saul leiter at the jewish historical museum (amsterdam)

Oh Saul Leiter, you’ve stolen my heart… The other week, I visited the Jewish Historical Museum (Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1) for the exhibition, ‘Saul Leiter: New York Reflections.’ I saw a preview of the exhibition during Museumnacht on November 5th, but I hadn’t done the exhibition justice. Visiting for the second time was well worth it.

The American photographer Saul Leiter (Pittsburgh, 1923), son of a rabbi, was destined to follow in his fathers’ footsteps. However, his growing interest in art lead him to abandon his religious studies and move to New York. He started painting, influenced by his friend, the abstract expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart. His abstract paintings were quite beautiful and quite reminiscent of the work of Willem de Kooning of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s-1960s…

Inspired by the work of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and his friendship with American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, Leiter took up photography. He began associating with other contemporary photographers such as Robert Frank and Diane Arbus and helped form the ‘The New York School‘ of photographers of the 1940s and 1950s (according to Jane Livingston)…

In 1948, Leiter began experimenting with color photography. Today, he is known for his painterly color photographs taken between the years 1948 and 1960.

“Amid the hectic life of the city he captured tranquil moments of everyday beauty. He was able to transform mundane objects – a red umbrella in a snowstorm, a foot resting on a bench in the metro, or a human figure seen through the condensation on a pane of glass – into what has been described as ‘urban visual poetry'” (JHM).

His near-abstract photographs are really beautiful, unlike anything I’ve seen before, the colors so bright, the composition so ‘different’…

“I spent a great deal of my life being ignored. I was always very happy that way. Being ignored is a great privilege. That is how I think I learnt to see what others do not see and to react to situations differently. I simply looked at the world, not really prepared for anything,” said Leiter (Lens Culture).

The exhibition (on display until March 4th, 2012) includes 60 color and 40 black-and-white photographs (a sample of street photography, fashion photographs, paintings, and painted photographs). The recent documentary about Leiter by the British film maker Tomas Leach is also featured in the exhibition (see a preview here). You can also buy the third edition of Early Color, the first book of Leiter’s photographs, compiled in 2006 by Martin Harrison of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (the first edition here).

And if you’re in the area, why not stop by Soup en Zo or Tony’s NY Bagels on Jodenbreestraat for lunch? For more things to do/places to visit in the area of the Jewish Historical Museum, check out the post Amsterdam-Oost. Click for more Amsterdam Insights, published every Wednesday.


9 thoughts on “saul leiter at the jewish historical museum (amsterdam)

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