte Woischnik (in charge of the Leiter archive) & TPG’s curator Eva Eiker.

Location, setting, atmosphere: TPG: Excellent space on the top floor allowing room to stand back but, as always: you can never see the whole image because of the interference of the reflections generated the lights on the reflective glass covering the image.  I found this very frustrating – non-reflective glass exists for this very reason, why don’t the curators use it?


Three positives of the exhibition:

  •  Excellent variety and flavour of his work.  I had never seen his paintings or his painted photographs:





  •  His notebooks & mini box series were a good insight in to how his photos developed & reminiscent of the work of Mark Rothko.








  •  The info panels were insightful and added to my understanding of his m.o.:



One wish: that the curators had used non-reflective glass on the images.

Example of the work:

I was not aware of his black 7 white work so I found that his work stripped of colour, is just as thought-provoking as his colour work for which he is most well-known:







  •  the discovery of his black and white work.
  • the discovery of his paintings and his painted photographs.
  • looking at how he worked: his notebooks were very small & the use of colour is important.
  • IMG_1169.jpg


  •  I found that his fashion photography on display revealed a voyeuristic element that I had not assumed in his street photography which has a very subjective element: these images have an asymmetrical composition, as does much of his street photography, with large areas out of focus, which appeals to me greatly:






What I took with me about the work:

  • These images are not of a spectacular moment nor does Leiter try to capture objective  reality: he purposely interferes with his images to propound his own interpretations of what he has seen.
  • Letter does not try to capture a significant social situation.  he captures the seemingly insignificant impressions of everyday life.
  • A quotation above his painted photographs: “If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty.”
  • His handling of colour & composition creates a tension and balance in his images.

What I took away with me about me / my work:

  •  The “pleasure of uncertainty” somehow releases a whole lot of tension about my image making: I don’t have to be explicit about what is before me: I can choose what is in focus and what isn’t; I want to leave symmetry to mathematical theory – yes, it is beautiful but it is not the only way of seeing beauty.
  • I need to take time over my image making: it is not all about that moment – that moment can assume significance later.
  • I can paint over my work & make it not just about the pure photograph.


  •  Thinking about creating an impression rather than a reflection of what is in front of me.
  • look at shapes, shadows, surfaces and textures = lean towards the abstract.

Next steps:

  •  how can I apply this to landscape ?  Does it exclude social landscape?

Star rating: 4* – too many reflections on the glass obscure what I can see.

























5 thoughts on “Saul Leiter retrospective: “If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty.””

  1. That’s an interesting question regarding how you can apply Leiter’s approach to landscape. I enjoyed looking at his work very much and the painted photographs were interesting to see. I still have a hankering to try this out.


    1. All these exhibitions seem to be leading me to try out something new & not just to stick to the brief & to the pure photo. Must try harder to overcome my lack of confidence! It comes down to not having an artistic background – it has all been essay writing which I know how to revise – I don’t have the experience to make a pictorial mess & clear it up / layer it!


  2. I’ve been thinking how much everything goes in a circle – well a spiral really. Photography had to establish itself as something new – firstly scientific and eventually as fine art. Now it appears to be becoming more and more as just one of the mediums through which artists express themselves.


    1. I think photography is going off at a tangent to any circle that existed because it has so many applications: casual, professional & designed. Some of it is competitive and some of it isn’t; do you follow the ‘rules’ of lighting, composition & focus, or do you disregard them? Are you trying to fit into established genres or trying to break free of them? Do you do it for money? Are you trying to find your own voice? How old are you? Does age come into what you do with your photos? It’s crazy out there!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s